British society was changing fast in the 1960s, so even Rolls-Royce had to reflect this in its new model, the Silver Shadow. As the Establishment’s favourite choice of bespoke wheels, Rolls had to keep these loyal customers happy but also had to bring in new blood and new money to survive. The Shadow was a masterstroke.
Shunning the separate chassis construction of previous models, the new Silver Shadow used the combined body and chassis build method, known as a monocoque. It made the Shadow lighter, stiffer, stronger and more spacious, all things that its new customer base demanded.
The very traditional British firm also introduced a radical new suspension system, similar to that used by Citroen. This hydragas set-up used hydraulics instead of the normal springs and it delivered the soothingly smooth ride that Rolls was famous for. The hydraulics also powered the brakes, which was just as well with a car that still tipped the scales at a whopping 2,114kg.
If the body and suspension were big breaks from tradition, the engine was less so. It started as the firm’s usual 6,230cc V8 petrol-fuelled motor, but it was extended to 6,750cc in 1970 to give even more relaxed cruising, but just don’t expect anything more than 14mpg.
The other big changes in the Shadow’s life were the addition of a long-wheelbase model, which lengthened the car by four inches (100mm) for more rear legroom. Rolls-Royce also added the Corniche coupe and convertible models in 1971, as well as the angular Camargue in 1975. A facelift in 1977 kept the Shadow up to date with crash tests in the USA, though many buyers now prefer the cleaner looks of the earlier cars.
When looking to buy a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow, be sure there is no rot in the body structure or panels as repairs are tricky and expensive. Also look for a car with an immaculate interior as there are swathes of leather wood that cost a fortune to put right. As for the mechanical bits, they are very tough and surprisingly cheap and easy to maintain.
The Shadow must have been good value as Arthur Daly upgraded to one for a short while in Minder. More obvious rich and famous owners included Tom Jones, George Best and Barry Sheene, who notoriously wrecked the brakes on his while learning the lines around the Nurburgring circuit before a motorcycle race there.
After a period as a cheap to buy, pricey to run motor in the used car doldrums, the Silver Shadow is now a lusted-after classic that’s a joy to drive and robust if looked after. It was the car that democratised luxury and now it has taken its place among the luxury greats.
Dates manufactured: 1965-1980
Popular colours: Blue, brown, white
Approx cost at time: £6,557 (1965)
Approx value now: £15,000