Park-Ward’s understated Crewe cuts. The rise of coachbuilt Cloud. Park Ward’s Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud III mixed modernity with tradition, say Martin Buckley and it’s more fashionable now than it’s ever been. Photography Malcolm Griffiths.
There are very few cars that make me feel envious but this Rolls-Royce is one of them. Not green-eyed resentment, exactly. Merely a sort of wistful sense that I am probably never going to own a Silver Cloud III Mulliner Park Ward two-door, not now that prices are beginning to harden as the world wakes up to just how stylish and important these cars are.
In Royal Blue with blue tinted glass, this 1965 example is a whispering and majestic car that engenders feelings of awe and respect in anyone who encounters it although, as owner/restorer Keith Dewhurst says: “It’s difficult to take it shopping at Waitrose – you spend 15 minutes answering questions in the car park!”
Right on cue, a paunchy man in a stained vest appears to pay homage to the gleaming 17ft coupe that is twice as long as his house (which we are parked outside) is wide. It makes his day. Somehow, this is not a car that makes people resentful. It makes them smile.
Dewhurst bought this car-ordered new by the conductor Mantovani but possibly never delivered to him – three years ago from its third owner. It was restored in the early 1990s, and Dewhurst describes its condition in 2010 as, “Okay but tired.” He embarked on a two-year course of improvement and refreshment that is a tribute to the former BBC engineer’s eye for detail.
His mission now is to, “Just use it and de-bug it,” which is hardly a chore. Having averaged between seven and 70 annual miles over the past 25 years, the Rolls has needed all the usual attention to its fuel and braking systems. One glass-out repaint later, it looks delectable.
Dewhurst is careful about where he parks the car (he spends 15 minutes looking for the perfect space at the hotel where we meet) and is extremely protective of its huge front wings, which he says tend to collect elbow marks from mechanics working on the engine and are “remarkably flexible and floppy” when removed. Inside the front wheelarches, you can see the inspection plates that have to be taken out to change the plugs, a reminder that the Cloud was a 1950s product designed fora straight-six rather than the c200bhp aluminium V8 that sits deep under the split, centre-hinged bonnet.
At the other end, the boot looks as if it should be huge but is, in fact, rather shallow, with secret cubbyholes in the floor for tools and spares. A third of its length is taken up by the air-conditioning compressor (a fairly rare option), which is about the size of something you would have had in a small office in the 1960s. It still works and you can see the outlets in the rear shelf. The car was specified new with a Bray engine heater and has the chrome waistline, also optional.
It is a long, slim car of razor-edged lines fashioned around the Silver Cloud chassis with precision tailoring. With those quad angled lamps and slender fins, it is a shape almost as redolent of the cliches of 1960s glamour and excitement as a silver Aston Martin DBS, but somehow much less tired and hackneyed. It was the car of the show-business impresario or anyone else who had made their money behind the scenes but wanted to display their wealth in perhaps the most decadently selfish of all European automobiles. This idea subconsciously must have appealed to me: circa 1971, my Dinky version in Regal Red was one of my most coveted possessions, rarely prised from my sticky paws.
Somehow, the quad headlights work with the Rolls-Royce grille in a way that they don’t, quite, with the Bentley version. In either case, I love the rear view and the three Hillman Imp-style Lucas tail-lamps sunk vertically into the rear wing.
It is difficult to pin down why, until recently, me so-called (and rather un-PC) ‘Chinese Eye’ cars have been so much the Cinderella models of the coachbuilt Silver Cloud and Bentley S-series family. Certainly the styling was regarded as conspicuously fashionable even in 1962, while the all-steel structure (with aluminium bonnet, doors and bootlid) was thought intrinsically inferior and less resistant to corrosion.
So, while the traditional full-bodied curves of the Mulliner Flying Spur models have a visual link with me esteemed and massively pricey R-type and S1 Continentals of the 1950s, this Park Ward design projected Rolls-Royce and Bentley styling into the funire with a bold wing line and a modern, sharp-edged sensibility that was more architectural than sculptural. Its proportions prepared customers for me elegant angularity of the Silver Shadow and were in many ways a precursor to the Camargue concept of rarefied two-door decadence.
Technically, these Park Ward cars were more modern, too, employing aircraft-style build techniques (no wood) that were patented in the 1930s and refined during the war, when Park Ward produced aeroplane components. This mean that it could build quite substantial batches of cars at its Willesden, NW10 factory. Here was a Rolls-Royce that seemed truly at home in the mid-20th century, a ‘statement’ motor car that made no apologies for looking glamorous and projecting an aura of wealth on to its occupants. These models were part of a conscious effort to give Rolls-Royce and Bentley a younger image. Times were changing and a car was required that would reflect the tastes of the ‘new money’ customers, people who had become very wealthy very quickly- usually in the realm of popular culture – and were young and interested enough to want to drive themselves.
It was a successful policy because the Park Ward Continental outsold Mulliner and James Young versions, but only 100 of these Rolls Royce variants – which were never called Continentals, of course- were produced.
Although the car was based around the Con tin en ta I chassis with only minor changes, the advent of the 6.2-litre V8 engine in 1959 had rather undermined the need for a separate Continental identity because the standard car was easily fast enough. Mulliner and Park Ward had been amalgamated under the Rolls-Royce umbrella by the time that this car was built but the basic shape, in drophead form, dates back to 1959 as a pure Park Ward style created for the new S2 Continental chassis – but with single headlamps in the outer corners of the wings and only as a Bentley Continental convertible with the latest 6.2-litre V8.
This severe and radical shape was the work of a young Norwegian called Vilhelm Koren, a now-mysterious figure who, at the time, was being mentored by Crewe’s chief stylist John Blatchley to take over after he retired. The story goes that Koren couldn’t face the thought of leaving his London life for Crewe and ended up teaching furniture design instead.
The angled lamps appeared in 1962 with the advent of the Silver Cloud III/Bentley S3 (with its larger SU HD8 carbs, higher compression ratio and improved power steering), but for the first year was only sold as a Bentley S3 Continental Park Ward drophead coupe or a new two-door saloon variant, with squat , crisp roofline and a full-width, slightly hooded rear window.
At the Earls Court show in 1963, Rolls-Royce announced that it would be offering the specialised two-door coachwork on the Silver Cloud III chassis with a lowered steering column. The only other difference was that the Rolls variant didn’t have a rev counter. From there on, the HJ Mulliner ‘adaptation’ Silver Cloud III drophead coupes (adapted four-door Standard Steel saloons) were no longer listed. Alongside the Mulliner and James Young coachwork, these specialised Silver Cloud III/S3 models outlived the Standard Steel cars by several months, the final one being delivered in January 1966.
When I wrote about the ex-Peter Sellers Park Ward Cloud III convertible in 2004, that car could have been bought for £70,000. Today, Dewhurst’s near-mint fixed-head example – more properly known as a two-door saloon – could sell for £125,000. A helpful illustration of the kind of clientele that the model was designed to attract 50 years ago is the fact that the likes of Jude Law and Kate Moss have been seen cruising around in Chinese Eyes of late. The general vibe is that they have been ‘cheap’ for too long.
You quickly come to the conclusion that the Park Ward Cloud III is worth the money, then and now. You feel conspicuous when entering through massive doors, but once they are shut other people’s views don’t matter. It is an extravagant piece of packaging with a remarkably cosy cabin sandwiched between a vast nose and an only slightly shorter tail. The floor is high and the rear legroom is that of a generous 2+2 rather than a full four-seater. Up front, you sit with your legs splayed around the massive steering wheel, which could have come off a 1930s car.
The view down the bonnet is commandingly magnificent and there is even something silently imperious about the swift and unforgiving action of the power windows. The interior also has a slightly austere feel – it is more modernist and much less ‘clubby’ than other coach built Silver Clouds. The instruments grouped in a nacelle behind the steering wheel were another ‘first’ for the Chinese Eye and there is plainer figuring to the veneers than is usual.
In the driving, it is a 1950s concept that achieves a ’60s result by complex but oldfashioned means, with all kinds of unseen refinements that add to the feeling of effortless wellbeing. The torque is such that the Cloud can shoot discreetly away without making a fuss and has sufficiently high gearing in fourth (27mph per 1000rpm) to make three-figure cruising effortless, if ruinously thirsty. Dewhurst reports that 15mpg is possible if driven carefully. The point is that this is a car mat will adjust to your mood, whether you want to potter and enjoy the silence, or hurry and discover the Cloud’s surprisingly adept and consistent cornering.
There is something sensuous about having such a large, heavy car under such delicate control. With a light touch on the thin-rimmed wheel it can be guided accurately and with the minimum of fuss at speed, me silkiness of me power assistance somehow in tune with the smooth action of the throttle travel and velvety progression of the superb drum brakes.
It is not a sports car or even a GT, but a ‘personal luxury vehicle’, almost in the American idiom, built without any regard to saving weight at the expense of sumptuous comfort for the wealthy owner-driver. It may have seemed dated in the mid-1960s but today it is everything you expect of a Rolls-Royce. I probably cannot pay it any higher compliment.
ROLLS-ROYCE SILVER CLOUD III
Sold/number built 1963-‘1966/2578 (all)
Construction separa Le chassis, steel body with aluminium doors, bonnet and bootlid
Engine all-alloy, overhead-valve 6230cc 90° V8, twin SU carburettors;
Power not quoted
Transmission four-speed automatic. RWD
Suspension: front independent by wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers rear live axle, asymmetric semi-elliptics, Selectaride dampers, two anti-roll/anti-wind-up links
Steering power-assisted worm and roller
Brakes drums, split-circuit hydraulic front, hydromechanical rear, with servo
Length 17ft 1/3 in (5226mm)
Width 6ft 2 ½ in (1892mm)
Height 5ft 4in (1625mm)
Wheelbase 10ft 3in (3124mm)
Weight 4400lb (1995kg)
0-60mph 10.8 secs
Top speed 120mph
Price new £8157
Price now £55-125.000
Styling provides a link between Cloud and Shadow ranges. Right, clockwise: simple but luxurious cabin; all-alloy V8; Rolls handles more tidily than you might expect; complete toolkit.
Clockwise, from main: Cloud glides silently along but it has plenty of pace; 15in wheels on radials; distinctively angled quad lamps: owner Dewhurst: adjustable vent for rare optional air-conditioning.
No longer the forgotten Rolls
Interest in Park Ward Cloud Ills and S3s has increased of late but the range of prices is still wide. You can buy a running fixed-head needing work for about £45,000, right through to a ‘perfect’ car for £125k, Dropheads command roughly £30k more. They don’t come up for sale that often and there are very few perfectly restored cars out there: they are difficult to get right body-wise.
There doesn’t appear to be any premium on Rolls-Royce or Bentley variants, but cars painted in unfashionable or unflattering colours can be hard to sell. The S2 model with the single lights started to pick up value first because it looked more conservative, yet there doesn’t now seem to be much difference. Although values are rising, the Park Wards are still a good buy compared to the Mulliner S2 and S3 Flying Spur at £180k.