Is the Rolls-Royce Shadow the Best Car in the World?

Photograph Courtesy Rolls-Royce

[Editor's Note: This article originally ran in the July 2019 issue of Classic Motorsports.]

The Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow has been owned by all manner of dignitaries, from rockers and royals to fighters and fashionistas. Vidal Sassoon had one. So did Muhammad Ali, Andy Warhol and Johnny Cash.

The Silver Shadow may be a classic today, but upon its 1965 release it was downright contemporary. Its predecessor, the Silver Cloud series, dated back to 1955, sporting flowing fenders flanking that prominent grille. It was also the size of a city bus, more or less.

The Silver Shadow, by comparison, delivered more with less: more interior space with less overall length, width and height. Its slab-sided body, at the forefront of style for the time, was punctuated by the traditional Rolls-Royce grille–one that was proportional and proper, not ostentatious. That bodywork played well with both solid colors and two-tones.

The car was built to last, too–both in terms of design and materials. Road & Track tested one in 1976, a decade after its introduction, and called it the best car on the planet: “In a world gone plastic and throwaway, a Rolls is one of the few remaining links with the quality of the past.”

The Silver Shadow offered variety, too, including long-wheelbase, estate, coupe and convertible models. Those last two eventually broke out into their own model line, Corniche. Bentley variants were also built.

The Silver Shadow had staying power, too. While sedan production ended in 1980, Rolls-Royce offered the convertible version all the way through 1995. Today’s price for all this pomp and panache? We’ve seen presentable sedans starting in the low teens.

Silver Shadow Shopping Advice

Greg Albers
Co-owner, Albers Bentley
Zionsville (Silver Shadow owner, too)

I wouldn’t say there are any particular cars to avoid. Silver Shadows through 1971 require 100-octane gas. In 1972 they started cutting the compression ratio, so those run a lot better on today’s gas. If yours will be just a play toy, then it probably doesn’t even matter. You might have to tweak the timing, though. Late 1973 is when we started getting the rubber bumpers. Although I personally prefer the chrome-bumper versions, if I found a nice rubber-bumper version, I would still buy it as they did a pretty nice job incorporating the rubber bumpers.

Probably the most important advice is to buy one with a service history behind it. One of the biggest problems we have with our cars is that they’ve been left to sit. Atrophy sets in when they’re allowed to sit.

Although they do have a hydraulic suspension in the rear, these cars were not designed to ride on that all the time, so weak springs are common. The car should sit completely level with a full tank of gas. The hydraulics are an assist only–for 90 percent of your driving, it never comes on.

The hydraulic system is probably what buyers are most afraid of. It is complex–all the more reason to find one with a good service history. If you’re mechanically inclined and you have the workshop manual, you can figure out the hydraulics–and we can walk you through it.

Flush the brakes about every two years and wash the tank. The system uses a special brake fluid with a lubricant in it.

Once a car’s in good shape, we always tell people to budget two to three grand per year for maintenance, assuming you’ll have someone else do the work.

Everything else on the car is pretty conventional. Compared to the cars we’re getting now with 40 computers, a Silver Shadow seems simple.

Mechanical parts availability is very good. There’s a healthy supply of reproduction parts–and used parts, too. Rolls-Royces are more expensive to work on than an MGB, of course.

They have electric windows, air-conditioning and heating. What else do you need in a car that you’re going to toddle around in? People see that grille and they think you’re a gazillionaire.

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View comments on the CMS forums
6/2/20 8:18 p.m.

When they were making “the best car in the world” for all the really important stuff that needed to be good they shared Chevy Impala parts- transmission, air conditioning, and  power steering. I worked on one several times and what impressed me the most was the auto trans linkage that worked beautifully (their own parts), and the hand finished mitered door glass frames. As a car I was underwhelmed.  This may have been accentuated by what a creep the owner was. 

Kurt Lammon
Kurt Lammon None
4/6/21 1:07 p.m.

Do these cars have live axles? How hard would it be to get rid of the hydraulics and just go with straight coil springs? I've always loved the looks of the R-R Shadows and have been attracted by their low prices. LS swap, Wilwood brakes all around?

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