If you’re loaded and enjoy a place in the sun, the Corniche was the car of choice in the 1970’s, 80’s and even into the 1990’s, as the car had the longest production run of any Rolls Royce car.
The Rolls Royce Corniche line began spiritually in 1966, with a two-door saloon variant of the revolutionary Silver Shadow known as the Silver Shadow Mulliner Park Ward, a more personable little car for those who wanted to lower the roof and feel the sun on their face. Available as both a hard and soft-top, the Silver Shadow MPW was technically no different to the Corniche that followed. Plans were however to remove the MPW from production early, proposing to replace the car with what was later known as the Camargue, originally projected to be unveiled in 1972. However, the bankruptcy of the Rolls Royce company in 1971 following the RB211 Jet Engine project, meant that the Camargue project was put on hold, with Rolls Royce instead choosing to simply rebrand the MPW as the Corniche the same year and continue production. Rolls Royce would
eventually be split into two companies, one for Jet Engines that was nationalised until the 1980’s, one for luxury cars which was sold to Vickers.
The name Corniche is derived from the French word for ledge, but in this context means a road that winds along the edge of a cliff-face, as do many of the fantastic and beautiful highways along the Côte d’Azur in Southern France. This was however not the first time the Corniche name had been used on a Rolls Royce product, having previously been used on a prototype car back in the 1930’s which was based on a Bentley Mark V. However, after an exhaustive 15,000 mile endurance test across Europe, World War II was declared and prior to being shipped back to Britain, the car was destroyed by a bomb on the dockside in Dieppe.
This version of the Corniche however was much more successful, being built without any major changes to the design from its conception back in 1971 to when production ended in 1995, a run of 24 years. The only changes that came were in 1977, where rack-and-pinion steering was added, alloy, rubber and composite bumpers were constructed to comply with new American safety legislation, the radiator was changed from steel to aluminium, an oil cooler was installed, and bi-level air conditioning that was pioneered on the Camargue was added.
The next major change came in 1986 with the development of the Corniche II, which was very much the same design and construction, but with technical changes such as the addition of anti-lock brakes and new reverse/warning light clusters being added to the rear. In 1989 the Corniche III was developed which included new alloy wheels, colour-coded bumpers, advanced suspension, MK-Motronic fuel injection and, for the first time, the installation of air bags. Then in 1992, the final variant, the Corniche IV, entered production, with construction of the cars being carried out at Crewe following the closure of Mulliner Park Ward’s factory in London. Main changes were once again to the
suspension, as well as the inclusion of a four speed gearbox. Eventually the end came for the Corniche in the summer of 1995, with the last 25 cars being built with turbochargers and being dubbed the Corniche S.
After a production run of 24 years and keeping the original Silver Shadow coachwork design alive 15 years after the Silver Shadow went out of production, the last Corniche rolled off the production line with 5,146 convertibles, 1,108 Coupés, and 140 Bentley Corniches being being built. The name however was revived briefly in 2000 with the construction of the Rolls Royce Corniche 2000 or Corniche V, a drop head coupé variant of the Rolls Royce Silver Seraph that was until 2001 with only 374 examples produced.
Today Corniche’s are very hard to come by in the UK as the vast majority of examples were built for the foreign market, however if you live in the sunny state of California, or reside in the south of France, chances are you’ll bump into a fair few of these magnificent little cars.
This particular version is one of the earliest incarnations of the Corniche, distinguishable by the chrome bar bridging the bumper at the front across the grille, and the two central reverse lights which, much like on the Silver Shadow, were incorporated into the tail lights on later models.