The two-door Silver Shadow, for that is literally what we have here, was a puzzling proposition, within the Rolls-Royce range. Looking at it logically, it offered fewer doors and a reduced cabin space, yet cost a whopping 50% more than the standard saloon whose underpinnings it shared. In convertible form, this was significantly offset by the ability to drive out in the open air. But the “fixed head coupé,” as nobody calls this version, made little commercial sense, so Rolls only made them for… 15 years?
When the Silver Shadow saloon appeared in late 1965, both two-door versions were very quickly introduced. In those early days, one could choose either of two designs: the factory look, penned by John Blatchley and made by Mulliner-Park Ward (R-R/Bentley’s in-house coachbuilder), or the James Young version sold via Jack Barclay showrooms. The admittedly better-looking M-PW variant prevailed after 1967; the Corniche moniker was only applied to the cars from 1971 onward.
Although many people still wonder why, the Camargue joined the range in 1975. This left Rolls-Royce with two two-door saloons (the term “coupé” was rarely used in the carmaker’s history, and certainly not in the ‘70s, for whatever reason): one was the handsome older Silver Shadow-based design and one featured completely new Pininfarina styling.
Still, if one did not have the stomach for the Camargue’s elephantine lines (and sky-high price tag) and thought the four-door saloon far too common, the Corniche was there to oblige. In 1977, the Silver Shadow II arrived, bearing a pair of massive plastic-clad bumpers, as well as a significant front spoiler. These unfortunate features were duly transposed to the Shadow’s two-door variants, though for whatever reason, they did not become the Corniche II in the process. Aside from these rather significant cosmetic changes, the Rolls (both Corniche and Shadow II) got a new rack and pinion steering system and a modified front suspension.
Both the drop-top and steel-top Corniches carried on until the end of the Silver Shadow II in 1980. After that year, though not all sources agree 100% on exact dates, only the drop-top was retained. In 1987, it was finally renamed as the Corniche II, then went through iterations III and IV without too many changes, making it all the way to 1995. The long reign of the Silver Shadow finally ended, after 30 years.
Our CC in part of the last batch of Corniche two-door saloons. From early 1979, Corniches and Camargues were fitted with the upcoming Silver Spirit’s slightly modified IRS, including a revised high pressure hydraulic system and a new undercarriage. This led to a new tailpipe layout: cars with the previous rear end had twinned pipes tucked to the left side; newer cars had tailpipes on either corner.
Very late Corniches also have steering wheels usually finished in leather, which is not the case for our feature car, so it should be an early ’79 model (just like me!). Can’t fault that interior – at least the front seats…
That rear bench sure looks snug. And therein lies the nub (or should that be “snob”?): you really do pay more to get less with the Corniche. The 1979 British list price for a two-door saloon like our CC was a cool ₤53,322; the drop-top costing around ₤3200 extra. The standard wheelbase four-door Shadow II retailed at ₤36,652 (₤7500 extra for the LWB Wraith II). Exclusivity came at a steep price.
There are tangible differences with the four-door Shadow II, but they are nigh on impossible to make out. Can you see the 15% thicker grille? The new-fangled Spirit suspension? The one inch lower body?
I guess that depends on the angle. But no, the only thing you really catch onto, aside from that Corniche plaque on the bootlid, are the missing rear doors and slightly tweaked beltline. It’s so discreet that it might be possible to mistaken the two-door for the four-door: the greenhouses are not very different and the beltline kink is not always noticeable (case in point above. OK, I’m cheating a bit).
Our CC is not wearing stock wheels. Those are 15-in. Rolls-Royce alloys, but they are a good decade younger than the car. To each their own, but on such a rare ride, that’s kind of a shame. That blemish aside, what we have here is a stunner of a Series 2 Silver Shadow, essentially.
Rolls sold only 328 of these between 1977 and 1980; a mere 17 Bentley-badged cars were also made. Tiny numbers, but then compare that to the 530 Camargues (1979 UK MRSP: ₤64,970 – ugly and expensive!) they made over a decade, and it looks like Rolls got rid of the more popular (and certainly most graceful) of the two exclusive two-door saloons in their range. Tellingly, the two-door saloon was never replaced; it would take R-R another couple of decades to try their hand at a fixed-head with the 2008 Phantom Coupé.
Observant readers might have recognized this car park, as it’s been featured on a previous post. Not coincidentally, that was also a Crewe product. This Corniche is another one belonging to the British car collector/restorer I mentioned before. It’s a veritable CC goldmine, that area.
So there will be more British beauties coming soon – enough to keep the Flying Lady aloft and smiling on CC for the remainder of 2022, hopefully.
CC Capsule: 1985 Bentley Continental – What’s Not To Like?, by Roger Carr