Giant road test #1977
Vanden Plas vs. Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow II and Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9 W116 with Cadillac Seville.
Simple, elegant and understated lines of the biggest #Mercedes-W116
. Only its wider tyres and 6.9 badges distinguish it from the lesser models. Interior is built to the same philosophy, with greater accent on efficiency than luxury #Cadillac
Seville is clearly styled to influences from both Mercedes and Rolls, shares its body shell with more basic #GM
cars. Interior is on the pseudo-luxurious side, but seats are comfortable. Gimmicks like automatic light dipping abound Low and sporty Daimler body is almost as old as Rolls, still has enormous appeal. As with Mercedes and Cadillac, body is shared with lesser models in Jaguar range. Interior is pleasing blend of traditional wood and leather #Rolls-Royce
, recently revised as Shadow II, is stateliness itself. Height of body gives it an air of superiority from without and within. For all occupants, cabin is tremendously appealing, with space, wood, leather and charm.
Mercedes priorities are aimed fully at the driver. It's roomy but rear seat is too hard. Badge tells the story, cruise control governs it, ducts heat doors, roof is standard Handling and drivability right up to top expert level Antithetic Cadillac has only a vague speedo and tiny fuel gauge. Modest room detracts from seats' comfort. Auto dipping and on-off switching, tell-tales for duff bulbs, recessed wipers but false spokes. Handling is understeer all the way Half-way house XJ12, combines modern gauges with traditional wood. Leather looks nice but cloth is more comfortable. Air conditioning is superb, fan cools battery, beading spoils I seat comfort, some trim is rough. Handling and stability are terrific.
Rolls dash is appealing if inefficient. Everything feels so nice. Flat seats but lots of room and superb finish. Loads of Silver Lady status, glorious air conditioning, electric seat adjustment but tacked-on fog lights. Handling is ...rolly.
Mercedes engine is as neat as it is powerful, has dry sump for 10,000 mile service intervals and provides pressure for the hydro-pneumatic spring and damper units.
Much more basic Cadillac V8 does sport fuel injection but is no fireball. Priorities are typically American: reliability and easy servicing; this is rhd convert.
Marvellous XJ12 engine is a sight to behold: all alloy and superb castings. Injection has made it both more powerful and economical. Heat soak is incredible.
Rolls engine bay looks every inch a craftsman's paradise, probably unappreciated by most owners. Twin SU carbs still supply the fuel, in appropriately large quantities.
Rolls-Royce say it and most people believe that they make the best car in the world. In pub and party arguments, the most common contradiction has it that #Daimler-Benz
hold the crown. We have heard other people insist that both protagonists are wrong: the best car in the world is a Cadillac. And others, generally those who have driven all the cars involved, advance the Jaguar/Daimler XJ12 as the current king among cars. Indeed, we were partly spurred towards an overdue and once-and-for-all resolution of this tedious argument by our experiences with the #Jaguar-XJ5.3C
(Coupe 2-doors) that we recently took to Hungary. Yes, it was brought to halt when its new American transmission failed, and we were inconvenienced when its German headlight relay packed up. But - and you must remember our overtly cynical natures - reprehensible as they were (for the responsibility for such failures must rest at Loyland's feet, regardless of who is actually to blame) they could do little to dampen our absolute enthusiasm for a car that had demonstrated such extraordinary refinement. It was a pertinent reminder of the XJ12's ability: Mr Editor Nichols had only weeks before spent six days driving across the United States in a #Mercedes-Benz-450SEL-6.9-W116
, and it wasn't long before that that we had experienced a Cadillac Seville and the latest #Rolls-Royce-Shadow-II
. The question, it seemed to our freshly jolted minds, was whether any of these cars could measure up to the overall standards set by the Jaguar, rather than whether it could compete with them.
A perennial question like 'best car in the wood' hinges around priorities. To most people, cars are saloons, so this debate has always been about saloons. As a piece of uncompromising automobile design and execution, what can compete with the #Lamborghini-Countach
? Prestige is also involved: relative to cost and achievement attained for money spent, is there a car to compete with the #Citroen-GS
? But beyond these factors, the argument broadens. The car that is the best in the world - within this popularly-conceived sphere - must have more than just the best finish, the best styling, the most prestigious name. To be the best it is going to need the finest chassis: on the one hand it has to provide the best ride with the least noise, tor that is the beginning of real luxury; on the other, it needs the strongest roadholding and best-balanced handling. It needs performance, smoothness and quietness from its engine. It must be as good to drive as it is good to be driven in; it will compromise each of its functions the least, and Wend them the best.
It is intriguing that these four natural contestants should vary so greatly in price. At one end of the scale, the #Daimler-Double-Six-Vanden-Plas
, the ultimate #Jaguar-XJ12
- indeed, the ultimate Leyland Car - costs £14.582 which includes £721 worth of air conditioning and a #Philips
mono radio/stereo cassette system. The #Cadillac-Seville,
converted to right-hand drive (RHD) in London for importers #Lendrum
, is very nearly the same price: £14,888, which includes the complex 'climate control system' and hosts of other universal fittings. You then jump almost £10,000 to the Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9 W116 and #Rolls-Royce-Silver-Shadow
- £23.850 for the biggest Benz, everything included and £24.248 for the Shadow II (or #Bentley-T2
). A two-level air conditioning system, rather like the Cadillac's, is a standard fitting. So is a stereo system, which may be altered to your choice and, as Rolls-Royce say: ‘It has always been our policy to produce motor cars incorporating special equipment to meet the requirements of individual customers.' Among the 'more frequently requested items' listed as options in the R-R price 1-st are headrests at £39.19 or head restraints at £79.56, a badge bar at £17.84 or GB letters at £3.22. There are many other items, listed and unlisted, and it's really up to the customer to tell R-R what he wants. Addenda to the #Daimler
price list suggest the same sort of flexibility.
Mercedes build the 6.9 virtually to order, and it is inconceivable that Cadillac would not fit any number of non-standard items for their customers if they were asked. So far as production numbers go - exclusivity if you like - Rolls-Royce will build 3500 cars this year on a delivery time of 18 months, Leyland will make 7000 XJ12s, of which 250 or so will be Vanden Plas with a delivery time of six to nine months, Mercedes will make 1800 6.9s on six to seven months delivery and Cadillac will make 40,000 Sevilles, of which 150 will come to Britain for delivery in three months.
Traditionalism and conservatism are part and parcel of the styling approaches of the makers of these cars, if to a lesser degree where the Cadillac Seville is concerned. A Roils and a Mercedes must always look like a Rolls and a Mercedes, and central to their styling are their grilles, without doubt the most prestigious in the world. Each new Rolls and Mercedes follows on subtly from its predecessor, trying hard not to look too new or different. It is an approach that suggests continuity and establishment. security and taste: it is also safe. The Jaguar/Daimler has a slightly different sort of body - lower and more sporting - but it also abides by the rule of continuity and marque character laid down by Sir William Lyons. So within the confines of taste, prestige and stateliness, we have three very different looking cars - the tall, dignified Rolls, the contemporary, slightly wedge Mercedes and the rounded, sleek Daimler. The Cadillac, an enormous departure in size and concept for its makers and the American automotive industry in general, is a copy cat. It blatantly steals its prestige from both Rolls and Mercedes and is a curious amalgam of styling features from both, with stronger Roils overtones than Mercedes, and because it is from the hands of probably the word's most adept mass- production car stylists, it succeeds. It does not really look out of place in Europe, either in size or appearance, and t has put the seal of desirability an a new era in American car design, in the prestige stakes, the Rolls-Royce scores a valuable point by being a model unto itself. The Silver Shadow body is the lowliest in Crewe's range, and except for the long wheelbase Silver Wraith II derivative, has no look-alike. On the other hand, the Cadillac is a development of the Chevrolet Caprice/etc body, suitably re-worked by GM's Cadillac Division for prestige, quality and refinement. The Daimler Vanden Plas, badge-engineering on badge-engineering, differs very little from the 'lesser' Jaguar V12s, and even the sixes, and most people would not spot them should they miss the subtle badges. Badges and wider wheels are the only give-aways that stand the 6.9 Mercedes apart from its lesser S-class brethren, a deliberate Mercedes policy that finds considerable favour with many buyers: they want the biggest, fastest Mercedes but they don't want ostentation. Indeed, in Germany at present such a point is a decided marketing advantage. The badges can be left off, or even replaced by 280SE W116 script and the workers will not know precisely which model their boss is using to tear past them. A Rolls, on the other hand, is unmistakably a car of and for the very rich even though it costs little more than the Mercedes 6.9. As a result Rolls-Royce cannot sell more than 30 cars a year there. Jaguar/Daimler badges can be switched about to read 3.5, Vanden Plas can be removed and the owner can bask in the same sort of obscurity as his Mercedes-driving counterpart which consuming petrol at an equal (well, almost - but we'll go into that later) rate. The weights and sizes of the four cars are interesting: the Rolls is easily the tallest at 59.8in, the longest at 204.5in and. has the longest wheelbase - 120in. The Cadillac, sharing a width of 71,8in with the Rolls, is only slightly shorter at 203.9in but has almost 6in less m its wheelbase. Next shortest, the Mercedes - just under 200in long - is the widest, at 73.6in, and almost 1in taller than the Cadillac. The Jaguar is the shortest (194.7in) the narrowest (69.7in), the lowest (54in) and has the most-modest wheelbase (112.8in). The Daimler is the lightest at 4179lb, then comes the Cadillac at 4232lb, the Mercedes at 4260lb, with the Sumo-wrestler Rolls pushing the scales to 4850lb.
The foundations of the engineering story are essentially straightforward: conventional front-mounted engines driving to the rear wheels. Within that basic framework there exists varying sophistication, allied more to the philosophies of the manufacturers involved rather than to their resources. The wealthiest company. General Motors, opt for nothing more advanced than a live rear axle if you please, thus standing apart in a group where the norm is independent rear suspension (with twists in the case of Mercedes and R-R - not that the Jaguar/Daimler system is altogether common). On the other hand, it is little Jaguar who break the V8 engine rule by being the only ones to offer a V12, that obvious symbol of luxury and prestige as well as performance. And although it has an extra four cylinders, the Coventy engine is the smallest of the quartet, a mere 5.3-litres compared with 5.7 for the Cadillac, 6.7 for the Rolls and 6.9-litres for the Mercedes. With the Cadillac, by the time the emission equipment has had its go at what's left over from a pushrod valve arrangement and an 8.0 to one compression ratio - but electronic ignition and fuel injection - you get a mere 180bhp at 4400rpm. Rolls-Royce have chosen not to reveal how many horses lurk in their regal stables, but judging by the Silver Shadow's performance one would guess at something in the region of 230bhp, also a result of pushrod-operated valves and an 8.0 to one compression ratio, but with feed by two big SU carburettors. One-up on the Cadillac however, the Rolls' block and cylinder head are made from aluminium alloy. Changes to the engine for the latest Shadow II run to a quieter and more efficient fan, more emission efficient carburettors and a new dual exhaust system that steals less power than before.
Sticking with the V8, we find the Mercedes powerplant rather more sophisticated. The block is cast iron out the cylinder head (atop a special gasket that eliminates re-tightening) is alloy and sports an overhead camshaft on each bank (with hydraulic tappets to take care of clearance adjustment). Its compression ration is a mere 8.1 to one but it is fed electronically by the #Bosch-K-Jetronic
system. Rather more out of the ordinary, the Mercedes has dry sump lubrication which extends oil change intervals to every 10,000 miles. The power from all this is 286bhp at a low 4250rpm... with the enormous beck-up of 405lb/ft of torque at 3000rpm. So far as straight power goes, the much smaller Jaguar V12 - alloy block and heads, one overhead cam per bank, #Lucas
electronic injection, 9.0 to one compression ratio - is almost precisely as strong: 285bhp at 5750rpm. But it has a lot less torque: 294lb/ft at 3500rpm. Just what sort of difference this makes on the road we shall see later on. It shall also be interesting to weigh up the transmissions: Rolls and Jaguar/Daimler use the three-speed #General-Motors-Hydramatic
transmission (a recent and very welcome replacement for the #Borg-Warner
Model 12 in the Leyland car) that belongs in the Cadillac. Mercedes, chauvinistic as ever, use their own transmission, but with three-speeds and not the four gears found in the smaller-engined models.
All four chassis are essential unitary (the Cadi lac has a small front perimeter frame), although built up in varying degrees of automation. The Cadillac is separated from its Chevrolet parent by careful extra welding and strengthening, with a lot of attention going into reduction of noise and vibration. The suspension is basically the same as John Doe's car though: wishbones and coil springs at the front, with an anti-roll bar and a good ol' live axle and good ol' leaf springs at the rear, given something byway of location through an antiroll bar and by way of sophistication through a self-levelling system. The recirculating ball steering is of course power-assisted but has the added advantages of variable ratio gearing that increases as the wheel is turned. Perhaps surprisingly for an American car, the Seville has disc brakes at the rear to match those at the front; a limited slip differential is optional.
On the face of it. Coventry's suspension is fairly straight forward too: semi-trailing upper and lower wishbones at the front, coil springs and an anti-roll bar with plenty of built-in anti-drive in the very clever geometry. At the rear, drive shafts act as the suspension's upper links, working in conjunction with lower transverse wishbones. There are also radius arms, and twin spring/damper units on each side of the car, spanning the drive shaft. It is an arrangement that works beautifully, and Ferrari, Lamborghini, De Tomaso and Maserati are among those who (although they use upper wishbones too) know of its benefits. But the secret of the refinement of the Jaguar/Daimler suspension rests in the separate sub-frames located into the body by rubber mountings that in turn carry the suspension units, and in the enormous skill that has gone into sorting out the correct bushings and settings. A limited slip differential is optional, the rack and pinion steering (subject of so much debate - for revision later in this test) is power assisted, with three turns lock-to-lock like the Seville's, and there is the added sophistication of inboard rear disc brakes.
There are disc brakes all-round in the Silver Shadow, and now that it has all after it, it can also boast power-assisted rack and pinion steering - probably the most important facet of the up-date a few months ago. It's a Burman rack, developed in conjunction with R-R’s engineers, with its hydraulic cylinders at its extremities and the output to the track-rod halves in the middle. The suspension components remain the same as before - very wide-based lower wishbones upper stabilizer lever, coil springs and an anti-roll bar. But the geometry has been slightly modified to reduce the changes in wheel camber, and the body roll. At the rear, there continues the semi-trailing arm system with its coil springs, anti-roll bar (reduced in diameter to allow for the modifications at the front end) and an automatic ride leveller.
The Mercedes, design-wise the most sophisticated of the lot, has wishbones and an anti-roll bar at the front, vast trailing arms and another anti-roll bar at the rear, with a goody dollop of anti-dive and anti-squat geometry worked into it all. But where it departs from normal practice is in its damping and springing: instead of steel springs, four Citroen-like hydro-pneumatic spring units bear the 6.9’s weight, at the same time acting as the dampers, and keeping the ride height and vehicle attitude constant. The steering is assisted recirculating ball and there are big disc brakes at all four wheels. A limited slip differential is standard. Now let’s see how all this pudding fares in the eating…
Big engines, yes; but big overall weights too, and if the pre-requisites of adequate, unobtrusive performance coupled to refinement far above the average can be ticked off in each of the four cars then there is also an even split between them in the degrees in which the engines actually overcome those weights. The split conforms directly with the sophistication of the engines. The Rolls and Cadillac get on with the job in the way that a disinterested driver would wish, surging smoothly and easily away from the delights or loping lazily along the motorway. Their torque will keep him happy, providing enough acceleration to put most Cortinas and the like in their rightful place, and since the Cadillac’s speedometer reads only to 85mph. a genuine top speed of 105mph would appear to be more than General Motors think most of their customers will require. They may be right however, the car is quiet and stable at such speeds, and a serious driver or even a disinterested lead-foot win find that he probably uses ail of the performance a good deal.
Much the same thing applies to the Rolls, although there is rather more on hand in both acceleration and top speed. But electronic wizardry doesn’t stop the Crewe speedo reading little short of 130mph when the true pace is just on 116mph - at which speed the Silver Shadow II is decently stable thanks to its new nasal spoiler - but those last dozen or so mph come up fairly reluctantly. That doesn’t matter, for no-one could suggest that the Rolls is a car built for sheer speed. But it does matter that at an 80mph cruising speed, full-throttle is needed more often than not to clear slower, more erratic drivers and maintain one's long-distance decorum. At the lower end of the scale, there is enough urge on hand to allow the car to be whisked in and out of traffic with ease.
and the Mercedes are different. Even smoother and refined they reap the benefits of their designers’ more serious and modern approaches, and they have the sort of sheer performance that will leave all but a few cars way behind. They border on the realms of the all-out supercars, with 0-60mph times of around 7.5 sec and top speeds comfortably in excess of 140mph. And yet within such similar abilities there are differences. The Mercedes feels very fast, spritely and potent, like a good sports car, and tremendously efficient. With that sort of torque on hand, there is little other way it might feel. The Jaguar seems more sedate, quieter, smoother, still more refined. But after losing some time to the Mercedes in the lower ranges, it very swiftly gains on the German car, hauling it in hard as it nears 100mph and taking over firmly as the speed rises from there, incredible though it might seem. Come out of a bend and keep on accelerating, brake into another one, come out hard and wind up to the maximum possible pace, perhaps up a modest incline with a long, sweeper running with it and you'll know that you are going in the Mercedes. It is a high performance car and it feels like one. Ah, this is the real thing, you’ll be inclined to think. But hop into the Jaguar and repeat the exorcise and you will find that, with noticeably less effort, you are actually surging out of that sweeper and towards the top of the incline at a speed greater than the Mercedes managed. The Jaguar just seems to take it all in its stride, and if you notice and appreciate it then that's fine. The Mercedes takes it in its stride, certainly: but it makes sure you notice, through its noise and. well, just its feel. Obviously, thon, the XJ12 and the 6.9 have far more than just 'adequate' performance. Their characters and their abilities arc more complete than the Rolls' and Cadillac's; they will potter just as off handily - even more so - but at the other end of the scale they can really turn it on, providing the driver with more aground capability than the others as well as more sheer refinement. Within that, simply because it has the extra smoothness that goes with 12 cylinders, the XJ engine has more appeal than the 6.9's once one has understood that it has comparable performance, and the sheer excitement of the Mercedes has subsided in favour of the mailed fist in the British car's velvet glove.
Nor is there a penalty in terms of running costs for the extra performance provided by the XJ12 and #Mercedes-Benz
. Efficiency extends to more than just go; cruising pretty quickly across country we were surprised to find that we returned 16.4mpg in the Benz and 15.8 in the Daimler, but with a heavier load on board. In similar conditions, the Rolls returned 14.4mpg and the Cadillac 14.5 (on two-star fuel). Pushed as hard as they're ever likely to go, the Cadillac increased its thirst to 12.8mpg, the Rolls to 13.2, the Daimler to 13.6 and the Mercedes to 11.9mpg.
Handling and roadholding
Again, the group splits into two: Mercedes and Daimler on one plane. Rolls and Cadillac on another, with not that much between either pair in their respective sectors. Climb into the Mercedes and you're likely to react the way John, our borrowed chauffeur, did: to know at once that it is a driver's car par excellence. Like the Jaguar (forgive us, but we really can't get used to calling the damned thing a Daimler, or even a Vanden Plas) it is subtle and business-like in its styling inside. It is just plain efficiency. Start it up and what sound there is from the engine suggests that too; the suspension's road rumble only adds to it. The steering, not too light, not too heavy, is entirely in character, and so are the solid, push-me-and-I'll-answer brakes. That also goes for the throttle, and when you enter the first corner you soon learn that it extends to the handling as well. The car feels small, lively and so very responsive. It could be a very good 3.0-litre, not a two-ton heavyweight with almost 7.0-litres under its bonnet. It has honest-to-goodness verve, it feels, as Steady Barker says, like a damned good four-door racing car. It is thus an intensely personal car, one in which a lasting bond is immediately established between car and driver, and which is likely to lead him to reject passengers as often as possible or to think to hell with them and just get on with enjoying themself should they really insist on coming along. If they understand, they will enjoy all the Mercedes has to offer just as much as he: the way it can be flung into bends neutrally or in drastic oversteer at will, or be pushed in quietly but quickly and then snapped sideways and held in the most tremendous slides on the throttle. It just does what the driver tells it.
Now what surprised John the chauffeur and every last man of us was that, again in its own subtle, understated way, the Jaguar proved to have fractionally more roadholding that the Mercedes, and even tidier handling. It is engineered to be as neutral and efficient as possible while at the same time having abilities as impressive as those of the Mercedes should the driver seek them At about the same cornering speed as the Mercedes is swinging into oversteer, the Jaguar is just as neutral as it was when it entered the bend, rolling rather less. Push it in a little harder next time and as t limits are reached it will gently edge in very modest oversteer, that is counteracted with an equally tidy and natural feeling movement, using up less road space than the Mercedes as the transition and the return takes place. Because the Jaguar is set-up more as a system than a tool, it takes longer to learn that it can be so utilised than it does in the Mercedes. Erroneously, the lightness and the small movements of the wheel and the initial stages of the body motion make it seem as if it will be slightly unwieldy. But the lesson, once learned, will not be forgotten: go in yet harder, and the XJ12 can be flung towards the apex as sideways as the Mercedes. Power it hard past the apex and it can be held in longer, tidier slides than the German car, and when the body drops back as it comes straight there will be considerably less lurch - and important point when it comes to passenger comfort. In short, the Jaguar/Daimler’s suspension is better controlled. Interestingly, coming from the other cars to it during our test, we found that its steering was the nicest of the lot, something we could never have envisaged saying in the past. It no longer seemed so light; it just impressed us with its absolute lack of fuss, its progressiveness and its precision. You could hop into the car and feel totally equipped to get on with the job without drama of any description: bends, crests, dips...they mattered not,, for it only took a few seconds to know instinctively that the Daimler was not going to put a wheel out of p ace. And yet it was at the same time so easy and re axing to drive.
Now, to return to pure roadholding, you drop almost exactly 10mph in a given bend when you take the Rolls around, and a little bit more in the Cadillac Their roadholding is good, but not to anything like the level of the others, or the upper reaches of current standards. Their handling is not bad. The Rolls is quite curious: it feels tall and narrow, and rather as if it waddles around on a narrow-gutted suspension located somewhere down below. The new steering is light, quick and twitchy, as John says, and it has you son of chipping away at the wheel until you learn the correct degrees of input to be used. Even then, it is a studied business not to overdo it. But despite its size, and what many people might assume to be its character, the Rolls is no longer ponderous. Given correct steering action, it comes into bends cleanly - gone is the drastic understeer of the past; that new geometry works - and sort of sets itself into what feels like a roll-oversteer attitude. Then it stops and goes around fairly neutrally, widening its line, if not actually sliding, all-of-a-piece. Eventualy it seems to push into sort of roll understeer again - quite strange, really - as it eaves the bend. Should you find the power on hand, or be cornering hard enough to induce it by pure speed alone, oversteer can be easily caught and despatched; but the car never feels as inherently flat, stable, progressive and cons stent as the Mercedes or the XJ12. As it transpires, the Cadillac has very good steering: it isn't as light as most people would expect of an American car, the gearing is excellent arid the feel adequate. It directs the car accurately, the chassis responding with consistent-to-strong understeer that becomes terminal if you insist on pushing right to the limits, so that it imposes its engineer's will on the driver. Body roll is well-controlled, and the indication that the limits are nigh is a riding of the nose across the road rather than anything much more dramatic reaching the cabin. Along a country road, however, the Cadillac can be conducted with aplomb and a fairly high level of driver satisfaction. It has more natural poise than the Rolls and is thus easier to hurry, still managing to feel a little more relaxed. But lest you get this out of context, don’t attempt to give either a Rolls or a Cadillac a hard time in your Cortina or Marina: they'll have little trouble putting you straight as long as the bends don’t become so tight that their sheer size handicaps them.
Now, the normal pay-off for a car with inferior handling and roadholding is for the ride to be better. The measure of real refinement to be found in the Jaguar/Daimler is that it rules absolutely in this area too. It is ever so slightly firm at very low speeds, but beyond that it is utterly absorbent, going about its work with less fuss and noise than any other car's. The isolation of the suspension is so good that to all intents and purposes the XJ12 has no road-noise. A gentle thump s noticeable only when there's a particularly abrupt join in the road surface, and even then it will need to have presented itself White the car is going very slowly. For all this absorbency and comfort, there is absolute stability at all times, each wheel always under control. Even under full-bore acceleration, there is just a faint hum from the engine, so at all cruising speeds right up to 140mph the V12 is present but not heard, and certainly not felt, unless the driver wishes it by way of acceleration.
The Mercedes' ride loses little in absorbent quality to the Jaguar; it is rather more joggly and pattery over troubled surfaces at low speed, but just as pleasing at high speed, and just as naturally stable and re-assuring. It is also, in terms relative to the Leyland car, extremely noisy. By German standards it might be very quiet; by ultimate standards as determined by Coventry it is raucous, so that any idea that the car is a real limousine is instantly dispelled. There is a hum from the engine when it is given anything like its head, albeit a pleasing hum, and there s enough wind-noise to be noticed. On that score, the Daimler test saloon had some wind-noise upwards of 120mph. whereas the XJ5.3C we ran recently had not a trace of it, thereby feeling even more refined.
Such is the level of that refinement that even an eminently quiet car like the Rolls is shown to have rather too much road-noise. It is rumble at low-speed more than anything else, a constant pattering over cobbles and plenty of bump-thump when the big radials roll in and out of potholes. It rides very well, but it just isn't the pace-setter, or even near to it. There is no wind noise in the Rolls now though, and the engine is as imperceptible as ever.
Strangely enough, it's the V8 that gives the Cadillac most of its noise: a steady hum when pushed decently quickly. Save for a solid thump as the rear axle strikes proper bumps, there is less road-noise in the Seville than in the Rolls. But the inadequacies of its live axle are shown in a sort of lateral squirm as the heavy unit throws against its location when the springing and damping as pressed hard; it's not severe, just enough to say 'slightly crude' in this exacted company.
Car manufacturers so often get their seats wrong; and these four are not really exceptions to the rule. The Rolls' front seats are tall, wide and generous; but they ore a little too hard and too flat for long distances along twisty country roads. The Mercedes' seats are just as hard 'out better-shaped; but they aren't as comfortable when trimmed in leather as they are in the alternative soft velour. The Cadillac seat is soft and plush and (like the Rolls', adjustable every which-way by electric toggle within easy reach) but doesn't go back far enough. The Daimler seat is on the modest side, but it's well-shaped and pretty good - except for the beading that runs around its edge in the Vanden Plas. The simple brushed nylon of the lesser models is much better. Steady Barker spent hours sampling the four cars' back seats while John whisked him from one place to another, and he has plenty to say about life in the back in his accompanying piece. But to recap briefly: the Rolls is the best overall for room, then comes the Mercedes, then the Jaguar and then the Cadillac. Interestingly, although the XJ12 has the longer wheelbase it seems to us to offer less real rear comfort, despite better legroom, than the XJ coupe, mainly because the rail above the saloon's rear window restricts head room too much. The roofline in the coupe is subtly different and less of a restriction.
Air conditioning is standard for the quartet, and so is a stereo system. So far as the air conditioning goes, the Rolls' automatically-controlled split-level system is the best; then comes the Jaguar's dial-a-temperature unit, the Caddy's similar system (but it’s not really quite strong enough) and then the Mercedes, which is more difficult to work and then doesn't do the job so well. Life is fairly straightforward in the Jaguar and #Mercedes
: the adjustable mirrors are hand-operated, so are the seats, whereas the RolIs and Cadillac have electric systems for getting comfortable, along with the usual power windows and central door locking systems.
Again, the approaches differ - from the clinically efficient Mercedes to the over-kill, schmaltzy Cadillac, but each with its own character and its own special appeal. The Mercedes is under-played to the extreme (the Germans seem determined to eliminate all the frills and just get on with the job; and quite right too in the view of many people), but reveals its nature to its driver at once. He will understand, or he will find it dull. It will not suit the pretentious man at all: it's appeal is through its thoroughness, visually as well as functionally- There is a modern four-spoke wheel, leather bound and handy; behind it a simple instrument pod housing a proper complement of dials. The one big column-mounted stalk looks after indicators, light flashing and dipping and wipers and washers (including an intermittent phase). The cruise control lever lurks close behind, easy to reach and easy to work, and in charge of the best system. The heater/vent/air conditioning controls are slightly more complex but are mounted within easy reach; so is the radio. Best of all is the automatic transmission selector - that familiar Mercedes 'golf club' jutting up from its ragged slot in the console. Flick it and it finds the right spot, and activates the transmission beneath with tremendous speed and smoothness. Just another facet of the 6.9's appeal to serious drivers. The gearbox itself, permitting first to run to 59mph and second to 97mph, is crisp and smooth, although not without the odd noise. The brakes feel excellent and stop the car with enormous strength, pushed by either left or right foot, as they should be. Vision is clear and easy, the car simple to place. In other words, if efficiency and responsiveness appeals to you, you'll love the Mercedes to distraction.
The Jaguar is rather more of a hotch-potch inside; a half-way house. It has all the instruments and the facilities to allow the driver to make use of a car with even more outright ability than the Mercedes, but the presentation is confused, an attempt to combine the contemporary with the traditional by way of big plastic dials and yet a wood veneer fascia and door capping’s. The driving position, however is as pleasing and efficient as it is in the Mercedes, restricted only by a lack of left footroom that worries some but not others. The wiper action is slightly clumsy when they need to be parked, and the tail, spindly shift selector requires overly strong and deliberate movements. The transmission works beautifully, but first cannot be selected or held manually: can't the gearbox cope with its power? The maxima in the intermediates is 60 and 100mph, even more handy than the Mercedes' thanks to a higher rev limit. Overall, the Jaguar has a very pleasing effect on the driver, quite apart from its mechanical aspects and abilities. It feels quite small and tidy, modern but not brash, and quite tasteful (despite horrible touches like the gold plastic V12 badge on the console). It has the impression of being a gentleman's sporting carriage, with a small but meaningful 's'.
The Rolls goes one step further. You sit up high, surrounded by wood and leather, faced by big round dials set into the wood that tell you things like the time and the temperature rather than the engine's revs. The shift lever is on the column, jutting high to the upper right, with an easy action when it comes to activating it, and with the cruise control set into its knob. Things like the .vipers are worked by chromed meta knobs on the fascia: decidedly old- fashioned, but they feel so beautiful. The transmission shifts silently and easily, running out to a mere 40 and 74mph in the intermediates. Best time to be driving the Rolls is on a relatively deserted motorway. You sit up in that coach-like atmosphere, wafting along, looking down on the world and its minions, savouring the car's straight-line stability, and, at this speed, its silence. But be careful les the idyll should be upset: don't move the wheel too quickly or too much, for the reaction of the car will be more wayward than you would wish. Yes, a car to waft along in, above all else, with something nice on the stereo and your mind not too much on the driving.
Despite all its gadgets, that goes for the Cadillac too. Very largely, it is all add-on luxury. Besides the electric seat controls there is the central locking system, activated when the transmission is put into Drive, the Sentinel lighting switch that brings on the lights at dusk and switches them off at first light, and the automatic dipper that drops back to low-beam when it detects the lights of another car (or its own lights' reflected by Cotswold rock walls!). There are the fibre-optics tell-tales to let you know whether your head and stop lights are working, and tiny green and amber lights in the fascia to show whether you're driving economically or not. There is a digital clock, ell sorts of buzzers for unfastened seat belts and keys left in the ignition and so on, and the steering wheel tilts through crazy angles at the touch of a lever. All well and good, but GM don’t seem to understand about priorities: the windscreen wipers/washers switch is small and awkwardly located on the driver's door armrest, there is only the 85mph speedo (reading a full 20mph slow at 60mph in the test car!) and a fuel gauge too small and too impossibly located to be read without extreme effort. The angle of the pendant carrying the brake pedal is far too awkward to allow fully adequate pressure to be exerted upon it too (although that could be a fault of the British conversion) and the brakes themself fade badly without much provocation. And whereas the Cadillac's boot doses and opens by electric motor, the (collapsible) spare wheel takes up far too much space to make it much use at all. So the Cadillac emerges as a car for those who like to see their luxury and be constantly reminded of it. Subtle it isn’t, although to judge its driveability by its cabin would be wrong.
If you look closely in the out-of-the-way places on the Cadillac, you will find the same sort of flaws that spoil the XJ12 and which you will never find on the Mercedes and Rolls-Royce. There are too many rough edges on the Cadillac, too many poorly-folded panels. And yet from the outside they all fit so exactly: just don't look too deeply. Some of the Jaguar's flaws cannot escape detection: chrome trim sections that don't mate up, fascia edgings that are skew-whiff. Then again, look under the bonnet and behold that super engine and all its castings and plumbing, and marvel that it could ever have been fitted beneath such a tow bonnet line. The Mercedes is the epitome of top-class mass-production build quality, with never a drop of paint or glue where it shouldn't be. never a panel fitted roughly, never an awkward-looking screw. And yet it is rather cold with its efficiency. The Rolls reeks of traditional craftmanship and hand-building, sporting the odd rough edge now and then to show that it has been touched, and lovingly, by human hands. It has magnificent paint work and under-bonnet detailing, for instance, and everything is in equisite, conservative taste.
Several points emerge from this Giant Test. First, the #Cadillac-Seville
attains quite remarkable heights of refinement considering its remarkably basic and cheap engineering. Given its own environment, it is obviously a" very good buy. Yet it is a fairly good buy in Europe too. It is smooth and quiet, rare, loaded with convenience items and not at all bad to drive in an uninspiring sort of way. It is not a pace-maker in the chassis, but it suffers no major vices either. Even if it were a lot more expensive it would still be a very worthy competitor for the Rolls-Royce for it is just as competent in most situations, every bit as quiet and were it not for its restricted room would be just as comfortable. When hurrying many drivers will find it preferable to the Rolls.
That the Rolls does not really rise much above the #Cadillac
as a creator and upholder of motoring standards does most to establish its own perspective. It is still the most commonly-accepted and desired motoring status symbol; and because of its presentation - its unique character - it deserves much of the adulation. Its seats are slightly too hard and the rear reading lights and mirrors prevent one from lounging property, but it is a marvellously pampering car to ride in. and to be seen riding in. It is far from unpleasant to drive, but it is not as pleasant as it should be, those loping (aunts down the motorway or edging down Park Lane apart. The point is that it is eclipsed in too many areas to be considered the best car in the world. It might be the best finished, the most enticing; out it is not the quietest, it does not have the best ride, the best steering, the best brakes, the best roadholdinq, the best engine.
The Mercedes-Benz 6.9 is notably better in many of those areas. And yet it is not the best either. More often than not it is a misunderstood car: It is a driving machine, a truly superb sports saloon conceived and developed by skillfull and enthusiastic drivers for skillfull and enthusiastic drivers. It is not a limousine: it is too noisy for that, and its rear seat, in the leather anyway, insufficiently comfortable, and lacking detail niceties. It is for the high-speed business man who likes to whisk very quickly across vast distances in maximum safety with minimum fatigue and yet extracting a very high degree of driving pleasure. Yet he can, carry passengers if he wishes or needs to. To understand this Mercedes for what it is to appreciate it for what it isn't.
Finally, while we expected the Jaguar to have the edge over even the Rolls in terms of ride quality, overall silence and drive-line smoothness, we did not anticipate that it would not only match the Mercedes as a driver's car, but actually better it, although without such a feeling of excitement. It carries its capabilities more subtly, blending them with more overall refinement than any other car currently made. They are tremendous capabilities, made even more awesome by the car’s price: even in its ultimate form it is £10.000 cheaper than the Rolls and the W116 450SEL 6.9. Yet, if it were up to us, we would opt not for the top-line Double-Six Vanden Plas but for the standard £10.668 XJ12 with cloth trim, for its seating is more comfortable in that form. If motor cars are ultimately a compromise, the XJ12 - in whichever form you select to suit you best - is the ultimate compromise. Rolls-Royce have a new model lurking in the wings. If they wish seriously to lay claim to the title of the best car in the world with it, it's not the Silver Shadow they must better but the car from the other end of the Midlands.
FROM THE FRONT
By John Hatton, professional chauffeur who drives DJ Noel Edmonds XJ 4.2
A driver's car, no question about it But not a chauffeur's car. It has so much life, spurring you on to enjoying its marvellous handling, its terrific acceleration, that powerful braking and absolute stability. It responds so temptingly to your every command. But your passengers, along for the ride only as a matter of convenience at best, as a matter of necessity at worst, won't appreciate that. Even at steady speeds, as you check yourself, they'll find the ride too stiff, the seats too hard, and the road noise too extreme and not just in relation to the price they've just paid for it. You hope they don't take their ire out on you - you’re frustrated enough as it is, seeking so’-ace in the beautifully lad out controls and waiting for the chance to have it and a decent country road all to yourself one day.
All I imagined it to be - flashy, full of gadgets ... some useful and some useless. It reminds me of a funfair car. But it has a comfortable enough chassis from the driver’s point of view, except over the occasional harsh join in the road surface where there’s a thump from the rear axle to upset things a bit. The cornering is alright, the braking average, the steering very good in fact. Good gadgets, like the fibre optics to show if the headlights and brake lights are on, enable the driver to make sure his vehicle is not defective without having to check externally. I also like the two lights on the dashboard - one green and one orange: the green light indicates that the car is running at the most economical speed, and the orange shows that it is running uneconomically, which in this day of conservation is an advantage. It also means, of course, that you’re driving as smoothly as you should. The interior as a whole looks quite cheap and plasticky really; otherwise, the Cadillac compares more favourably most of the time with the Rolls than most people would imagine - more than I had anyway.
I drive a Jaguar, but taking part in this test made me appreciate just how much it stands out. even in such exalted company. It is by far the best car for driver and chauffeur with its silence, excellent steering, well-balanced brakes and such ideal handling. Really, there's nothing at all in the mechanicals that I, as a private and professional driver, can criticise. Instead you find your faults with the obvious cost-cutting in the cabin (although it is. of course, so much cheaper than the Rolls and Mercedes). For instance, although the reading lights in the rear arc very good, their wires are left exposed and bits of trim elsewhere are not finished off property. Sections of the dashboard are the worst. More seriously, the beading on the front seat is too prominent; it becomes uncomfortable over a long distance, or many hours in the city. But then your passengers will be finding similar problems with the back seat in the Vanden Plas. I’d have to recommend that my boss give the Vanden Plas a miss: the lesser Jaguars are more comfortably upholstered, and give me the cloth trim over the leather any day.
What peculiar handling! The steering’s so light it has you constantly over- correcting. whereas you need it to be more in keeping with the size and character of the car. And if you haven't upset your passengers that way. the brakes, at first so sharp and fierce, should do the trick. Pity the driver relying on tips. The brakes need to be far more subtly efficient. All this is particularly upsetting when driving in town, although after a while you became accustomed to the peculiarities and adjust accordingly, if not entirely satisfactorily. So doing your job with the Ro Is-Royce. rather than perhaps doing your job in it, is a tot harder than it should be. In the country the steering is more of a problem Getting your passengers along at a decent clip is far too twitchy; you can't relax behind the wheel, the concentration needed is too great to allow that. Nor can you fail to notice the excessive road noise, worst in town - and you wonder what your passenger will be making of it. Nothing much to criticise among the instrumentation, the switches or the air conditioning, which allows you to keep your charges cool headed, at least. Handy electric seat adjustment, if there is another driver or you fancy a small change yourself, although the leather of the seats is a little too hard for long days at the wheel because of the tightness of their leather. It will slacken after a few years, but so might you. Anyway, if somebody is paying so much money they want the seats to be comfortable from the outset. With the Rolls, both owner and driver expect the very best. In practice, though, they don't get it.
AND FROM THE BACK
By Ronald Barker country gent, critic and owner of quality conveyances
But took, it's full of Alsatian dogs! Himmel. does prosperity so swell the West German head, or are they just peaked headrests ? These doors are so thick and heavy, and their locks massive - no wonder they shut cl... unk like a safe. You can sense the strength, it’s no illusion created by advertising copy. Echt leder inside, genuine thick, strong, shiny, slippery German leder, with a cheese grater pattern punched into its surface - for grip? For ventilation? For chafing the skin of a lady's back through her thin summer dress? Sniff how it smells and hear how it creaks like an old club library every time the chauffeur moves or I fidget. Why fidget? Because the back seat is quite appalling; the backrest is tod upright and short of lumbar support, and the cushion seems to have a semi-rigid spring frame just beneath the surface that has to move ail together or not at all. There's lots of legroom, but a fiat floor and hard ribs under the seats to catch your feet. No woolly bear nonsense Gort sei dankt and the removable carpets are secured by press-studs. No safety belts, either, which is surprising. The Alsatian headrests are adjustable for angle - gut! Behind them, recessed into the window shelf, is a great big box of First Aid goodies. There's just one central roof lamp above the backrest, ashtrays but no cigar lighters in the doors (not even a gauleiter!) No mirrors or armorial crests, but we shan't miss them. Gute fahrtl (Have a good trip, actually). But it's quite astonishing - this magnificent machine, so powerful, so stable and controllable on the road, so rewarding for the chauffeur to drive and substantial, yet it isn't a luxury car at all when you ride in the back, not for such a vast price tag. Although the ride is stable and level and shock-free, it's also unexpectedly harsh and noisy, with a mush of din from tyres and/or transmission, and if your man presses on a bit to exploit the M-B abilities, you roll about on that unresilient leather platform, unrestrained by safety harness or ergonomically profiled upholstery. It's just a genuine four-door four-seater hard-topped air-conditioned racing car.
Even if this is really only a chevre-au-lait with a cream filling it looks very posh outside and inviting inside, all soft pale grey cloth and voluptuously rounded cushions. And it feels good - for a moment; but the cushion finishes inches short of the back of the knee. It’s a full 3in shorter than the front cushions. Does Detroit consider back seat riders collectively as idle rich drink-and-be-driven dwarves? No, they made the body shell too cramped and had to chop the back seat to create an illusion of ample legroom. So my thighs are inadequately supported and my feet rest on a flat floor which will soon tire the inkle joints; they ere trapped in a nicely padded slot beneath the front seat. The backrest is rather upright, and where am I expected to stow any of the countless small things I'd need if sitting hero for days on end motoring from NY to LA? Not a door pocket or back-of-the-seat net, only a narrow rear window shelf that the Cadillac manual tells me not to put things on.
If I want to doze, there's no headrest, and the rear quarters are filled with reading lamps and embossed crests. It isn't designed for seating three-abreast, but there are lap straps for two-and-a-half. The centre armrest is too short low and awkwardly angled, and those thinly padded elbow rests on the doors are pretty mean. In each door there’s a rather vulgar pretend-wood and bright metal console with rigid door pull, ashtray and lighter. The thick woolly carpet seems not to be readily removable for cleaning. It's very quiet back here, less wind noise than in front; no tyre rumble to speak of, but no way can you fully suppress an unsprung live axle dancing about below. The Seville rides surprisingly flat and stable round the bends, and the tyres don't disturb with roaring and squealing. Thank goodness for front headrests shallow enough to see over - I can’t bear looking forward to a sort of grasshopper's eye view of Boot Hill cemetery. A surprisingly nice car, but only in the front.
did you say? Oh - just plain Daimler, please! Two days with these four cars and no one mentioned #Daimler
. It’s a V12 #Jaguar
and other badges don't stick. All Jaguars/Daimlers need interior designer (what about David Bache?) to modernise and harmonise and en them without necessarily spending more money in production. They are super-cars mechanically, let down by visual deficiencies in quality and tad taste.
The Vanden Plas treatment evolves pseud seating with ably showroom appeal, so thickly upholstered and unyielding that your head almost touches the roof, with high pressure rolls under the thighs (front and back seats) where they should be soft and leather piping at the leading edge that gave our short-legged chauffeur John actual pain after 100 miles in the back (he likes a change).
Stupid woolly bear rugs (extras) effectively reduce critical cushion-to-floor depth, and push your feet further up under the front where several vicious hook-ends of springs are poised to gouge them, but the best ride, the least road noise, the least roll, the least engine and mission noise - at the cost of the least headroom, no legroom to spare (but enough), less all-round visibility than the high-seated six-window cars.
Not too easy to enter or leave, either, without tripping over the Kangol Euroflex belt. All four doors have rigid pockets also encasing quadraphonic speakers, and there are elastic pockets behind the seats. One sits high enough in the back to see right over the headrests. Might not the standard Jaguar V12 possibly provide more true comfort for a lot less money?
Does it have to idle so fast, with all that noise? I suppose it's to keep the alternator spinning for the auxiliaries. Pity the doors shut with that shudder and tinny rattle. Smell the leather! Beautifully stitched, but pulled so taut over the cam - how long will it take to stretch and wrinkle a bit, so as not to look like pvc and to fit you snugly like an old shoe? The seating feels so formal, dictating you posture, not really letting you relax. After paying more than 24 grand, isn't one entitled to slouch? And all the great big windows, to see and be seen: in the old days when #Rolls-Royces
were clothed by HJ Mulliner and Thrupp and Maberly and Hooper and Barker and Park Ward and James Young and Gurney Nutting - most had sumptuous, separate down-filled cushions, and smaller windows with roller blinds so you could, if you wished, be obscene without being seen. And why not in your own car, behind your own discreet chauffeur?
Mirrors and reading lamps with spot lenses replace padding in the near quarters, but there are headrests; no seat belts. Open-topped elastic pockets are set in the front seat backs, beneath are loose footrests that slot into cutaways under the seats: very right and proper, a real aid to comfort. The fitted carpets are press-studded, but topped by those untidy status-creating, dirt-collecting, space-reducing woolly bear rugs. A fixed transmission line (IRS) allows a much more slender tunnel than the Caddy's, and a third passenger - be carried in quite reasonable discomfort. All the fittings are superb, even down to door lock buttons and ashtray lids. Nothing looks skimped or in bad taste; none of the others approach the Rolls-Royce standard in this area. Discreet little head (optional) restraints on the high-backed front seats partly obscure the view forward, but can be looked around. Drive on, James!... But where's the traditional ghostly hush disappeared to? I can actually hoar the engine as well as the road beneath - suspension by Messrs Thump and Rumbelow. A little faster, my man!... Whoops! No, you'd better slow down if you can't help it lurching about like that. If only I could sink into the seat a bit more, perhaps I wouldn't notice so. And should it have this stow-motion pitch, with all that hydro-pneumatic gear controlling it? Perhaps a Mercedes-Benz after all.