Damien on… The Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow
It used to be said that only Rolls-Royce could boast that over half the cars they had ever produced were still in existence.
This was in the days when your chauffeur (one never drove one’s own Rolls-Royce) had to place his jacket over the radiator grill if it Ceased To Proceed (Rolls-Royces never broke down). Then he jogged off to find a phone, after which the Rolls-Royce engineers would arrive, place a tailored car-cover over their fallen charge and spirit it away on a trailer.
And if a panel got dinged, Rolls-Royce would respray the whole car if the paint had faded at all. Insurers were livid, but Rolls-Royce-driving judges shot down their objections.
However, in 1965 all that changed. While their previous models had followed the tradition of plonking an engine onto a chassis and then bolting the body on top, for the first time Rolls-Royce produced a car featuring unitary (monocoque) construction.
Of course, they continued filling the seams between panels with lead, then grinding them flat – making the whole car look like it was pressed out of a single moulding – instead of just using trim, like other volume manufacturers.
And they continued packing the interior with sound-deadening material, so the loudest thing you would hear was the clock.
But despite all that, for the first time ever, Rolls-Royce were making a regular car.
For the first decade, nothing unusual occurred. The cars sold like hot cakes – even John Lennon bought one (then got it a custom paint job). But as the Seventies progressed, something extraordinary happened.
The thing was, the early examples had now dropped in price to the level of a fully-loaded Ford Granada. But the Ford would shed a third of its value as it exited the showroom – then another third after five years – and would only be worth a few hundred in ten, even if it had been looked after – while the Rolls-Royce would still be worth pretty much the same. It was depreciation-proof.
Naturally, there were catches. The Rolls-Royce was seriously thirsty. And thanks to the knock-for-knock system, insurance was costly too. Then there was the maintenance.
However, there were hacks. And low-mileage, mature, full NCB, clean license holders discovered that increasing numbers of engineers knew them. Like, many of its parts were the same as those made for Leyland – just in a different box.
And since the model changed little in fifteen years, you could disguise its age by buying it a pre-’63 non-letter registration plate. Provided it was mundane (XDZ 438, as opposed to MJV 1) it would cost under a hundred pounds. A dodge coach fleet-owners also used.
This resulted in cases like a local primary-school headmaster who, being mature, having a clean license, living just a few miles from his school, having paid off the mortgage and without vices (he did not smoke, drink or gamble) decided in the twilight of his years to ride in comfort and style. Good for him.
But then it got silly. Suddenly every two-bit East End villain had one. Then people in the motor trade began buying damaged-repairable examples that had been rear-ended – and converted them into pickups. I once saw one doing service as a tow truck. Ouch.
Even now, many have had cheap, white resprays and earn money at the weekend, doing weddings.
And the company has been bought by BMW. Imagine what Winston Churchill would think of that.
Anyhoo, I leave you with my way to tell the class of an Englishman; if he refers to a Rolls-Royce as a Royce, he is upper class – a Rolls, he is middle-class – and if he calls it a Roller, he is a working-class oik.
Use it with my blessing.