Classic Road Test: Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit - What’s it really like to live with the most affordable of all the Rolls-Royces?
The Silver Spirit was the company’s longest production model and early examples of this gracious gentleman’s carriage are now available for the price of a basic Fiesta. Words: Iain Wakefield Pictures: Chris Frosin.
If you want a sneaky puzzler to stump the opposition at a classic themed pub quiz, just ask what the first generation of the Silver Spirit has in common with the MkIII Escort and Austin Metro. This crafty poser will hopefully produce much grumbling and head scratching before you can put everyone out of their misery by revealing all three of these very different cars made their public debut at the 1980 Birmingham Motor Show.
Unveiling a brand new production Rolls-Royce has always been a major event and the launch of the Silver Spirit at the NEC at the start of a decade that would go on to be noted for snazzy red braces and brick-sized mobile phones was certainly no exception. Although the Silver Spirit was based on the outgoing Silver Shadow, the new Rolls had a sharper, squarer body reflecting the automotive styling trends of the time and was immediately recognisable by a pair of very ‘80s-looking rectangular headlights and oblong tail light clusters.
The Spirit’s hydraulic self-levelling Citroëninspired suspension setup was revised at the rear to improve handling and reduce road noise but otherwise the new model’s underpinnings were very similar to those of the outgoing car. Power came from the same hand-built 6750cc V8 engine as fitted to the second generation Silver Shadow and drove the new model’s rear wheels through a GM400 three-speed auto gearbox. MkI Spirits, like the 1983 example we’re putting through its paces here, are all fitted with twin SU carburettors and are easily identified by having twin exhausts exiting each end under the rear bumper, while later fuel injected models have a single tail pipe.
Rolls-Royce has always been coy about revealing the power output of its products, always claiming that power ‘is adequate’. However, a bit of digging around revealed the V8 fitted to a #SU-fuelled
Spirit produces 198.5bhp at 3800rpm, a rather timid amount of horses by today’s standards considering the size of the engine. However, despite weighing in at 2245kg and having the drag co-efficient of a garden shed, when new the Spirit was able to lift up its skirts and accelerate to 62mph in a cigar chomping 10.2 seconds and power on to an impressive top speed of 119mph.
Having said that, traffic light sprints and autobahn-style high speed cruising isn’t what driving a Silver Spirit is all about. Owning a car with the famous Spirit of Ecstasy ‘flying lady’ mascot gracing the radiator is more a case of wafting around in complete comfort and even a 32-year old Silver Spirit has the ability to turn heads wherever she goes. The Spirit’s external dimensions are impressive too and anything inside the car that isn’t covered with fine hide or burr walnut wood veneer has been chrome plated; the only exceptions in the cabin being the cheap-looking plastic indicator and gear selector stalks.
The enormous trademark stainless steel radiator shell gracing the front of this gentleman’s conveyance is about one inch lower and just over two inches wider than one fitted to the Silver Shadow and helps give the Spirit a visually lower stance when viewed from certain angles. The all important rear passenger space in the Spirit benefits from a split rear bench with a huge centre armrest and a first for a Rolls-Royce was the Spirit’s fully retractable spring-loaded flying lady mascot that immediately disappears into the top of the radiator shell on impact.
The longer wheelbase Silver Spur was launched at the same time as the Silver Spirit and in 1985 a limited run of 25 Silver Spur Celebration models marked the 100th anniversary of the motorcar in the UK as well as the production of the 100,000th Rolls-Royce badged car. Small changes were made to the Spirit’s dashboard layout that year and the car’s brush-style headlamp wipers were replaced with power washers.
For the 1987 model year, the Silver Spirit gained ABS brakes and fuel injection; a muchneeded modification that boosted power to a more respectable 226bhp at 4300rpm. Other additions included electrically heated front seats complete with power operated pneumatic lumber support. The revamped MkII Silver Spirit appeared in 1990 and the car’s dashboard now featured an extra pair of ‘bulls eye’ air vents complete with organ stops to control the airflow. Spirits now came with alloy wheels as standard and a leather trimmed steering wheel.
The main change to the new model was the introduction of adaptive damping where the shock absorbers were controlled by a computer and could be automatically changed between soft and hard in a 100th of a second. In 1992 the Silver Spirit gained a four-speed auto ‘box and two years later a MkIII version was launched. The addition of electronic fuel injection – the system was mechanically controlled on earlier cars – and a revised inlet manifold resulted in power increasing to 240bhp and in 1994 a turbocharged version of the long wheelbase Silver Spur was introduced. The Silver Spirit gained plastic wrap round bumpers for the 1996 model year and the name was deleted the following year with the introduction of the long wheelbase Silver Dawn.
ON THE ROAD
The Silver Spirit featured in this road test was a 1983 model and has been owned by Derbybased classic car enthusiast Adrian Williams for the last eight years. During the time Adrian has owned this Spirit, he’s had repair panels professionally stitched into the rear wheelarches and most of the car resprayed. Although a LPG conversion kit was fitted to the Spirit’s engine by a previous owner, Adrian doesn’t tend to drive his car on gas too often as he reckons the engine runs a lot smoother while burning top quality unleaded, even though it gets through a gallon of the stuff every 16-18 miles.
It’s quite a hike to slowly walk around this car but a closer inspection of its mid-blue metallic paintwork doesn’t throw up any nasty surprises. The condition of this Spirit’s bodywork appears to be in very good condition for its age, but it’s when you open the heavy driver’s door that the fully majesty of this mainly hand-built car really makes itself felt.
First thing you notice is the huge amount of leather used to upholster the cabin. This expensive material is not only covering every square inch of the huge seats; it appears the hides from a reasonable sized herd have also been used to cover everything inside this car from the multi-sectioned headlining and side rails to all four door cards, centre console and the front passenger’s knee pads. The dark blue sheepskins on the floor almost swallow up your feet as you settle into the armchair sized driver’s seat and a gentle tug on a chrome plated handle shuts the driver’s door with a satisfying heavily muffled clunk. Gripping the pencil thin rim of the steering wheel and scanning the blackfaced dials nestling in the Spirit’s symmetrically veneered burr walnut dashboard was a reminder that this car hails from a very different age. A final glance around the luxurious hand trimmed cabin before turning the key and firing up the Spirit’s mighty V8 was another moment to savour this fine car’s well cared for opulence.
The only indication this Spirit’s engine had fired up successfully was seeing the needle on the rev counter hovering around the 850rpm mark. The silence in the cabin with the engine idling was eerie until the throttle was stabbed and then all eight cylinders let out a symphonic burble to let you know they meant business rather than just sounding nice. Easing the gear selector on the steering column from ‘P’ to ‘D’ produced the slightest of tremors, indicating the rear wheels were now connected to the powertrain and introducing a little bit of throttle resulted in the Spirit graciously moving away from the kerbside.
This Spirit has only done 69,000 miles and drove impeccably – with no rattles or thuds when going over potholes – and despite its bulk, the car was easy to thread through city centre traffic. Progress in the Spirit was virtually silent – the only sound coming into the cabin other than the hum from the air conditioning was the occasional rhythmic thud from the massive tyres as they padded over cat’s eyes. However, driving a car like this Spirit isn’t for shy and retiring types as nearly everyone we passed glanced our way to see who was inside. On our way to photograph the Spirit, we drove past a golf club and several cap-clad heads bobbed up from the first tee to witness our stately progress – not bad, as it takes a lot to distract a group of golfers contemplating their next shot!
What really impressed while out and about in this Spirit was how the dense commuter traffic seemed to open up before us; it was almost like the Rolls was fitted with emergency services’ blues and twos. With 6.75-litres under the Spirit’s billiard table-sized bonnet, a flick of the throttle while cruising down the A38 at 50mph shot the car up to the legal limit at almost starship speed. It was only when woken from its slumbers in situations like this that the sound of the V8 made itself heard. High speed cornering in the Spirit when exiting islands resulted in a lot of body roll, only to be expected really as this car is more a boulevard cruiser than a high performance saloon – that job’s reserved for the Spirit's Bentley Mulsanne-badged variants.
Adrian has currently got his Silver Spirit up for sale and anyone stumping the £7995 he's asking for this fine example of Crewe engineering is getting a heck of a lot of car for the money. When new, the cost to put this Spirit on the road would have been the equivalent today of around £100k – so if you fancy living the champagne lifestyle at a supermarket Chardonnay price, give Adrian a ring on 07510 843761 to find out more about what his car has got to offer.
Ambling along narrow country lanes in a Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit is fine until a similar-sized car approches from the opposite direction.
“Traffic light sprints and autobahn-style top speed isn’t what driving a Silver Spirit is all about”
This Silver Spirit's 6.75-litre V8 is fed by a pair of SU carburetters. Fuel injection was fitted from 1987 and boosted bhp accordingly.
The tank for this Spirit's LPG tank is located in the spare wheel tray. Only problem is that the spare now has to go into the car's finely carpeted boot.
If you fancy luxury motoring on a budget, this Spirit's dark blue piped hide seats and fluffy sheepskin footwell rugs create a touch of automotive ambience that's hard to beat. The digital clock sitting in the middle of the polished burr walnut veneered dashboard was cutting-edge technology back in the '80s.
“A first for a #Rolls-Royce
was the Spirit’s fully retractable spring-loaded flying lady mascot”
SPECIFICATIONS #1983 #Rolls-Royce-Silver-Spirit
ENGINE: 6750cc V8
POWER: 198.5bhp at 3800rpm
TOP SPEED: 119mph
0-60mph: 10.2 sec
GEARBOX: 3-spd auto