Curbside Classic: 1991 Rolls-Royce Silver Spur II Hearse – One Foot In The Grave

1991 Rolls-Royce Silver Spur II hearse right rear

There are some cars you wouldn’t expect to encounter parked next to a vacant commercial building in Virginia.  A Rolls-Royce hearse is one of them.  Before coming across this vehicle, I’d never seen a Rolls-Royce hearse, so it was worth a stop to investigate.  This hearse isn’t exactly in spry condition – it’s evidently been parked here for a several months, and an older Rolls-Royce left to sit has probably been diagnosed with multiple ailments.  Assuming astronomical repair costs, its condition may well be terminal.  Oh, and yes, that’s a cemetery right across the street.

This particular vehicle has enjoyed its 15 minutes of Internet fame before, as it was featured (in much better condition) on Bring a Trailer in 2017.  At that time, it was offered for sale by a well-known importer of Japanese-market vehicles, leading the BaT submitter to speculate that the hearse conversion was done in Japan.  After examining this hearse, I’m leading towards the same conclusion, though unfortunately we have no information about the coachbuilder.

1991 Rolls-Royce Silver Spur II hearse right side

The first notable thing about this car is that Rolls-Royce hearses are almost unheard-of in North America.  I’m sure there’s a few somewhere on this continent, but I’ve certainly never seen one.  Once I got beyond the peculiarity of finding such a specimen, the next thing that occurred to me is that this car looks rather natural as a wagon body.  The rear compartment’s roof is raised, though not exaggeratingly so, and the contrasting vinyl (Everflex?) top masks much of the awkwardness that a fully white body would likely exhibit.

1991 Rolls-Royce Silver Spur II hearse left rear

The windowless sail panel gives away this car’s hearse vocation, though it’s easy to squint and see this as a custom-bodied station wagon.  Aside from the rear hatch’s awkward and slightly uneven angled cutout, the bodywork looks well-designed for its purpose.

1991 Rolls-Royce Silver Spur II hearse rear

Our featured car appears to be an American-market Rolls-Royce, with left-hand drive and a speedometer showing miles per hour.  But there’s a few clues that point to the hearse conversion being done in Japan.  For one, Rolls-Royce hearses seem to be more common in Japan than in North America – research turns up several companies that do such conversions, though none seems to exactly match our example.  Another clue is present as well – this car has front and rear license plate adapter brackets featuring bolt holes for different size license plates.  Since Japanese plates are slightly larger than 6×12” North American plates, such brackets are often necessary.

Coachbuilt vehicles like this often borrow parts from other cars, and one mystery here is the source of this large and wide rear window.  I can’t place the donor vehicle.  Maybe a reader here can help with this mystery, and match up the window’s shape and defroster pattern with a known vehicle.

Regardless of the country of origin, I wouldn’t be surprised if this conversion took place well after the car’s 1991 build date.  It seems that many high-end hearse conversions worldwide are done with used cars rather than new models.  But like other pieces to this puzzle, that’s little more than speculation.

1991 Rolls-Royce Silver Spur II hearse front

US market Rolls-Royce sedans came equipped with sealed-beam headlights until 1993, so this car has been retrofitted with European-style flush-fitting headlights, a common upgrade for Silver Spirits and Spurs.

1991 Rolls-Royce Silver Spur II hearse interior

Taking a look inside, one can see glimpses of a bygone era’s luxury, with “exquisite veneers and supple hand-stitched hide,” to quote a period Silver Spur brochure.  The item stretching across the center console is a cover for the windshield wiper motor assembly that typically resides under the hood, so maybe non-functional wipers are one of this hearse’s current challenges.

This photo from one of the earlier sale listings shows the casket compartment.  The casket slides in on the right, while the driver’s-side rear seat is still intact, making this a three (live) passenger car.

1991 Rolls-Royce Silver Spur II hearse right front

From what I can tell, this car was sold by the JDM dealer several years ago, and then sold again by a Northern Virginia used car dealer.  The car is still displaying a 30-day temporary license plate that expired in December 2021, so quite possibly the current owner bought it from that dealership, but shortly afterwards some mechanical problems quickly threw the new owner’s plans into disarray.  And here it sits.

1991 Rolls-Royce Silver Spur II hearse left front

Seeing any Rolls-Royce down on its luck, as this one appears to be, is somewhat surreal.  After all, the “Best Motor Car in the World” deserves better than enduring a slow decay next to a vacant building.  But it’s easy to speculate as to why.  Thirty-year-old Rolls-Royces may seem alluringly attainable by virtue of their sale prices, however these are high-maintenance cars with expensive parts.  Not planning accordingly could easily end up with a disabled car that just sits for lack of resources.

So, what could the future hold in store for our featured hearse?  The current owners are likely in over their heads, and this would be a tough sell to a new buyer.  Under any circumstances, a Rolls-Royce that’s been sitting unused for a long time probably has more than its fair share of unresolved issues – so this one needs a buyer who has the knowledge and/or resources to undertake a Rolls-Royce project and has the interest in owning an old hearse.  The chances of finding such a buyer are rather slim.

Cobweb-covered Rolls-Royce Spirit of Ectasy

This cobweb-covered Spirit of Ecstasy is a fitting allegory for an aging once-regal vehicle that likely now has one foot in the grave.  But even in its current condition, a Rolls-Royce hearse is quite a sight to behold.


Photographed in Fairfax, Virginia in April 2023.