I give you the car that took Rolls Royce out of the hands of the aristocracy and placed it into the hands of the people, a tradition that has continued ever since. Once rock-stars, pop-stars, TV presenters and alike were seen driving around in a car that was once the exclusive pride and joy of the established gentry, it was then and there that the Class System had truly disintegrated. The Victorian-era divisions of society were well and truly dead.
In 1965 it was apparent that the nearly 10 year old Silver Cloud was starting to look its age, and as time continued to crawl on the aristocratic look of the Rolls Royce was no longer its biggest selling point. Prior to the 1960’s society was clearly defined, with what was known as the ‘Glass Ceiling’ through which none of the lower classes could rise up through the ranks. It was very easy for the Upper Class and Aristocracy to lose their titles and come down, but even if you were a Lower Class person who’d made it rich, you’d still be socially unacceptable due to your background. However, after World War I the emergence of the new Middle Class was starting to bend the rules, and as time went on the ways in which money could be obtained started to become easier thanks to stage and
screen. After World War II the influence of the new generation distorted the lines of society even more with the appearance of the Beatles and Elvis Presley, people from low backgrounds who had managed to get a free ticket to the top due to their fame in the music industry. Of course when someone gets money, the first thing they want to do is spend it on luxury items, and nothing back then was more luxury than owning a Rolls Royce.
However, when the Cloud was designed society was still very much in the same Victorian ideal as before, and so its aristocratic look was about as hip and with-it as a China Cabinet in a Discotheque. In order to survive, Rolls Royce was going to have to adapt, so in 1965 they launched the Silver Shadow, a car that was designed for the new money, and the first Roller to be brought to the masses. What made it so appealing was a case of many things.
For starters, it was the first Rolls Royce to be a ‘Driver’s’ car. Previous models had always been built with chauffeur driven passengers in mind, but the Shadow with upgraded suspension, an updated Rolls Royce V8 engine and the same general driving feel of a regular car (if not better with innovative power steering), made it ideal for the ‘posers’ of the upmarket realm. Secondly, the car was the first to be built with a monocoque, where the body and chassis are part of the same structure. Previously, Rolls Royce would provide the owner with a chassis, and then it was up to the owner what body would be put on it, with a variety of coachbuilders available to do the job including H.J Muliner Park Ward, Hoopers of London and James Young. The advent of the monocoque meant that potential buyers didn’t have to go through the rigmarole of buying a chassis and then having a body constructed for it at extra cost.
As mentioned though, reception was something of a mixed bag, whilst motoring press and many people gave it critical acclaim for its revolutionary design, the usual Rolls Royce customer base saw it as something of a mongrel, appealing to the lowest common denominator rather than holding up the traditional standard that the Double R was famed for. But just because it was built for the masses didn’t make it any less a car, each individual Shadow cost £7,000 new, weighed 2.2 tonnes and took 3 months to build. The interior was compiled of 12 square feet of wood, and three cows had to sacrifice
themselves to create the leather hides that line the seats. Soft and springy Wilton Carpets made up the floor and power from Rolls Royce’s astounding V8 engine could whisk the car to about 100mph, but why would you want a sporty Rolls Royce anyway? *Cough* Rolls Royce Wraith *Cough*
After launch the Silver Shadow was whipped up by pretty much anyone and everyone who wanted to show off their wealth, with a total of 25,000 examples being built during its 15 year production life, making it the most numerous Rolls Royce ever built. The Silver Shadow also formed the basis of several other designs, including the convertible Rolls Royce Silver Shadow 2-Door Saloon which later became the Corniche in 1971, the Bentley T-Series which was exactly the same only with Bentley badge and grille, and the controversial Rolls Royce Camargue of 1975 which was designed by Pininfarina.
For a time the Shadow was on top of the world, but things started to crumble fast in the 1970’s. New American legislation meant that the car had to conform at the cost of its class, with the chrome bumpers being replaced by composite or rubber, and the ditch lights being slumped underneath on a rather unsightly chin-spoiler. In 1977 this revised car was launched as the Silver Shadow II, which I consider to be but a shadow of its former self due to the fact that this was when Rolls Royce started to become downplayed and underwhelming. Indeed the best intentions were in mind with safety, but without the chrome to adorn its lovely body, the Shadow was merely a husk.
This was added to by the fuel crisis of the mid-1970’s, which made motoring a very expensive practice, especially if you ran a Shadow. Shadow’s are incredible gas guzzlers at less than 20MPG, and refilling one will set you back in today’s money about £80. At the same time it was considered socially unacceptable to be seen driving around in one of these after such a blow, almost as if you were driving a giant middle-finger down the street to everyone else who couldn’t afford to drive. Because of this, owners turned to more subtle cars such as Mercedes so as not to fall victim to vindictive passers by. With sales starting to drop, Rolls Royce had to see off the Silver Shadow as soon as possible. After nearly 10 years of development, 1980 saw the launch of the much more angular and somewhat mundane Silver Spirit/Spur range, and with that now on the go the
shadows grew long for the Silver Shadow, which was killed off the same year. Spiritually however, the design of the 60’s lived on in the Corniche, which was to be built for another 15 years before that too was ended in 1995.
In some ways the Shadow became a failure of its own success, with Rolls Royce building far too many cars for the market that intended to buy them, with the result that the 2nd hand market became saturated with nearly new cars that fell into some disreputable company. Throughout the 1980’s the Shadow was noted for being the ride of sleazy salesmen, gang lords and Members of Parliament (pure evil!). Additionally, many Shadows were bought cheap simply for the way they made the owner look.
If you were intending to use your cheapy Shadow to plunder yourself some girls and didn’t have the attraction of money to back you up, you’d be out of luck and soon out of cash, because the bills required to run a hand-built luxury car would very quickly be walking through the door, both in terms of fuel and maintenance. Critical failures are rare and these cars are very reliable (although Jeremy Clarkson would have you think otherwise), but when they do happen, it would probably be cheaper to buy yourself another car. The worst problem you could face is a failure of the hydraulics that controlled the rear suspension, the steering and the brakes, which would render the car inoperable if something were to go awry.
Frequent maintenance of a Shadow however (every 4 to 6 months) will probably even out at about £100, which when you consider the £10,000 or more you’d be paying to replace the hydraulic system, is a small sacrifice. Rust is another problem, especially for early Shadows. The Chrome sills and guttering on the roof are especially prone, although the most critical problem is rust on the chassis, which if left can compromise the whole car and essentially write it off. A bit of a buying tip, if the car’s body looks good, be sure to check underneath because you may see some costly rust gremlins down there that could ruin your investment.
Another place the Shadow has found itself is in the world of movies. Of course any film that has an upper-crust theme or feel to it would have to include a Rolls, but since 2nd hand Shadows could be picked up for a song you could easily put them in your movie. Sadly, most movies that feature Shadows are ones which feature them being destroyed.
So why do I love Shadows so much? Basically because it’s a mixture of all things you’d want in a car. It has a spacious, luxury interior, it has a world beating design dripping with chrome and adorned with the finest hood ornament, and because it’s dimensions aren’t that far off a normal car, it can easily be used as an everyday machine unlike the Silver Cloud which is simply too big for everyday use. The Shadow is also a very personable sort of machine, if I was to own one I would treat it like a pet, and probably name it Sally (old girlfriend of mine).
Today, Shadows are by no means rare and the ones you’ll find on the road are probably the best. Most of the poorer 2nd Hand ones rusted away and died back in the 1980’s and 90’s (or were blown up in movies, or put in swimming pools), which means that the survivors are largely under the ownership of avid enthusiasts who cherish their cars. You can find Shadows for next to nothing, with some examples going for as little as £4,000, but you’d have to be very desperate to get one of those as they’d probably be in very bad condition. Minters however can go for about £15,000 to £20,000, which when compared to some of the other cars of comparative size and quality such as the BMW’s and Mercs of this world, is not a bad deal.