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Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit

Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit Published: 13th Feb 2018 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit

Fast Facts

  • Best model: Well kept ones
  • Worst model: Badly kept ones
  • Budget buy: Spirit or Eight
  • OK for unleaded?: Yes
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): L 5283 x W 1890mm
  • Spares situation: Very good all round
  • DIY ease?: Surprisingly amiable
  • Club support: Extremely good
  • Appreciating asset?: Only Turbo/R really
  • Good buy or good-bye?: A bargain – but only if you spend well, not cheaply
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Hugely satisfying and surprisingly affordable top drawer, first class travel classics that are quite easy to own. Rolls offers more refinement, Bentley performance, so decide what you want first. No shortage on sale but there’s many tired tart ups so buy with care

Are there cheaper, better engineered prestige classics than an old Rolls- Royce or Bentley? Once hailed as the best cars in the world, Crewe classics from the 1980s in the shape of the Silver Spirit and Bentley Mulsanne offer incredible value for money – in fact, you can buy one for the price of a Morris Minor such has been their depreciation curves!

So what’s the catch you ask? None really – so long as you don’t think you can run one on a Morris Minor budget either and avoid that temptingly cheap buy that, rest assured, certainly won’t be long term. A Mulsanne for the price of a Mondeo, a Spirit for a song? Get real please!

But if sub15mpg fuel returns and pricey consumables, such as quality tyres don’t phase you, or you’ve run a Jag before, you can live the life of luxury and enjoy a prestige plaything for pennies – relatively speaking. Here’s how.

History

1980 Project SZ, the Silver Spirit and Bentley Mulsanne are together unveiled after eight years of development. Updated but still traditional, the Silver Shadow heritage is clear; floorpan is reworked version of the Shadow’s 1965 design albeit with all new rear suspension. There is also a longer wheelbase option called Silver Spur.

1982 Mulsanne Turbo introduced boasting a 50 per cent power hike, capable of hitting 0-60mph in less than seven seconds thanks to some 298bhp and a massive 450lbft of torque, with improved chassis and brakes.

1983 Improved door locks and then central locking systems (September ’84). Additional interior lighting and power amplifier are installed plus heated door mirrors fitted. Smaller radiator badge after August ’85.

1984 ‘Poverty’ Bentley Eight; essentially, a plain Mulsanne but with ‘cost cutting’ features such as a mesh radiator grille, less wood and leather and a slightly more basic spec. Improved door locks and then central locking systems on all models (September).

1985 Additional interior lighting and power amplifier installed. Smaller Bentley radiator badge installed after August ’85 as ultimate Turbo R joins line up with a reported 324bhp allied to a retuned chassis, the latter thanks to the company’s new (ex-Ford) Engineering Director being disappointed with the Turbo during his maiden drive…

1987/88 Fuel injection filters down to all models along with standard ABS. Engine power increased, taking the Turbo to more than 350bhp. Mulsanne S added to range; standard tune with Turbo-like chassis and alloy wheels (909 made). For ’89 model year a twin headlamp design figures.

1989/90 Silver Spirit II/ Bentley Series 2 arrives with revisions to the interior. Suspension revisions see Shadow-derived self-levellers replaced with a complex network of sensors and electronics. Catalytic converters optional for UK market.

1991 Four-speed GM gearbox introduced late that year to replace the venerable GM three-speeder while yet another revise to the car’s central locking system is made. Incidentally, the LWB cars don’t get revises until May ’92.

1992 Higher power Turbo S with charge cooling; 509lbft of torque: 60 made before Brooklands name supersedes them all with Turbo spec, apart from engine tune.

1994 Third generation cars arrive with minor styling tweaks, more power from engine plus twin airbags for front occupants. This is followed the next year by the fitment of a turbo to the LWB Silver Spur to create the superb Flying Spur.

1995 Park Ward limousine joins the range. Silver Spirit is updated slightly featuring smaller grille with front airdam/bumper and 16 inch wheels. Higher compression ratio and rear axle ratio to aid economy on all. Top notch Alpine ICE equipment now installed, too.

1996 Ultimate Turbo R Sport now offered – Turbo R model is now only available in LWB guise. For 1997, the 400bhp RT is added to the range as a special run out model with only 50 made out of some 7200 Turbo versions in total.

Driving and press comments

The best car in the World? That’s an age old argument and while there’s no denying that a Rolls-Royce or Bentley can be bettered in some departments, all bar none don’t give the same feeling of well being and satisfaction – nor that unrivalled sense of occasion.

You don’t so much drive but waft around in one; if you’re used to Jag XJs or a big American then their mass and size won’t phase you. If you are lucky enough to have driven or owned an earlier Crewe classic the experience will not be too dissimilar, although even a Spirit is considerably less wallow-prone than its forbear.

It’s a different matter with the Turbo and R models and the differences in driving this Bentley to a Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit remain noticeable; the Turbo R is quite astonishing in the way it handles, considering such an aged design. This bulky Bentley was never meant to be a sports car yet remains arguably better than an equivalent Aston Martin of a similar vintage. Later, a milder non turbo’d S model and the Brooklands benefited from the same suspension set up. Even if you’re not a press-on driver, we’re pretty sure you’d still appreciate the added security and poise of this pair – or you can simply fit uprated springs and dampers to suit when they need replacing.

One difference worth noting is that for 1987, the engines became fuel injected, making a big difference to their drivability and dependability as the carb-fed Turbos could particularly prove fickle. Another improvement was the switch from three to four ratios in the autobox from 1992, although the difference is only really noticeable if you drive the car hard.

As you’d expect, there’s comfort and convenience by the bucket load and when you’re in the mood to cruise, these cars practically drive themselves.

Yet if you want an easier time, the Rolls is the more refined and comfortable and are usually driven in a more relaxed manner by their owners. Due to this fact, there’s a greater percentage of good original Spirits left compared to the Bentley versions, which by nature have been used harder and perhaps customised. There’s also a longer wheelbase offshoot (Silver Spur) if you’d like more luxury and length.

Speaking at the car’s October 1980 launch, Autocar was able to compare the new Spirit with the Shadow II and rated the new car’s handling decidedly better and the steering “superbly responsive and accurate” while reporting high speed cruising was also a superior experience because of less road and tyre noise infiltrating the plush cabin.

Even so, once the meatier mightier Mulsannes came on stream road tests for the Spirit virtually evaporated…

“Mulsanne is an impossible car not to enjoy – a unique motoring experience” hailed one road test. Autocar lived with a Brooklands for a week and loved it, despite lacking a Turbo. “Nobody is claiming that the Brooklands offers the last word in performance [in non turbo form a Brooklands hits sixty in just under ten seconds], space efficiency, silence or ergonomic excellence.

“What you do expect is a car so removed from all others in so many ways that to judge by normal standards is to tell only half the story… In the Bentley you are faced with such quality and classical good taste that it is relatively easy to see where your money [91 grand back in 1992] has gone”. It further added: the car was also one of the least demanding cars to drive “asking so little of the driver that it was positively soporific.”

Similarly, once the terrific Turbos were on the press fleet (which Car described as a “Tidal wave on wheels”, the mundane Mulsannes rarely got a look in and with justification as less than 500 standard models were sold thereafter. In 1985, Fast Lane said of the Turbo R – coverlined “The Bentley that handles” – that Rolls had finally put the lead back in Bentley’s pencil. It predicted a four-speed auto was coming (although that was six years away), but said that the handling “good enough to impress drivers used to Jaguar or Mercedes”, was “a stunning achievement”. And as late as ’95 Car, while not quite so smitten anymore still described the Spirit III as “The ultimate sense of occasion.”

Values and the marketplace

The maxim that you should buy the best car you can afford is sound advice for any classic car, but never more apposite than when looking at something prestigious such as a Rolls-Royce or Bentley. And even then, you must leave some money over for the unexpected because it is easy to underestimate potential costs of not only repairs but even routine service work.

A 13,00 mile Turbo R recently sold at auction for almost 45 grand, but in the main huge depreciation has seen half decent ones dip under £7000. If anything, Silver Spirits are growing old more gracefully in contrast to Bentleys where the model’s cult status quickly resulted in a popular line of customising gear being offered; perhaps it’s only when these customised models fade away and originality becomes more critical that the magnificent Mulsanne will achieve the classic status it deserves?

The earliest cars were built in 1980, and there were now some truly ratty ones about but most have gone to the great car park in the sky. It’s also easy to be deceived; a well polished and tarted example (beware of two tones where fresh paint down the flanks may simply be a bodge to hide the rot) complete with a cheap posh number plate and a set of sheepskin seat covers to cover the worn leather can easily fool you and if you’ve never driven one before even a duffer may feel like a million dollars, so try a few if possible.

Happily, according to RR&B Garages, £15,000 is ample for something worth loving and lavishing care and cash on and perhaps double this for peaches and remember condition counts so it’s better to have a superb Spirit than a manky Mulsanne – as RR&B stress, condition with a solid service history is the vital criteria above all else.

Steve Brown of leading specialist Hanwells of West London says these ranges are on the rise so long as they’re really good; Steve recently sold a low mileage, stacks of history 1981 Silver Spirit for more than £20,000 and it’s becoming the norm, claims Brown. A lot of money – perhaps – but Hanwells’ cars come with full two year warranties, so cheap in the long run, given what a lesser example may throw up with we reckon.

Improvements

If you yearn for the thrills of a Mulsanne Turbo then you’re better off buying one instead of trying to make your more mundane model perform like one because any tuning exercise will prove expensive, plus you may find it hard to sell a tuned car simply because it’s not how most owners want their high-class carriage to be. On the other hand, improving the suspension and brakes, using factory components is not a bad move at all and subtle improvements will be welcomed from all quarters including owners’ clubs.

Phantom Motor Cars of Surrey, built a mighty 700bhp Mulsanne Turbo for club racing and promotional work although wisely warns that performance tuning Crewe’s classics is both difficult and dear.

Tightening the soft suspension is the first step and this can either be done using factory parts from later, sportier versions (ie Turbo, Turbo R dampers and springs) or fitting the established Harvey Bailey suspension kit. The ultimate is Bentley’s own taken from the Turbo R (letter stands for ‘Roadholding’), although bear in mind that later post 1990’s Silver Spirits and Mulsannes featured an active ride system at the rear which will probably need to be de-activated before mods are carried out.

There’s an awful lot of suspension bushes employed to isolate the running gear from the first class travelling compartments and these deteriorate like any other car. Turbo suspension bushes certainly stiffen and sharpen the feel.

Costs? Phantom lists improvements like so (prices are approximate) Mulliner anti-roll bars front and rear 40 per cent stiffer. £1600+, special stiffer lowered (50mm lower) front coil springs, £900 and lowered rear (50mm) coil springs £800. In addition, anti-roll bars front and rear that are 40 per cent stiffer cost in the region of £1600. Unbelievably, even the Turbo stopped on Shadow items, including the pads. Various upgrades are available but the most sensible bet is probably to fit late Turbo R and Continental anchors.

What To Look For

General

 

  • Don’t buy the first you see, and be prepared to reject a fair few. Because these cars are so way above the normal, you should check and drive a good number to get a feel of the car – otherwise you’ll probably never know a good one from a dud.
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  • Check out the vendor! Nice people sell nice cars and if they haven’t owned it for long, it points to them not being able to afford the maintenance costs and cheapskate, cost cutting repairs may have been carried out – such as budget and rubbish tyres…
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  • Use a good reputable R-R and Bentley specialist rather than an ordinary car dealer, who don’t know the car anything like as well. A good specialist will be able to service and provide aftersales back up and this is well worth the extra asked in the screen prices.
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  • A full service history is a given, ideally backed up by receipts rather than just stamps as well.
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  • As a DIY car, it’s good and bad news. The former is thanks to the car’s engineering which is a pleasure to work on plus that old school V8 holds few fears. But on the other hand, systems such as the electronics and hydraulics, need special tools and expertise. Normal service items are reasonably priced though; £20 for oil and air filters and £41 for a gearbox service kit. Pistons are £300, new liners £112 each and Flying Spares also sells good used engines at just over £5000.
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  • With post-1990 model cars, there’s active ride as standard, which further increases the electrical complexity (is it working properly?). So, for a first time buyer, a good (and we mean good) early model would probably suit best. They are generally better built after ’82, according to specialists: the initial batch suffered from some build niggles including dodgy central locking.
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  • Apart from a plethora of independent specialists (IntroCar, Flying Spares, Ghost Motors, Hanwells) for servicing and (newer used) parts, there are excellent owners’ clubs ready and willing to help; the RREC even runs its own workshop seminars. Another good port of call is the RollsRoyceForum.com.

 

Body & chassis

 

  • The main thing to look out for is the bodywork. Shiny new paint can hide horror stories and, despite their quality construction, these cars can rot severely if neglected, and a lot have been. So avoid the very cheap ‘bargains’ and go only for cars boasting full documented history, even if you have to pay more, because you’ll save more in the long run.
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  • Tell-tale body rot areas are sills, wheel arches and floor pan. Lift the carpets in the front to check for damp, as this will rot out the footwell in no time if left unchecked. Usually a leaking windscreen is the culprit here. One rust spot that is well worth checking is the rear spring pans which rust like murder as can spare wheel carriers.
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  • Suspect shiny two-tones. This is a quick, cheap way of hiding rotten bodywork. Be suspicious if a respray has recently been done. Panel gaps and paint finish should be excellent and beware of any missing or damaged brightwork, as replacements can be dear and that includes hub caps, etc.
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  • Doors, boot lid and bonnet are alloy so can’t rot but can react where panels mate with steel; be vigilant here.
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  • Don’t trivialise seemingly minor items such as missing hubcaps, sad looking bumpers or a grille that grates as they are extremely expensive (think £1800 for a Rolls grille) although specialists like IntroCar and Flying Spares invariably have a decent stock of good second-hand ones. There again, don’t dismiss an otherwise good car due to such defects but use them as a strong bargaining tool.

 

Engine

 

  • Mechanically, these limos are under stressed with their big lazy 6.75-litre engine, but a common problem is the exhaust manifold gasket leaking, which will cost £500 or more a side to fix.
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  • Don’t worry over some minor oil leaks, it’s known around the rocker covers and sump although is a good bargaining tool. Infrequent oil changes may lead to hydraulic tappet noise on start up.
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  • On low mileage cars, the tappets can be a little noisy on start-up. Knocking can also be caused by rusty cylinder bore causing pistons to slightly stick – a consequence of anti-freeze that’s long lost its properties.
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  • Head gaskets are not unknown to blow but it’s a more serious issue on later cars from 1994 which are tuned by Cosworth where (rather like the MGF’s K-Series engine-ed) it’s better to see a replacement bill the service history as it not a case ‘if’ but when they fail, leading to bills of up to £5000. See the car keeps a constant temp when at rest and on the move.
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  • Happily as it’s an OHV motor, it’s possible to attempt repair at home. Later models – 1986 – onwards have fuel injection instead of carbs but it is well proven and generally reliable. In contrast, early carb fed models can still suffer from starting and running maladies.

 

Electrics

 

  • A complex set up, it’s easy to fall foul here. Earthing problems are not unknown due to chassis earth straps deteriorating creating havoc.
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  • Upon start up the ‘Brake 1’ and ‘Brake 2’ warning lights should shine brightly but extinguish no later than 30 seconds. Pump the brakes, at least 20 times, to see they don’t come back on.
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  • Poor starting and running have been traced to faulty ignition coils with rough idling points to expensive engine management gremlins.
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  • High emissions, faulty windows? It could be linked to overheating and simply a case of the sensitive ‘otter’ reset switches, in the glove box, having a strop; if other systems, such fans, central locking etc, are also joining in, it’s a further sign.

 

Running gear

 

  • All use the hydraulic braking system, taken from the Shadow, but now requiring mineral oil. The pipes and hoses last well, but need regular servicing to perform properly. A full hydraulic service at 90,000 miles will set you back at least £2000, so ensure this has been done or negotiate the price accordingly.
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  • Inspect the rear suspension for wear and rust. The rear arm mountings are MoT fail points. A main agent will charge four figures to rectify this: aftermarket kits cost £500 or so.
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  • The car’s sheer weight and mass can lead to suspension problems, not simply failing dampers and springs but also the ride height system.
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  • On the other hand, if the gas springs lose their pressure the ride will be very un-Rolls, although don’t confuse this on the Turbos due to their harder set up. Ultimately, a specialist will know the score. If it’s as firm as concrete the system may be default mode; is the warning light flagging this up? Repairs are as specialist as they are expensive.
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  • If self actuation rods, spheres or the ECU playa up they are costly to fix. If the suspension bushes are worn you’ll get a lot of slop and knocks. The steering rack is said to be prone of bursting its seals, and usually caused by excessive use of full lock, so check.
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  • At the front, a noisy suspension is probably due to worn bushes. Sounds simple but you may need a specialist as special tools are required. Also deteriorating bushes can exaggerate poor braking and judder say specialists.
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  • So long as the selection control unit doesn’t play up transmissions are usually durable although rear axles (said to be prevalent on 1988-92 cars) prone to noise although rarely leads to failure. It’s pretty costly and so you may have to put up with it.

Three Of A Kind

Jaguar XJ
Jaguar XJ
This was the cat among the pigeons, in more ways than one. A genuine luxury supercar that could match the Rolls in every department and for a lot less cash. All are great but S3 is best developed of them all. Later XJ40 has a reputation but X300 revamp is excellent and XJR is true Turbo rival. Expect values on original XJ6s and 12s to soar as design celebrates half a century of brilliance during 2018.
Aston Martin Lagonda
Aston Martin Lagonda
Agreed, if you wanted a sportier ride you’d probably go for the Bentley Turbo models and enjoy much the same car, but don’t discount this oddball Aston Martin Lagonda. Like the Rolls they can be spectacular value but the unloved Lagonda can be spectacularly dear to keep as well. A good one is a unique experience, to be fair, and don’t discount modern Rapide which shed money and also comparative bargains.
Rolls Seraph/Bentley ‘Labels’
Rolls Seraph/Bentley ‘Labels’
All new replacement but what started off as a virtually identical design quickly changed due to the two companies sadly parting; Silver Seraph using a BMW-built V12, the Bentley was offered with either a BMW-sourced 4.4-litre V8 (in the Arnage Green Label) or the Bentley’s classic 6.75-litre V8 (in the Arnage Red Label). Very different to drive – so try them all – but all excellent value across the board.

Verdict

“An impossible car not to enjoy – a unique motoring experience” said one contemporary road test. And after driving a good one you’ll draw the same conclusion but only if you purchase right with a realistic budget . As Charles Rolls aptly put it; “The quality will be remembered long after the price is forgotten”. And that’s the attitude you should adopt when looking for one.



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