Nothing provides the sense of occasion that a Rolls-Royce does, or the elegance, with the Silver Shadow a perfect case in point
• Project £5000 • Good £24,000 • Concours £40,000 •
Running cost ★★
DIY Friendly ★★
When Rolls-Royce introduced the Silver Shadow in 1965, it represented a step change in how the company operated. Until now its cars were built entirely by hand, often for people who were chauffeured everywhere, but the Shadow’s production was partly mechanised and the car was aimed at those who drove themselves.
A technical tour de force, the Silver Shadow was one of the most advanced and luxurious cars available at any price throughout the late 1960s and all of the 1970s. which was just as well, because this was always a car for the very wealthy thanks to high purchase and running costs.
Despite the fabulous quality that permeates every pore of the Silver Shadow, for years these luxury saloons were dogged by values on the floor. At last good examples have started to become worth significant amounts of money which might make them harder to buy, but it does mean that owners can at last justify spending significant sums of money.
Your AutoClassics Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow inspection checklist
A 6230cc V8 was fitted until 1970, when the classic 6750cc unit took over. Built by hand over a week, these unstressed powerplants will cover a huge mileage before they wear out, but when that day comes there’s no alternative to spending lots of cash; a secondhand unit is costly, as is a rebuild.
The engine needs to be serviced every 6000 miles and at 96,000 miles all of the fluids, hoses, filters and more need to be replaced. It’s a costly job but it has to be done. The anti-freeze must be replaced annually, using the correct Castrol/ICI product. If this isn’t done the iron liners contract, squeeze the pistons and the engine seizes.
Opus electronic ignition was fitted from June 1975. This overheats but alternatives are available. There aren’t any other key weaknesses but items such as alternators, radiators and fuel pumps are costly, so it’s worth checking that’s what’s fitted is in good condition.
There was no manual gearbox option, with the first right-hand drive Silver Shadows getting a four-speed GM Hydramatic auto box, while left-hand drive cars got a three-speed GM400 unit – from 1968 this went into right-hand drive cars too.
Transmission problems or failures are rare as long as the fluid is replaced every 12,000 miles; the filter should also be replaced every 24,000 miles. The transmission’s cooler pipes run alongside the gearbox to the main radiator and if they corrode the transmission will run dry.
You’re unlikely to find a car with the four-speed gearbox, which isn’t a bad thing as they’re quite clunky and they’re very expensive to overhaul – and it’s not possible to swap between the three- and four-speed transmissions.
Suspension and brakes
Series I cars got recirculating ball steering while the Series II features a rack-and-pinion set-up; the two aren’t interchangeable. All cars have power-assisted steering so check for leaks as they’re not unusual. Check the condition of all six ball joints in the steering system; they’re costly to replace.
The brakes and suspension system is complicated and works at high pressures, so it needs specialist attention when it comes to maintenance. The fluid needs to be replaced every four years and there are lots of joints and pipes that can give problems.
Up front the ball joints wear while at the back the spring pans rot away so the spring falls out; the rear subframe mounting bushes (called brillo pads) also perish. There are four of them and renewing them takes time.
The brakes have to work hard, which is why pads sometimes last less than 10,000 miles with rear brake maintenance tricky if it's not routine. Replacing the rear discs is a specialist job as the hubs have to be removed with special tools.
The braking system works under pressure and there are two brake pumps which can fail, so give the brakes a good work out to make sure they work properly. The brake hoses should be replaced every 96,000 miles so check the service history for evidence of this having been done.
Rotten Shadows are rare but rusty ones aren’t. The key is to nip things in the bid before they escalate as this happens quickly. Sill repairs are massively costly so make sure both sides are intact; corrosion starts at each end then consumes the whole sill.
Rot is most likely in the wheelarch lips, front and rear valances and the boot-mounted battery tray, especially if acid has been spilt. Also check the boot for water leaks as the seals can perish or split. So can the front and rear screen seals, which leads to damaged floorpans and an array of problems with the interior trim. New seals are available but they’re costly to replace.
The aluminium doors, bonnet and boot lid don't rust, but can suffer from electrolytic corrosion, mainly behind the door handles and brightwork. These alloy panels get creased easily, so make sure they're not dented, by running the flat of your hand across them.
Also check for crash damage, especially the nose with its valuable Parthenon grille. Analyse where the chassis arches just behind the front panel. Where it’s level with the alternator should be flat; if it isn’t it’s been damaged.
If the bodywork is good but the paintwork poor, don’t under-estimate the cost of replicating a factory finish. The Shadow is a big car, which means lots of preparation, lots of paint and big bills.
There’s a surprising number of servos and motors in a Silver Shadow, especially on Series II cars, so check that everything works. A heater matrix leak on a Shadow II is really bad news as it’s so costly to fix; the same usually goes for non-functioning air-con.
That luxurious interior is a wonderful place to spend time when it’s in good condition, but if water has leaked in or there’s any wear, putting things right will cost a vast amount of money. The woodwork, leather and Wilton carpet can all be revived, but it’s not really a DIY prospect.
The exterior is made of stainless steel, apart from the Series I’s rear bumper, which rots in the corners. Predictably, if you have to replace any brightwork it always costs plenty, so check for accident damage as that’s the most likely scenario. The radiator grille can split along the soldered edges and DIY repairs aren’t generally possible, which means sourcing an exchange unit.
- 1965: The Silver Shadow and Bentley T-series are launched.
- 1966: The Mulliner Park Ward two-door saloon arrives, known as the Corniche from 1971.
- 1967: A two-door convertible goes on sale.
- 1968: All cars now have a GM400 transmission.
- 1969: The interior is facelifted, so the Shadow can meet US crash regulations. A long-wheelbase model is introduced.
- 1970: The classic 6750cc V8 replaces the 6230cc unit.
- 1974: The Shadow gets a wider track, longer wheelbase and flared wheelarches.
- 1975: The Camargue joins range.
- 1977: The Shadow II arrives and the long-wheelbase saloon is now sold as the Silver Wraith II.
- 1980: The Silver Spirit replaces the Silver Shadow but the new car uses the same platform and running gear.
The golden rule with any car as costly as this is don’t even consider a Silver Shadow that hasn’t got a thick chunk of history available. You need to see that it’s had money lavished on it because any skimping will only lead to bigger bills later – potentially much bigger. Every extra chunk of money you spend at purchase time will be rewarded with much bigger chunks of cash saved later on.
Two-door cars are worth more than four-door models; in the case of convertibles you’ll pay a lot more. Stick with the saloons, and the later cars (ie Shadows IIs) are better to drive, better developed and more fully equipped. Depending on what you want to use the car for, a long-wheelbase model is even more impressive than the regular model thanks to its even more spacious rear seating area.
Buying a car that’s already been converted to LPG can save you a bundle of cash in fuel costs but you must ensure that the conversion has been done to a high standard. It still won’t be a cheap car to run as such of course, but it should make the fuel costs a bit more palatable.
Silver Shadow I (1965-1970)