I’d driven by this car multiple times, but a car cover hid its classic lines. Still, the tall, boxy silhouette made it clear a Rolls Royce resided underneath. Recently though, a wind storm conspired to blow off the cover, and give me a peek at this paragon of British engineering. Despite the missing radiator shell, it’s clearly a Rolls Royce, and the square headlight bulbs point to an early to mid eighties US model.
Curbside Classic hasn’t covered many Rolls Royces, but if you’d like to see the complete catalog, there are three other articles:
First, Mike Butts gave us an overview of a 1982 Corniche Convertible.
Second, Perry Shoar took a look at a Carmarge.
Finally, Paul reported on a ’73 Phantom IV Drophead Coupe with Frua custom bodywork.
Although the rich are often associated with Country Club living, those who are truly serious about spending money head down to the marina and buy a boat, so it’s no surprise to see masts on the horizon of this shot. While I’d normally associate a Rolls with Marina Del Rey or Newport Beach, I found today’s photo model down at LA’s Cabrillo Marina in San Pedro. Some say San Pedro is a bit seedier than those addresses, but then this Rolls appears a bit seedier than most Rolls so I guess it all ties together.
Just in case you’ve forgotten what the Rolls Royce grille looks like, here’s a complete example to view and admire. Sold in the US from 1981 to 1989, The Mark 1 Silver Spirit came with a 6750 cc V-8 engine coupled to a GM Turbohydramatic 400. While the Silver Spirit used a new body, the driveline and floorpan were carried forward from the Silver Shadow (the previous model).
In response to the demands of emissions and safety regulations, many manufacturers slowed down model development in the seventies and eighties. Engineers modified existing power plants and added required safety equipment to existing platforms, rather than designing new vehicle platforms. However, Rolls Royce carried this approach to the extreme, keeping the Silver Spirit (along with its longer wheelbase cousin, the Silver Spur) in production through the late nineties.
Luxury makes weren’t immune to the influence of safety and emissions concerns on vehicle design, nor from demand for increased fuel economy. Unfortunately, these priorities did not always match up to the Rolls Royce design aesthetic. The fact that the owner removed the square shouldered Parthenon grille only emphasizes the disconnect. I’ve placed a circle in this image to highlight the curved body work at the point where it transitions to the traditional Rolls Royce grille. This subtle curve helps reduce aerodynamic drag, but when you look at the image of the complete car, the mishmash of curve and straight line creates a visual conflict.
As I mentioned, Rolls Royce also offered an extended wheelbase version of the Silver Spirit, called the Silver Spur. Short of reading the nameplate off the trunk boot lid (and this car lacks that nameplate), you have to check the rear door length to sort out the models. If the base of the rear door glass is roughly the same length as the front door, it’s a Spirit. If the rear door glass is four inches longer than the front door, it’s a Spur.
Rolls Royce fans don’t focus much on model years, but a given series did see minor changes from year to year. Our earlier front view showed the license plate mounted on the front of the bumper (rather than under it), indicating it’s a 1985 or newer Series 1. Based on the rear shoulder belts and rear headrests visible in this view, I’d narrow that down to the 1987 to 1989 range. Beyond that, you’re on your own.
I didn’t have the opportunity to shoot the engine bay on our San Pedro car, but based on this internet picture, there’s plenty of cool stuff to photograph. Note the A/C compressor: it came from of the Harrison Radiator Division of General Motors, but that clearly labeled oil fill cap, those alloy valve covers and big ol’ Bosch fuel injection distribution manifold are all pure Rolls Royce, and all three peg the cool meter.
This close up of the rear axle also shows us cool tech. That ten bolt hub inside the wheel bolts indicate this axle uses full floating wheel hubs. Just about every other rear wheel drive car in the world uses the axle shaft to support the vehicle weight, but not this Rolls. Instead, the rear wheels have dedicated bearings to support the vehicle weight, and the axle shafts just transmit engine power. On most vehicle lines, this design starts appearing on 3/4 ton pickups, and is embraced by all over the road tractors, but not RWD sedans. This axle tells me Rolls Royce builds a solid, long-life car.
A solid, long life car, but not a driver’s car. The Rolls Royce steering wheel pictured here would work very well mounted on a city bus steering column. In an episode of “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee,” Jerry Seinfeld picked Carl Reiner in a (1960) Silver Cloud Series II. During the episode, Jerry stated “As a car, it’s horrible. But it’s a nice living room.” Based on everything I’ve read, these eighties-era cars fit that description as well. Rolls designed their cars to coddle passengers, rather than deliver quality driving dynamics. Since many of the cars were driven by hired help, the formula worked.
That formula has remained in place to this day, with Munich bankrolling ever faster platform development. Where today’s Rolls-Royces remain cars to cosset their occupants, so much else about the company has changed since our featured car was built. To describe the path from this mid-eighties Curbside Classic to the car shown here calls for more than time than we have, but one thing seems crystal clear: today’s Phantom is not your father’s Rolls Royce.