Rollin' in a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow II

My buddy Dave is a Jeep guy. He enjoys teaching communications, fabricating anything he needs in his shop, and shooting films in his spare time. Sometimes he gets a little carried away on the weekends putting his trail-prepped CJ-7 through its paces on the weekends, but he usually lands right side up.


This is Dave. He's good people.
Photo Credit: Dave Lennie
Dave's helped contribute to the site over the years, and he's also lent his time and talents in several car expeditions over the years.

Did I mention that he's a great guy?

He also happens to know someone with a 1980 Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow II who isn't shy about handing him the keys after a few months of subtle persuasion. One of his colleagues was planning on driving said car to work, and the night before Dave texted me with an invitation to spend some time with an automotive equivalent of an English crumpet.

Do I like crumpets? Do I like British cars? Yes but I don't know much about them. I thought Dave's offer like was probably the only time in my life I'll have the opportunity to get inside a Rolls-Royce (except at an auto show. Even there, the sales folks would know in a heartbeat that my bankroll wasn't up to snuff. I'd likely be asked to leave before being pepper-sprayed.) 

Might as well savor the chance to roll in the Silver Shadow, right?

Between the two of us, I'm pretty sure the most Dave & I knew about Rolls-Royce automobiles is that they were off-limits for most of us. They also were purchased by people of means with a serious mustard addiction.

Barring that, we also knew that one appeared in the classic John Hughes film Sixteen Candles. That incident with a similarly-colored Corniche convertible didn't end well for Farmer Ted. We're quick studies, so here's our pseudo-road test of a car that cost more than many homes back in 1980.

The Specimen

I met Dave a little after 9 o'clock on a Wednesday morning in the parking lot of his building. Neither one of us wore a cloak or sunglasses, but we were 'stealing' a car for a few moments from his colleague Margaret, who proudly owns this '80 Silver Shadow II. It was originally her father's car and has spent in the Hoosier State next to other British imports in the family collection. Its a clean, original car that has a few little parts that could use some minor TLC but otherwise was just as delivered from the factory. Dave fired it up, put it in reverse and away we went.

The Rolls looks quite at home along Moss Ave. in Peoria. 

According to the car's trim tag, this Silver Shadow II was originally ordered as a solid #9510398 Honey-coloured car. Rolls-Royce was always willing to please their discerning customers, and someone wanted to have the two-tone combination of Honey and #9510155 Nutmeg Brown. The combination looks deliciously rich, and reminds me of butterscotch pudding. Two wheelbases were offered, a short and a long. This is the short one, if you call 119 inches "short."

Clean lines hide how large these cars really are. 

Timeless beauty. This is what a Rolls-Royce should still look like. 


The Silver Shadow series that debuted in 1966 was a revolutionary model for the Crewe-based coachbuilder. Replacing its predecessor, the Silver Cloud wasn't an easy feat. The Silver Shadow debuted along with several firsts in the history of Rolls.

*First monocoque chassis construction.
*First Rolls platform designed for a V8.
*First Rolls with 4-wheel disc brakes.
*First Rolls with an automatic hydraulic leveling system.
*First Rolls with independent rear suspension.

Even with all these advances, the cars retained a fresh but traditional look that appealed to buyers of every age group. Shoot, they even look good today, which is more than I can say for modern luxury. Production was steady, and model revisions were slight through the years. Silver Shadow II models were built from 1977 to 1980 and really only saw the addition of rubber bumper strips and an air dam. 


Inside the passenger compartment is a corner office on wheels. Rich, overstuffed leather seats and appointments support every part of you. Chrome and nickel plated switches and knobs are everywhere. Something else is present in a 1980 Rolls that wasn't anywhere else along the automotive spectrum of that era. Real wood. Maybe Jaguar had it, but this was solid stuff. The electric column shifter and steering column? Those were borrowed from a taxi cab or something. No idea what they were thinking there. They look out of place and should have been vetoed at the design stage. 

Rolls-Royce didn't skimp on the rear seat passengers. They were pampered with their own cigarette lighter and ashtray along with Blauplunkt audio and those cute jeweled courtesy lamps. Whether it was at a red carpet event or a McDonald's parking lot, passengers undoubtedly made a stylish exit from the Silver Shadow II.


When is a Rolls-Royce similar to a 78 Olds Delta 88? Its a smog-era classic in the sense that its engine compartment is chock-full of hoses. While weighted down with smog pump tubing and evaporative emissions doo-dads, its awful hard to tell what's what. There's also a lot of electrical relays and solenoids everywhere. 


Dave goes in for a closer look at the 6750cc Rolls-Royce L410 OHV V8

Check out the little details like the insulating blanket over the climate control system on the cowl.
It prevents engine bay heat from getting into the cabin, and cuts down on blower noise. Brilliant! 

The core of this 6.75 liter engine was developed to replace the old inline eight cylinders that powered previous Rolls-Royce offerings. In a slightly modified form it remains in use today as a Bentley powerplant. In 1980 the Silver Shadow still ran a twin SU carburetor setup that looks for all the world like an early mechanical fuel injection setup. It seemed to do a good job of metering the petrol and air just fine. I wouldn't want to be the person who has to tune this smooth-running beast up. There's hardly any room in there for hands. 

One slightly odd fact is that Rolls-Royce decided to use a transmission from General Motors to handle shifting duties. A torquey V8 requires a beefy trans, and the Turbo-Hydramatic 400 was up to the task. Good thing we kept those trade routes open.

Speaking of oddball stuff from other countries, let's talk about
 the hydraulic leveling system Rolls borrowed from Citroën. 

This ingenious setup borrowed from nearby France allowed the rear suspension of the Silver Shadow to keep a consistent ride height, no matter how much beef wellington your passengers consumed at dinner. One catch. These systems are notoriously expensive to overhaul and require the use of $39 a quart Castrol RR 363 hydraulic oil to function properly. Something tells me you can't just waltz into an AutoZone and pick that stuff up.

To see the Rolls in action, click the YouTube link below and laugh along with us as we take nearly two tons of British royalty through the streets of Peoria, Illinois, USA.

"Don't hit anything."
Photo: Dave Lennie

Final Thoughts

I'll be honest, tooling around in this car was one of the most comfortable rides I've taken in my life. It floated over bumps, moved through the streets with ease, and it was quiet. It also drew a crowd while we parked for a few quick photos for this write-up. Attention magnet could be a good label for this two-tone beauty. The downside? Everyone will think you're Daddy Warbucks or Zsa-Zsa Gabor. That's fine and dandy until it comes time for an oil change or brake job. Cha-ching. Better find a mechanic who knew you BEFORE you bought a Rolls-Royce. 

This Rolls wouldn't have been completely road-worthy without a spicy French condiment within the driver's reach. Did it have the obligatory Grey Poupon mustard jar?

"But of course."

Thanks for the ride, Dave! (And thanks to Margaret for trusting Dave and the shaggy beard guy with her beautiful Rolls).

If you're serious about getting your hands on a Silver Shadow, there's plenty on from time to time. They're a little pricey in good shape, but remember you're getting a lot of car for the money. Even at $33K you're only at roughly 1/4 of the cost of a new S-Class Mercedes.

And nobody would pull up to a Mercedes and ask for Grey Poupon, now would they?



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