It was a hot day to be out and about in Shibuya, one of Tokyo’s trendier districts. And it seems whoever owned this Corniche was so busy he just parked his immaculate white convertible on the side of the avenue, warning lights on, door ajar and white-gloved driver waiting nearby. It looked like something out of a pre-war movie, but some obscenely wealthy folks can pull this off in present-day Tokyo.
The driver kindly moved aside so I could get a couple of snaps. Yep, this was not your usual Rolls (if that makes any sense). The Corniche III was made for a little over two years in 1990-92, now featuring colour-coded bumpers as a main visual difference to its immediate predecessor. Only 452 of these cars were ever made, plus 180 Bentley-badged models.
One of these (actually a 1993 Corniche IV, complete with the obligatory wing-mounted mirrors) is regularly used as an imperial parade car in Japan – probably the only foreign-built official car still used by the Japanese monarch. So to have one of these to putter about Tokyo, one must have an ego to match one’s wallet, I suppose.
The Rolls-Royce Corniche is obviously derived from the Silver Shadow, arguably the first really modern Rolls, which debuted in 1965. The Silver Shadow’s two-door variants outlasted the saloon by 15 years – quite an achievement. I guess Rolls figured the Silver Spirit’s more massive bodyshell and squarish looks would not have lent themselves to the drop-head coupé look, and I would have to agree with my own assertion there. The first two-door Silver Shadows were made in 1966-67 by James Young – only 50 cars though, Bentleys included, as the old London coachbuilder was about to go under.
Mulliner-Park Ward launched their own interpretation (designed by John Blatchley) in 1967, featuring a slight beltline kick and a less staid greenhouse. The Corniche name only appeared in 1971, there to remain until 1995.
Fat ugly rubber bumpers appeared in 1977 and stayed on the car until the bitter end. The Silver Shadow disappeared in 1980, taking the Corniche hardtop coupé with it. The convertible soldiered on, stratospherically priced and impeccably finished, throughout the ‘80s. The car’s mid-‘60s styling was completely out of step with the times, but then this didn’t seem to harm sales. By the time the Corniche III came around, Mulliner-Park Ward was getting ready to close down too. The last Phantom VI limos and Corniches went out the door in 1992, after which all Rolls-Royce bodies would be made in-house. The end of an era…
The Corniche IVs were made until the summer of 1995 by Rolls-Royce themselves, instead of the body being made in London, then shipped to Crewe to fit the mechanicals and back to Mulliner-Park Ward to be finalized to the last detail. There was a Corniche V model, based on the Bentley Azure, made in 1999-2002 – the last Rolls-Royces made at Crewe and the only case of a Rolls being based on a Bentley, apparently. But these obese-looking cars lack the appeal of the earlier Corniches, in my opinion.
I would never dream of owning anything like this white Corniche. A mite too pimpy and/or jet-setty for my taste. But I sure would like to ride in that gorgeous thing on a hot July day. Top down, white-gloved driver in front and a glass of bubbly from the hamper, of course. Home please, Oddjob. And don’t spare the V8.
Related CC posts:
Curbside Classic: 1982 Rolls-Royce Corniche Convertible – The Crème de la Crème, by Mike Butts
CC Capsule: 1985 Bentley Continental – What’s Not To Like?, by Roger Carr
And left hand drive.probably imported from usa or canada.great car that i had no idea about it’s existing till minutes ago.
Not necessarily, apparently LHD versions of imported cars are often bought to stand out more in Japan, even when RHD versions are available.
I’ve nearly finished an article on a CC find RR Camargue which sort-of replaced the Corniche coupe, will be up soon, and a couple of months ago I saw a Corniche convertible in traffic.
There’s a black Camargue and a white one as well living in my parts. Looking forward to that read John.
Coincidentally I’ve seen a black one and a white one!
Presumably, the Corniche V would have lasted a great deal longer than it did, but of course when BMW and Volkswagen took Rolls-Royce and Bentley (respectively), Volkswagen retained the designs, tooling, factory in Crewe, and pretty much everything but the Rolls-Royce name, badge and grille (which were arguably the most valuable parts of the deal, but that’s neither here nor there). So Rolls-Royce was unable to use any of the existing models and had to start over.
The BMW-designed Phantom Drophead Coupé is the spiritual successor to the final Corniche..although in reality, the Phantom Drophead Coupé is a giant land-yacht, and the Corniche is probably closer in size to the new Rolls-Royce Dawn (itself essentially a cabriolet version of the Wraith and related to the previous F01/F02 7-Series).
These were all-too common in the Beverly Hills area when we lived there in from the late 70s until 1985. This and a Ferrari 308 were the two cars at the top of the prestige pecking order then; the RR for the older guys and the women, and the 308 for the younger guys. Mercedes SLs were down a notch or two.
But in LA no one ever had a driver for one of these; that seems kind of all wrong. Must be a Japanese thing. If you wanted to ride in a driver, you sat in the back of a big sedan or limo.
That James Young “coupe” is a two door sedan in my book. And probably the most expensive one ever.
Yep, My first thought was: “That’s one expensive two door sedan..” If I was gonna blow Rolls Royce money on a coupe, I wanna damned coupe!?
I had the same thought too. Apparently it was marketed as such.
Julie Andrews drove a gorgeous white one in the witty, satirical movie “S.O.B.”.
She had it moving well past the usual sedate speed seen in BH, Bel-Aire or Brentwood..
I have to agree with Paul. During my short tenure in The Southland I saw more of these owner driven than chauffeur driven.
If there was ever a land made for top down, expensive, luxurious convertible, “La La Land” was/is it!
They’re is a chaueffer driven Bentley version of the featured car in this Elton John music video from the 80’s:
And coincidentally, the Elton John car is to be offered for sale at Goodwood. Click the link and scroll down.
These were always beautiful cars, and still are.
Wow! That’s crazy! Talk about the CC effect!
A few years of being driven all around Myanmar in your own Tokyo Taxicab and all of a sudden you have disdain for the flashy set 🙂
I’m picturing Yoko Ono coming back out and hopping into the back for a quick trip to Narita Airport…
Beautiful car, but just like you, nothing I’d personally want to own. Just appreciate from afar.
Tokyo’s like that – full of Kei cars and black cabs and occasionally something like this – image thing that the Japs get off on
Thomas Crown drove a ’67 Mulliner-Park Ward coupe in the original (and only!) Thomas Crown Affair”. I remember that it cost almost double the standard sedan price…subtle and it fit the character.
The newest model looks like a British WWII tank when compared to this one.
Rubber bumpers on these are alone infuriating. Colour-coded… arriviste.
I think the 1999-2002 model is better looking and not at all obese, IMO.
Are those MkI Cortina wagon taillights? I used to think they were early/midyear VW Type 3 ones.
All I think about when I see one of these is one of my favorite 80’s shows, Hart to Hart. Stephanie Powers and a Corniche convertible…a deadly combination!?
HUBBA HUBBAHHHHH on both!
Can you drive all LHD cars in Japan?
Notice the number plate!
pretty much the ultimate Veblen good.
Not really. I doubt they even made much money off them. If anything, the whole was less than the sum of the parts. A modern Bentley Continental is an example of a Veblen good. A Corniche was expensive because it cost a fortune to produce and couldn’t be duplicated for less.
Interestingly, they were so in demand upon release that there was apparently a three year waiting list, and both new and second-hand examples were trading at a premium to the sticker during this period. Not that RR would have seen that extra cash themselves.
I worked for a guy that bought one for his wife in the mid ’90s. I was once told how rare it was, being one of a handful of ‘triple white’ cars produced; having white paint, a white top and a white interior. I don’t think it was helped by the color-coordinated bumpers either. It was all I could do not to blurt, ‘no doubt there are few cars configured thusly!’