Curbside Musings: c. 1977 Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow II – Affluence

1977 - '80 Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow II. Lakeview, Chicago, Illinois. Sunday, April 30, 2023.

On a trip back home to Flint last June with my friend, Cate, I had stopped into a dollar store near downtown and scored a discounted DVD featuring episodes of the 1980s TV detective comedy / drama Hart To Hart.  This show was never on my radar when I was younger, coming across in its commercials as too serious, stuffy, and “adult”, as if trying to figure out the plot twists would give me a headache.  It was just so eighties, though, with actors Stefanie Powers’ feathered hair and designer outfits, and Robert Wagner’s crisply tailored suits and ascots, not to mention the interior decor of their Bel Air mansion.  There was a great supporting cast of Lionel Stander as Max the butler, Freeway the dog (adorable), a canary-yellow Mercedes SL roadster, and a Rolls-Royce Corniche.  For two dollars, my thought process was that I couldn’t lose, and even if I ended up hating the show, this purchase would give Cate and me something to laugh about on the drive back to Chicago.

Hart To Hart DVD.

I wound up loving the show and becoming endeared to its characters.  A show which had held zero interest for me as a youth was now entertaining to me in middle-age, partially because I could actually understand and appreciate what was going on in each episode, and also because it served as such a time-capsule.  Before finding this DVD at Family Dollar, I probably hadn’t thought about this show in at least a decade.  On the surface and knowing myself, there was no reason why I should have liked it.  The extreme wealth.  The hired help.  The privilege.  Though not a Silver Shadow like our featured car but a Corniche which was based on the two-door version of it, the Harts’ Rolls-Royce effectively became a symbol of that ’80s era of excess.  I later came to realize that any Rolls has always played this role in my mind to a greater or lesser extent.

I’m just a kid from Flint.  I could probably count on the digits on one hand, maybe even with a couple left over, just how many Rolls-Royce sightings to which I had been witness while growing up in Genesee County, Michigan.  The closest I had ever gotten to any “Silver Shadow” was while tuning into WDZZ 92.7 FM on my dual-cassette stereo radio to listen to the song of the same name by the great, underrated, urban contemporary band Atlantic Starr, then featuring lead vocalist Barbara Weathers.  (Their Sharon Bryant era was my favorite, for the record.)  I miss certain aspects of the aspirational qualities of the eighties.  If one were to have asked me what a “silver shadow” was when I was in elementary school, undoubtedly I would have referred to this song and not identified it as the model name of a Rolls-Royce.

Silver shadowA glowing shadowShining brightlyFor all to see

1977 - '80 Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow II. Lakeview, Chicago, Illinois. Sunday, April 30, 2023.

Much of my career has included service to clients with high net worth, ones who could purchase a new Rolls over the weekend that’s worth several times more than my home.  It used to be a tricky thing for me to contemplate the contrast between my material possessions and those of my clientele, coming as I do from modest (but comfortable) means and catering to clients who seem to have more money than they know what to do with.  My view at this writing is that wealth, by itself, isn’t a bad thing or a surefire indicator of moral deficiency.  Money corrupts, but it doesn’t have to.

There are lots of good, benevolent, wealthy people.  Even where my own middle-class income is concerned, the more capable of earning I am, the more potential I also have to do good for others in the world.  Minimally, if I can take care of myself as I’m able and not unnecessarily burden anyone else or take up resources, I’m miles ahead of the game and doing just fine.  I give the fictional Jonathan and Jennifer Hart a free pass as they seemed like nice people who embarked on their amateur, but competent, detective work with genuine empathy for their clients, and also in Jonathan’s case, concern for the well-being of his many employees.

Since I was chosen among the restI dedicate myself, I’m gonna be the very bestAnd my shadow forever silver will remainAnd the world will always remember my name

1977 - '80 Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow II. Lakeview, Chicago, Illinois. Sunday, April 30, 2023.

Thankfully, our own Jon Stephenson has already given the Silver Shadow II an excellent overview so I don’t have to.  These aren’t necessarily my type of car, so I had anticipated challenges in narrowing down the year of this particular example, of a model that was in production between 1965 through 1980.  Fortunately, those alloy bumpers with rubber rub strips provided positive identification that this example is a “II” from one of the last four model years of production.  Out of over 25,100 units produced over the Silver Shadow’s run, 8,400 of them were IIs, accounting for about a third of total production.

Its 6.8 liter V8 with 189 horsepower has almost 4,600 pounds to haul around, though these numbers aren’t so far removed from popular, top-tier American personal luxury cruisers of the day.  For example, a ’77 Cadillac Eldorado weighed 5,000 pounds and and came standard with a 425 cubic inch (7-liter) V8 with 180 horsepower, and a same-year Lincoln Continental Mark V weighed about 4,700 pounds with its standard 400 (6.6L) V8 with 179 horses.  Granted, both of those domestic luxury cars are much different in concept and execution than the Rolls, but all of these cars were intended to reflect a certain level of affluence to the outside world.  One other tidbit: with an as-new cost of over $65,000 in 1977 (over $323,000 in 2023), the SS II cost over five and a half times more than an Eldorado or Mark V.

1977 - '80 Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow II. Lakeview, Chicago, Illinois. Sunday, April 30, 2023.

As I watched this car head west toward and only a block away from Wrigley Field, I didn’t feel envy or longing.  Rather, I thought about my own ideas of wealth.  I don’t lack for anything, and most of what I want or need, I can usually afford.  I pinch myself from time to time, thinking about all I’ve been blessed with, including intangibles like my mind, good health, and life in this incredible wonderland called Chicago.  Thankfully, too, I have inexpensive tastes, and courtesy of a local thrift store, my treasured music collection has exploded over the past several years with many choice, top-tier finds purchased for dimes on the dollar.

At the same time, I have come to realize that while it’s fun to come across new acquisitions, whether music, clothing, home furnishings, or anything else, there’s only so much stuff I can have and fit in my residence.  What would I do with more square feet of living space if I moved up to a bigger home?  Fill them up with more stuff?  I loved looking at this Rolls-Royce as a beautiful, expensive motorcar (you have to call it that), and as a reflection of the owner’s good taste and penchant for the good life.  Would I have wanted one for myself ?  I’m honestly not sure.

Lakeview, Chicago, Illinois.
Sunday, April 30, 2023.

Song lyrics by David Lewis and Wayne I. Lewis.