In the old days, a new Rolls-Royce only came along once in a generation, and with the launch of the Silver Shadow in 1965 came a big shift for the company. Here was a more affordable model, at least compared with everything that came before, and it opened up the the world of luxury motoring to an all-new market.
The Shadow was a landmark car for the company, and while it was still very classic in its look, the underlying technology was seriously advanced. Big news for the company was the introduction of a monocoque body structure, helping to reduce the overall size and weight, while increasing refinement and handling.
Much time was spent developing the suspension system, which was fully-independent and featured clever telescopic mounting points and hydraulic self-levelling system. All-round disc brakes and power steering completed the package. About the only thing that was carried over from the Silver Cloud was the 6.2-litre V8 engine.
The scope for becoming a financial cripple is enormous for the Shadow owner, but you won’t find a more stylish way of going bankrupt.
Which one to buy?
After 12 years of series I production, the Silver Shadow II and Bentley T2 arrived. As before there were standard and long-wheelbase versions offered, and around 2000 modifications were made over the outgoing model. These ranged from the adoption of rack and pinion steering to split-level air-conditioning to go with a new dashboard. These second-generation cars soldiered on until they were replaced by the Silver Spirit and Mulsanne in 1980.
By that time over 32,300 four-door cars had been built and a further 5768 two-door cars – including 434 examples of the astronomically expensive Pininfarina-styled Camargue. Whether you’re buying a Corniche, Camargue, Shadow or Bentley T-Series, they’re all the same under the skin, so they all have the same weak spots.
Performance and specs
Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow II
Engine 6750cc V8, overhead valves, two-valves per cylinder
Transmission Three-speed automatic
Top speed 117mph
Dimensions and weight
• Initially the engine displaced 6.2-litres, but from 1970 the 6750cc unit was fitted. A replacement powerplant costs £10,000, but you’re unlikely to need one unless the car has done over 250,000 miles or been neglected.
• The biggest problem is caused by using the wrong anti-freeze or not changing it often enough – it should be done annually. If this isn't done the iron liner contracts through corrosion and begins to squeeze the piston, to the point where it knocks, sounding like a worn bearing or sticking tappet. There’s no way of checking it’ll happen, but proof that the anti-freeze has been changed annually – using the correct Castrol/ICI fluid from a Rolls-Royce dealer – is a good safeguard.
• The Opus electronic ignition system fitted from June 1975 causes problems when it overheats, and a replacement is £300, although post-1976 units are £140. Symptoms include poor running and the engine cutting out, so it's worth fitting a Lumenition system for £250.
• Check the alternator is charging as a replacement is £175, and ask if the brushes have been replaced within the last 48,000 miles – they frequently aren't.
• A new fuel pump is £200, although it's worth switching from the mechanical system to an electric one anyway, when the standard one packs up.
• The radiator has to cool both the engine and the transmission, although the coolants are kept separate. Make sure it's all present and correct.
• All Shadows are automatics, with a tweaked four-speed GM Hydramatic system for the first right-hand drive cars. From the outset all left-hand drive examples had a three-speed GM400 unit – by 1968 right-hand drive cars got this as well. Failures are rare, but the fluid needs changing every 12,000 miles and every other time the fluid is renewed the filter has to be replaced also.
• Make sure the cooler pipes are present and correct. These run alongside the gearbox to the main radiator and can corrode, leaving the transmission to run dry. If a pipe bursts the gearbox will be drained within seconds, along with your bank account shortly after.
• Cars fitted with the four-speed gearbox are mercifully rare as they're not as smooth as the later unit. it's not possible to swap from one to the other.
• The Shadow's self-levelling hydraulic suspension works well, but its complexity means maintenance and repair can be costly, with perishing seals and corroding pipework. The hydraulic fluid should be changed every four years, so look through the sight glass on the side of the reservoir (on the nearside of the engine bay), to check the fluid level and condition.
• Check the rear spring pans haven’t rotted and that the rear subframe mounting bushes aren’t perished
• Power steering belts can break and pipes can burst through corrosion; also squeeze the gaiters to make sure the rack isn’t leaking internally. Then check all six ball joints in the steering system for play – at just over a £100 each, replacing them soon gets costly.
• Brake pads can wear out in under 10,000 miles and if the rear discs need replacing you'll have to use a specialist as hub removal requires special tools.
• The reason a Roller stops so easily is because its braking system is held at high pressure. There are two brake pumps, so work the brakes hard and make sure the system is holding pressure. Also make sure the warning lights on the dash aren't illuminating to show a fault – it’s common to disconnect the wire from the sensor, so make sure all the warning lights illuminate when you switch on the ignition.
• Corrosion needs to be treated quickly or the scope for wallet-bashing damage is virtually limitless. For example, while sills normally rust only at the ends, if left they’ll need full-scale replacement. Once rust takes a hold, it's no good putting it off until you can afford it – by then you won't be able to afford it as it’ll have deteriorated even further.
• Then there’s the paint; because the car is so big, the cost of a respray is potentially massive.
• The wheelarch lips are the most vulnerable areas, along with the front and rear valances. The bonnet, doors and bootlid are aluminium so look for electrolytic corrosion – key areas are behind the door handles and brightwork. These alloy body panels also get creased easily, so run your hand across them to ensure they're even.
• The boot-mounted battery tray suffers from spilt acid – also ensure the boot isn’t full of water because of failed seals. The front and rear screen seals also fail, leading to floorpan damage and waterlogged carpets plus costly woodwork problems.
• Front-end accident damage is common, so look at the chassis where it arches vertically just behind the front panel. On the nearside this is level with the alternator and it should be perfectly flat – if it isn't, be wary.
• There are servos and motors throughout a Shadow, so test that everything works; fuseboxes, relays and motors are generally fault-free, but the wiring can break having hardened with age.
• A Shadow II with a leaking heater matrix is bad news. Look for anti-freeze stains on the footwell carpet – replacing the matrix means removing the dash.
• A Rolls-Royce interior is fabulous until it starts to look tatty, so remember that a full retrim costs five grand upwards, but they're rarely needed as it's generally easy to match the leather and just replace specific bits of the seats.
• Similarly, you can pay thousands to have all the wood refurbished, but a full carpet set is available off the shelf.
• Cars with an Everflex (vinyl) roof need careful inspection, as replacement is expensive, although many owners choose to just paint the metal rather than recover it.
• Exterior trim is stainless steel, except for the Series 1 rear bumper which rots through in the corners. The brightwork is generally expensive to renew. The radiator grille can also split along its soldered edges
1965: Silver Shadow and Bentley T-series launched.
1966: Mulliner Park Ward two-door saloon arrives, known as the Corniche from 1971.
1967: Two-door convertible goes on sale.
1968: All cars now have GM400 transmission.
1969: The interior is facelifted, so the Shadow can meet US crash regulations.
1970: The classic 6750cc V8 replaces the 6230cc unit.
1974: Shadow gets a wider track, longer wheelbase and flared wheelarches.
1975: Camargue joins range.
1977: Shadow II arrives and the long-wheelbase saloon is now the Silver Wraith II.
1980: Silver Spirit replaces Silver Shadow; new car uses same platform and running gear.
1981: Corniche saloon dies, but convertible survives until 1995.
1984: Bentley Corniche now renamed Continental.
1986: Bosch fuel injection now fitted, and the Camargue dies.
Owners clubs, forums and websites
• www.flyingspares.com – Flying Spares, specialist parts supplier
• www.hillierhill.com – Hillier Hill, Rolls-Royce and Bentley specialist
• www.midlandrrclub.co.uk – Midland Rolls-Royce Owners Club
• www.rrec.co.uk – Rolls-Royce Enthusiasts’ Club and forum
Summary and prices
It’s a cliché, but in terms of image, presence and the sheer amount of metal you get for your money, the Shadow is up there with the best. The problem is that there are few cars you can buy for so little, which also offer such potential for bankruptcy. Buy badly and you’ll be better off scrapping the car than trying to revive it economically.
Around £12,000 is the bottom line for a worthwhile Series I Shadow, with a nice Series II costing even more. The best Series I fetches £25,000 with top Series II cars about £5000 more. A Wraith is worth slightly more than a standard wheelbase car, Bentleys are worth a bit more than their Rolls-Royce counterparts and two-door cars will go for up to £50,000, while the best drophead examples can fetch up to £80,000. But for those prices they have to be really nice.
As a rule of thumb, for every £1000 less that you spend when buying, in the medium to long term you’ll typically have to fork out an extra £2000 on restoration work, so it makes no sense buying a dog. The maxim about buying the best you can afford has never been more true than here. Finally, colour can make a big difference to values; blue and silver in demand, but nobody wants typical Seventies hues such as gold and brown.