Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit, Silver Dawn & Silver Spur (1980 - 1997) review

BY JONATHAN CROUCH

Introduction

For the price of a new Mercedes S-class, a BMW 750 or a Daimler, you could have a previously owned Rolls Royce - from a Rolls Royce dealer. Well worth considering - if you have the means. A Rolls Royce, after all, is handcrafted, not mass-produced. And the feeling you get at the wheel of one is like nothing else. The British motor industry may hardly exist as we once knew it but a lasting legacy has been left. You could own a part of it.

Models

Models Covered: V8 6570CC 4DR. 1980-1989 - SILVER SPIRIT, LWB SILVER SPUR. 1989-1993 - SILVER SPIRIT II, LWB SILVER SPUR II. 1993-1996 - SILVER SPIRIT III, LWB SILVER SPUR III. 1996-1999 - SILVER DAWN, LWB SILVER SPUR III

History

The Silver Spirit is often seen as the first of the modern Rolls Royces. Some purists ignore it for that very reason. In comparison with previous models, its shape is hardly classic, but it is still classy, despite the over-large rectangular front headlamps and huge square rear light clusters. Buyers chose between the short wheelbase Silver Spirit and the huge long wheelbase Silver Spur which, apart from their bodies, were basically the same car. Three incarnations of both cars appeared between 1980 and 1997; the Mark I (1980-1989), the Mark II (1989-1993) and the Mark III (1993-1996). To tide the showrooms over until the all-new Silver Seraph was introduced in 1998, the later Silver Spirits was relaunched as the Silver Dawn (1996-1998) but, aside from rather clever computer-controlled suspension, the recipe was basically the same. All models were powered by the same 6750cc V8 engine (aside from a few long wheelbase 'Flying Spur' models produced with a turbocharged version of this powerplant in 1994). These days, Rolls Royces have BMW V12 engines under the bonnets: somehow it isn't quite the same.

What You Get

There is still something unique and special about owning one of these cars - and about the statement it still makes. Valet parkers spring into action on your arrival. Doormen leap to your aid, waving lesser cars to less exalted berths. Truly, a Rolls Royce has presence and plenty of it. It's hide-covered interior smells - almost literally - of money. Stand outside it and the sheer size overwhelms. Walk round it and you should take your rucksack. In both front and rear, you sink your shoes ankle-deep into something which seems more like an entire sheep than a mere carpet. All around you, there's craftsmanship that would send the Antiques Roadshow team into sheer ecstasy. Anything that couldn't be veneered has been chromed; switches, door handles, ashtrays, air vents; only the nasty plastic column stalks are a reminder of the 20th century. You sit high up, of course, with a commanding view of the proletariat who remain mightily impressed by that enormous front grille, with the famous silver lady statue astride it. After a few miles, you won't care that this car has the drag co-efficient of a garden shed. All that matters is that behind that endless bonnet, you've achieved a superior kind of peace with the world.

What You Pay

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What to Look For

To avoid potential problems, buy a factory-approved used car from a Rolls Royce dealer. Otherwise get a detailed expert inspection carried out. Insist on a full Rolls Royce service before you buy because running costs are huge.

Replacement Parts

(based on an M-reg Silver Spirit - approx ex-Vat) A full exhaust system (excluding catalyst) is around £1,750 and an exchange gearbox around £1,600. Front and rear brake pads are around £113 and £77 per set respectively. A starter motor is around £480, a radiator (exchange) around £268, an alternator around £675 and a front headlamp lens around £225.

On the Road

Under the bonnet, you'll find a 6.75-litre V8 engine, which despite the prodigious body weight, still manages to shift this huge Gentleman's Conveyance at a surprisingly rapid pace. It's rather undignified to drive the car like this, of course, but for raising eyebrows amongst your fellow road users, you can't beat it. Most of the time, you'll be content to glide from county to county, much as the standard four-speed automatic gearbox slides imperceptibly from ratio to ratio. You can hear the engine all right, but it sounds a bit like a thunderstorm happening 50 miles away.

Overall

A chance to sample the high life - for less than you might expect. It's still not cheap, but keep your eyes open and you could well be in a Silver Something for less than SEAT or Suzuki money.