Rolls-Royce said Monday that they delivered 3,538 cars in 2011, an all-time sales record, beating the previous record set in 1978. Toyota ships that many cars every three hours around the clock. Small volume does not make R-R a cottage industry. At $246,500 for the Ghost and $380,000 for the Phantom, 2011 was a billion-dollar year.
Everyone knows Rolls-Royce, its iconic grille topped by the Spirit of Ecstasy, as the very best, the finest motorcar on the road, no expense spared. The Crème de la Crème. Everyone always has, around the world. The sun never sets on the Rolls-Royce. All this recognition on just a few thousand cars a year. For 107 years.
This early-1980s Rolls-Royce Corniche Convertible makes semi-regular appearances at an office park near my office. I often pass it as I walk to lunch. Sometimes it’s even parked with the top down. Thirty years later its leather smells fabulous.
There it is. The Grille. Elegant, posh, genteel, well heeled, to the manner born. Upper class. Old school. Old money. One percent. The Real Thing. Often quoted by pretenders to the crown, but never equaled.
This Rolls-Royce Corniche is a two-door convertible built on a 120.5 inch wheelbase, 204 inches long, 5,000 pounds. Coil-spring independent suspension front and rear includes a hydraulic self-leveling system, built by R-R under license from Citroën, but without their pneumatic springs. Four wheel ventilated power disc brakes, 15 inch stainless steel wheels, rack and pinion power steering. A Corniche cost $162,500 in 1982, $360,000 in today’s dollars.
Rolls-Royce model year spotting is a subtle art. From the wheels and its interior (no air bags, discontinuous console, mid-dash digital readouts) this car appears to be somewhere between 1982 and 1985. Technically this is a Corniche II, but the nameplate says Corniche. Any expert spotters out there?
Elegant in its simplicity, well proportioned, free from excess of any kind. I do have one nit to pick, the slight crease between door and rear wheel which defines the forward edge of the bustle. Why does it taper back like that? It looks OK in the photo, in life you don’t see it so clearly, and when it catches your eye you might think it’s a dent. My non-car-crazy lunch companion noticed that too.
5,100 Corniches were built from 1971 to 1995, all based on the same Silver Shadow platform, outliving the sedan itself. (Which was to be called the Silver Mist, until someone pointed out that ‘mist’ is the German word for manure.) The 1965 Silver Shadow four-door sedan was Rolls-Royce’s first unit body car. Even a Rolls-Royce has limits. Its dimensions are constrained by England’s narrow roads and tight corners, so space-efficient design is important. Going to unitary construction delivered more interior room in a car 3.5 inches narrower and 7 inches shorter than its predecessor.
My favorite feature is this deliciously extensive door handle. It’s almost as long as an entire Triumph Mayflower.
Coachbuilders H. J. Mulliner and Park Ward, both of London, eventually merged into R-R’s Mulliner Park Ward division by 1961. Much of the Rolls-Royce reputation for ultimate quality is due to the MPW craftsmen, many of whom had decades of experience. According to the Roßfeldt Archives, Corniche bodies were built at MPW in London, shipped to the famous Rolls-Royce factory in Crewe, Cheshire, northwest England, for installation of their running gear, and returned to London where the MPW coachbuilders finished the cars. An expensive way to run a factory, but the cars went to their expert builders, rather than the other way around.
Not having developed Paul’s knack for reflection-free interior photography, I’ll spare you my photos. Here’s a much better view of another early-Eighties Corniche. 140 mph speedometer. Digital indicators for time and temperature. The leather, wood and workmanship speak for themselves.
Rolls-Royce engines are legendary. Spitfire fighters and their R-R Merlin V-12 engines played a key role in winning the Battle of Britain. Under the Corniche hood sits the timeless Rolls-Royce L-series V-8 engine, at 6.75 liters. Introduced in 1959, the L-series is the longest-lived engine still in production cars today. (Lamborghini’s V-12 is from ’62, and the Chevy small block, while still being built, is no longer in new production cars.) Corniche’s L410I has Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection, distributed through that octopus at the back. Our astute commenter Slow Joe Crow spotted the GM Frigidaire AC compressor at the front. This Rolls-Royce engine’s power is “adequate” (240 hp, if you must know, at 4000 rpm), delivered through a GM-built Turbo Hydramatic 400 transmission. Top speed 118. Efficiency was not an objective: 7 mpg city, 10 highway, 8 combined (US EPA).
Spirit of Ecstasy, the Flying Lady, has quite a remarkable story of her own, starting with “The Whisper”. John Walter Edward Douglas-Scott-Montagu, 2nd Baron Montagu of Beaulieu and a pioneer of British motoring, had a secret love, Eleanor Velasco Thornton, his secretary. They could not marry since she was not of his class, and he married someone high-born. But they continued their affair in secret for more than a decade.
Early Rolls radiators carried no ornaments. Lord Montagu had sculptor Charles Sykes create one for his car, and Eleanor was the model. In “The Whisper” she has a finger pressed to her lips to keep the secret of their love. Tragically, Eleanor and Lord Montagu were on the SS Persia when it was torpedoed by a German sub in 1915. He survived but she did not.
In 1911 R-R commissioned Sykes to design an ornament for production cars, and he based it on “The Whisper”. They directed him to embody “the spirit of the Rolls-Royce, namely, speed with silence, absence of vibration, the mysterious harnessing of great energy and a beautiful living organism of superb grace…”
“Spirit of Ecstasy” (or “Ellie in Her Nightie” to the less reverent) has been the symbol of Rolls-Royce ever since. The modern Spirit can dive instantly into her shell when bumped from any direction, to avoid impaling the commoners. She may also withdraw at dashboard command.
Our Corniche’s driver enjoys this view of the Flying Lady at the far end of its long, tall hood. Life is good behind the wheel of a Rolls-Royce, very good indeed.
CC Follow-Up: Come summer (2012) she returned with her top down.
What a find! I knew that these existed, but I am pretty sure that I have never seen one out in anything close to daily service. And parked outside on a rainy day, yet.
I had never noticed that rear quarter panel sculpting on these cars. I must agree that this feature does not quite work, and I think that the car would have been better looking without it.
I am actually amazed that the car weighs only 5,000 pounds. The 1960s Lincoln convertibles weighed in at around 6,000, IIRC. We always wonder what a 1960s car would look like if it had been built in modern times (even the 1990s). This is it. 10 mpg and all.
Much of the body is aluminum, is it not, wot?
(Hard for me to talk about a R-R without slipping into a Cockney accent. Park yer car, guv?)
The James Young bodied Corniche does not have that sculpting, and I tend to agree. The Mulliner-bodied cars look a bit funny in that regard.
James Young Ltd did not body any Corniche cars. They built fifty two-door saloons, thirty-five Silver Shadow and fifteen Bentley T between 1966 and 1967, when they ceased coachbuilding. The Corniche was announced on the 4th March 1971.
It oddly reminds me of the lower rear quarter panel sculpting on the ’72 Mopar C-Bodies.
Well, my guess was way off…an Olds Omega this isn’t.
I like this generation of Rolls far more than the current generation, which seems to me to have lost a little of its dignity.
Bentleys are far more dignified, IMHO. Current Rollers, somehow look like SUV’s. If I was ostentatiously that wealthy, I’d go Bentley Arnage, although I have driven a new S class (S550) Benz with all the bells and whistles. Mighty impressive. S classes start a Tiburon or Sausalito motrgage payment shy of six figures.
In my teenage years I worked as a valet in the Detroit area, doing my longest stint at a country club. Why the rich gravitate towards reckless boys as the protector of choice for their cars is something I never understood, but I’m not complaining because it gave me the opportunity to drive some pretty cool cars.
One of the club members had a Corniche convertible, an early 90s example I believe. The richness of the interior (that leather!) is something I don’t think I’ve seen rivaled, but it always seemed wrong that it contained any plastic at all. Almost as if every last piece of switchgear should have been forged or carved.
The ride was the definition of “floating on a cloud,” which is why I never understood the appeal of the personal RR. The red LTD from a couple days ago would have been a more involving thing to drive. I guess looking out over that long hood at the Spirit of Ecstasy gives you the same reassurance of your place in life, whether you’re in the front or back seat. And sometimes you just need to drive yourself.
Great second sentence Chris. very funny
Because the rich don’t care. If said young boy prangs the car, the country club can always be sued for repairs. Meanwhile, you just get the spare out of the garage to drive in the interim.
I think the real question here is, “Why the country clubs gravitate towards reckless boys as the protector of choice for their rich clients cars is something I never understood.” Obviously, someone in the club’s bookkeeping department values minimum wage over extensive background checks.
Well in this case I worked for a third party valet company that provided service to the country club. I’m sure both had their own insurance to cover themselves, and the minimum wage pay outweighed the increased insurance costs.
I remember one instance when two valets crashed spectacularly into each other, one in a new Grand Cherokee, the other in a new Fleetwood. Both totaled, and the kids were just transferred to another club.
And sure, they could afford to have their toys out of commission if you wrecked them, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t super anal about them. The first time I ever drove a 911 the owner ripped me a new one for “not knowing how to drive a f%#%^g Porsche properly.” As I recall I was being cautious about letting out the super heavy clutch and was taking too long to do it.
I had long ceased to be a reckless boy, but I did get to drive one of these once. In the early 90s, I was a manager at a high-end retail establishment in Los Angeles. One of the salesmen had an appointment with a gentleman from the Nethercutt Collection (I recommend a visit to their website if you’re not familiar with it). He parked his Corniche convertible out front on Wilshire Blvd. (a No Parking zone), came in and asked if we had a garage and, if so, would someone park it there for him. We did, and I did. Volunteer for valet duty, that is. Naturally, I took the long way around to access the narrow alley where our garage was. As I approached, I suddenly started sweating, realizing that I must drive this thing up a narrow, curved, uphill, enclosed driveway (built in the 20s) with a gate at the top which did not respond to the remote until you were upon it. This was easy in my Probe, but in someone else’s RR? Anyway, the story had a happy ending, but just barely.
Even considering my limited experience, I got a feeling from this car that I have gotten from no other.
Seeing any Rolls-Royce just brings back memories of a very classy old TV show called “Burke’s Law”.
Or Grey Poupon commercials!
Drop-dead beautiful! I’d love to be able to ride in or drive one someday, somehow.
I remember Gene Barry as Amos Burke! The classiest, most elegant TV detective ever, he used to be driven to crime scenes in his Series 3 Silver Cloud. Not meaning to divert the thread, but Gene Barry did several other great shows, including “Bat Masterson” and “The Name Of the Game” with Robert Stack and Tony Franciosa.
Elvis had one in 1960. There is a shot of him standing in front of Graceland, circa 1961 with his Silver Cloud (yellow/black Cal plates w/”Coventry Motors” Beverly Hills dealer frames). Legend has it his late Mother’s chickens, who freely roamed the grounds of Graceland, were upset at seeing their reflections in the mirror-like finish of the Rolls, and caused considerable damage to the car pecking their “rivals”.
Said Rolls was dispatched back to SoCal for repairs and kept there.
Then there’s the story of Beach Boy Dennis Wilson’s ‘cloud bring commandoed by the Manson Family runs for garbage dumpster runs in the San Fernando Valley. . . .
Power . . . . adequate.
We loved that show. Watch one here:
Titles with the RR at night at 3:45.
I always thought the big single headlights were part of the iconic look. The duals on this Corniche are a bit of a shame.
When I was a kid, a prominent physician at my church had a Silver Cloud–he wasn’t a nouveau riche poseur by any means, but a really nice older gentleman for whom this was his one indulgence. (Not nice enough that he ever let my rambunctious self ride in it, though.) I don’t know exactly when or where he got it, but he had it, and drove it regularly, for years.
Back in the day, Motor Trend wrote that the change to dual headlights on the Rolls was “like installing a juke box in a cathedral.” I think they debuted in 1963.
I may be wrong.. But I am pretty sure the Rolls-Royce (now Bentley) 6.75 V8 stopped using any original components a few years ago, so it is the same engine in name only.
Is not the SB Chevy still used in marine applications?
The whole issue of what defines “oldest engine still in production” can get nebulous. No doubt all or most or the RR V8 internal components have been replaced. Probably the closes way to define it is in the engine’s architecture, which would also affect the engine’s block/head castings, and other factors like bore-spacing, etc. The RR V8 in any case carries more originality than the Lambo V12, including its 2 valve heads.
The Chevy 4.3 V6 may have been based on the original sbc, but its crank timing is different, as are other aspects. The RR V8 comes closest to the definition.
Here’s a photo of today’s Bentley 6.75 liter V-8 from Wikipedia, which says it’s currently in use in the Arnage, Brooklands and Mulsanne. The V-12 Continental is based on the VW Phaeton and uses the VW 6 liter “W-12”
FYI Rolls-Royce and Bentley were both marques of Rolls-Royce Motors, formed when the car and aviation businesses were split in 1973. A Bentley was a badge-engineered Rolls for many years. Quite a shuffle of trademarks and factories ensued in the late Nineties, ending up with R-R owned by BMW and Bentley owned by VW. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rolls-Royce_Motors
Few people know, that Rolls-Royce actually went bankrupt in the early 70’s and that the jet engine and car business were split up, even though they both kept the same logo.
Not as nice, but still very good:
Of course, the fun part is that you can probably pick up one of these for less than $20,000.00 nowadays in what appears to be decent condition. And Lord knows I’ve been tempted on a few occasions. The downside, of course, is maintenance. Not the money side (which, I assume anyone who’s willing to buy one of these has already put maintenance money aside), but the talent side. As in, having someone in your town who can actually work on these.
Looking under the hood, it’s painfully obviously that this ain’t a 60’s SBC.
Living at the periphery of Beverly Hills in the late seventies-mid eighties made these anything but unusual at the time. I rode in a coupe a couple of times, and what struck me was how rather cozy it was, as in not very spacious. They were almost more like mid-sized compared to the big American barges of the times.
So did you perform a bris while riding in the back? Sorry, that made me think of the old SNL parody commercial
Do my eyes bespy a ’65 Shelby GT 350 in the sixth picture? I also bet that’s a 409 SS Impala on the other side.
Corgi had a very nice model of the Mulliner Park Ward coupe (the original model name) when I was a kid.
The “octopus” looks more like a Bosch K-Jetronic fuel distribution unit than a suspension pump. As an aside, the item with the big silver pipes at the front of the of the engine is a Frigidaire A/C compressor, which along with the TH400 is proof that GM did two things right because Rolls-Royce used them.
That’s a much more likely role for the “octopus”, I’ll correct the text. Nice call on the AC too. Thanks!
I could have read all the comments first…lol
RR used GM trans missions from way back in the hydramatic days and so did Lincoln and with each transmission came a huge placard riveted to the firewall proclaiming the GM product. For air con who else did that right?
Airtemp. Good enough for the Chrysler building in 1931, good enough for cars.
And Nash-Kelvinator, later American Motors. Pioneers in the modern, “all components under the hood” a/c system design still in use today.
Looks like the KE (for electronic) Jetronic came out in 1985, so a 1982-85 Corniche’s injection would be the K-Jetronic. (The engine photo is an ’82 from a fan site.) In spite of its name it’s a purely mechanical system, which is why the fuel metering unit is shaped like a distributor and closely coupled with the air intake. Nicely explained here:
That’s assuming I’ve correctly spotted this car as 1982-85 from its visible features.
PS: Just realized that since it’s distributing fuel to a V-8, it is literally an octopus.
This car brings back an odd memory…
Back when I was living “at home” there was a Home Depot about a block from the house. Every Thursday like clockwork there would be a Mustard Yellow RR in front of the store. It always struck me as odd. If you walked the store you’d find the owners of the car easily. They were an elderly couple dressed like Thurston and Lovey Howell just strolling the store.
Grey-Poupon mustard colored? I couldn’t resist!!
Does a Rolls stretch?
No, but a Mercedes “Benz” (!)
I have always wanted a Bentley T1 or RR from this era, as they are the cars that come immediately to my mind when someone says “Rolls-Royce”. Although decent-looking ones are often available for little more than Camcord money, the thought of having to fix one when their faultless English craftsmanship goes south keeps me from taking the plunge.
I remember the Matchbox version of this car – it was a very nice metallic blue, and was one of the first Superfast models. (Matchbox had already released a four-door Silver Shadow in the late 1960s, in a deep maroon.) I have both in mint condition, so I guess that makes me a Rolls-Royce owner! That’s as close as I’ll ever get…
I’ve heard that, once you get past the beautiful coachwork and classic styling, these cars exhibited the faults that drove the British auto industry into oblivision. They weren’t particularly reliable, and repairing one costs a fortune. Hence, they aren’t worth a whole lot as collector cars, as people who know the real deal and also aren’t skilled Rolls-Royce mechanics give them a wide berth.
As somebody once told me, if you want to admire beautiful craftsmanship from the 1970s, buy one of these, but if you want to arrive at your destination without experiencing a breakdown, buy a 1970s Cadillac or Lincoln.
The Rolls-Royce does not break down! It may however “fail to proceed”. There are many legends that the Rolls is so well built that its hood is sealed, or that they quietly dispatch a mechanic to correct a fault, then disavow the incident. Snopes has a page on this:
Be sure to check out the true story of Rudyard Kipling’s Rolls-Royce Phantom.
I recall reading somwhere that RRs are never towed if dead but always collected for repair with a closed in truck. Being dragged thru town behind Joes AAA towing in full view of the peasantry is no done
That octopus at the back I believe is the Bosch KE/K-Jetronic fuel injection distribution unit.
Nice call on the clue!
We do tend to give old cars the hagiographical treatment, and this is the zenith.
Rolls-Royce is not a car. It’s a legend. And the one who paid $162,500 for it in 1982 bought that legend, not the car. Alternatively, he bought the Kool-Aid. This is the zenith of the newfangled term `conspicous consumption’, where a non- (or barely-) competitive product is elevated to a high pedestal due to extremely high pricing and endorsement by the leading lights (or tarts, depending on your pov) of society. It is highly desirable *because* it is highly desirable for others. It becomes a self-perpetuatng myth. The entire luxury products business operate in this fashion. Unfortunately, myths have to come to terms with the real world at some point in time, and so did Rolls Royce.
For me, the last *real* Rolls-Royce cars were those that were chosen for their engineering prowess in fine ride, noiseless engines, and rugged, very reliable mechanicals, even at the cost of using well-proven technology in favour of new developments. That era ended with the chauffeur-driven limousines of the Maharajas, when the only indicator of the car manufacturer was the radiator grille. However, well-proven is not the same as obsolete, but Rolls-Royce after that era had no engineering depth or finances to do anything about it, even if they cared. Good thing they used GM transmission and AC on this one. If only they had also used GM power…
Yes, RR Corniche is but a shadow of the legend. But it is still not a good car.
The present RR is a very good (albeit overly complex, all bells and whistles) car, but the legend is no more.
I wonder if BMW selling many Rolls-Royces is a good thing or bad. After all, do most buyers not want exclusivity (snob-value if you will) that *decreases* in proportion to number of cars sold? After all, if so many people have first-hand experience with it that they know what a bad investment in vanity it is, is it good for a hollow brand like RR?
I understand what you are saying about increased sales leading to decreased snob appeal, but I’m willing to bet that the Rolls-Royces sold today are more geographically dispersed than they were during the last record year (1978).
If the increase in sales is the result of rich Chinese wanting a Rolls, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the residents of Beverly Hills will view them as “too common.”
A lack of exclusivity never hurt BMW or Mercedes-Benz sales, and some of the big S-class and 7-series cars easily hit $150k with options. Not as expensive as a Rolls, but getting pretty close (a new Ghost is what, low $200s in the USA).
For awhile in the early 1970s, my father had a mobile phone in his car. There was a huge box mounted in the trunk (about the size of a desktop/tower computer) and an antenna that mounted in the rear fender. The in-car unit had a regular handset and coiled cord. There were maybe a dozen buttons, each for a different radio frequency. You would punch buttons until you got a clear frequency, then either dial yourself or dial 0 for a mobile operator.
I was maybe 10 or 11 at the time, and once sat in the car for maybe a half hour punching buttons and listening to other peoples’ phone conversations, so there was no privacy at all. The thing used so much juice, it nearly killed the battery in my dad’s car during that half hour (car off, so alternator not charging).
Wrong thread? 🙂
Thanks for the info though!
The local vintage car club has an old RR 1922 from memory but the block is stuffed. A company in Christchurch NZ can do a new block $65k so owning and repairing one isnt cheap even if you can wrench.
How about ’10’ where Dudley Moore drives his ’78 Corniche head-on into a BHPD cruiser?
Is your image really a jpeg file (JPG or JPEG type)? On a Windows PC right-click on your file name and choose “Properties” to see what it really is. On Mac it’s “Get Info”. If it’s not a jpeg the blog software just ignores it.
I have always called this vintage Rolls, “Judge Smales Rolls” in homage to the one he drove in Caddyshack. When the image of a Rolls owner pops into my head, I cant help of thinking of evil Mr. Thorndyke, the exotic/luxury car dealership owner from from The Love Bug.
Richard Dreyfuss drove one in the film Down and Out in Beverly Hills.Corniches were popular in Australia.
I find these awkwardly proportioned, particularly in the third pic showing the rear quarter crease and where it’s clear that the back wheel is not centred in the wheelwell (shades of the early Rambler American!). Aside from the wood and leather, the interior looks straight out of a Checker.
Rolls-Royce cars seem like the same type of ‘lifestyle’ vehicle as the Wrangler, but only really accessable by the über-wealthy 1% class. For the other 99%, as previously mentioned, there was always the cool Matchbox version (or the Jeep).
At any rate, there were some great reviews of Rollers in Car and Driver over the years. One of my faves was the article about one of only three stand-alone US Roll-Royce dealerships in tiny Zionsivlle, Indiana (north of Indianapolis). Unfortunately, the dealership (Albers) looks like it ceased being a Rolls-Royce dealership in 2003 and now just sells new Bentleys.
Just noticed something very special about this coachbuilt car. No seams anywhere. No gaps between panels, they’re all filled in flawlessly.
Looks like a big giant supersized karmann Ghia with a Lincoln grill.
“Technically the car is a Corniche II”. That is incorrect. The Corniche II was introduced in 1987, and the boot lid badge identified it as such.