1980 Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow II: British Elegance for Pence on the Pound

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First things first: let’s get the inevitable Grey Poupon jokes out of the way.  “Pardon me, but…” yadda, yadda, and so on. Great. There. Now, let’s take a real look at this beautiful old world luxury yacht automobile available HERE on CraigsList in San Diego, California, with an asking price of just $8,600.

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I recently bought (by accident…?) and old school classic European luxo-barge, which will be covered in an upcoming (and much overdue) Fleet Update. Having purchased that car on a whim, I got to poking around the interwebs to see what else I could have had for the same +/- $10,000. Not out of regret, mind you, but genuinely for comparative purposes. I was a little shocked to run into this, but at a glance it doesn’t reek of scam – unlike the $33K 300SEL 6.3 whose owner was conveniently out of the country due to COVID-19, but who was happy for me to pay his “shipping agent” for the car which was unavailable for inspection in a garage in Minneapolis. But I digress.

While this ad lacks detail, it does cover some important points: AC works (!), car is running, suspension is good, and the seller seems pretty upfront that condition is good but not spectacular. S/he states that it is a 7/10 inside and out, and the pictures would tend to agree. There is unfortunately no mention of service history or condition of the brakes, but as a prospective buyer I’d be cautiously optimistic on this one.

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There is really no other car with the presence that a Roller has. Sure, a contemporary Bentley is the same car so it does, and a Mercedes 600 is sort of a Swabian interpretation of the same design brief, but even the coveted three-pointed star (and y’all know I’m a Mercedes addict) lacks the ultimate panache of the Spirit of Ecstasy which guides the cars from Crewe. Besides, although without another car for reference it’s difficult to tell, these cars are about 1/4 bigger than you think they are. Those wheels are tall 15 inchers. You can practically walk into the car through those doors. Don’t be fooled: this is a big car.

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The colors on this car are very period – we did like our browns in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but I for one like the look. The Stuttgartian saloon I just purchased is a very attractive (but arguably ordinary) silver on black. This makes a bolder statement to be sure. The two-tone paint adds to the appeal in my mind, especially the lower black akin to the deep, lacquered finish of a classic Steinway piano.

If you’ve never sat in a Rolls, there is nothing else on Earth like the intoxicating combined smell of the Connolly hides, Wilton carpets, and natural wood. It’s entirely possible that at 40 years old this car also has a little lingering smell of a Cohiba cigar, Flying Dutchman pipe tobacco, or Gitanes cigarettes, but in my experience the car will overpower the sins of its former occupants. This car appears patinated but not worn out. A little Leatherique would go a long way here, but it is entirely presentable and a place I sure wouldn’t mind wiling away the hours on a good road trip. The fact that the AC and all the gauges reportedly work just sweetens the pudding.

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The captain of a Silver Shadow II doesn’t get a tachometer, but they do get a detailed check panel along with gauges conveying all the important stuff: petrol level, water temperature, oil pressure, and voltage. With 6.75 litres of low-stressed V8 power, a tachometer really isn’t critical.

This car’s period Blaupunkt AM/FM radio is pretty cool, especially with the remote Pioneer cassette player mounted below the HVAC vents. Also on tap are power windows and remote-controlled mirrors on both sides of the car. Shadows also come with a cavernous glove compartment big enough for a jar of…  Big enough to hold a lot of stuff.

The HVAC control panel is located just above the driver’s right knee, but offers dual-zone temperature controls. The control panel is finicky, and impatient owners come up with creative solutions to bypass it. The fact that this car’s reportedly operates properly is a definite plus. The functional components are GM, and even back then the Genral made a good air conditioner!

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(Not a picture of this car’s engine. The listing didn’t include one. Because CraigsList)

The venerable Rolls-Royce L410 V8 was first introduced in 1959, and a variant remains in production in the 2020 Bentley Mulsanne (now a Volkswagen Group product).  In our subject car, the 6.75 litre version delivers 190hp and 290 lb/ft of torque, which get to the wheels through the utterly reliable GM Turbo Hydramatic 400 automatic gearbox. Yes, folks, AAMCO has the parts and the know-how to repair or rebuild your Roller’s transmission.

Acceleration is reportedly leisurely at around 11 seconds 0-60mph, and top speed is only about 115mph. But speed really isn’t the point here, is it?  If you want to go fast for $10,000, there are several better options (buy a used Mustang or a Monster Miata!). This car is about long-legged cruising at super-legal speeds for hours days on end.

Although the brake and suspension systems can be problematic and expensive to put right, once right they are durable. The engines are known to go literally 200, 300, even 400 THOUSAND miles without a major rebuild. That is nearly Mercedes diesel territory.  Ideally, records would display regular maintenance, although at 117K this car doesn’t have that many miles considering its age – an average of just 3,000 per year. That’s pretty light use in my book, but could still mean a lot of deferred maintenance. It would not be difficult to spend another $15K on top of asking price if this car or one like it had needs, but the signs are pretty obvious: smoke on startup, lack of brake pressure, poor shifting, sloppy suspension, etc. Again, my Spidey-sense on this one is that it may have a few needs, but nothing imminent and it looks like a good base from which to start.

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I would be remiss if I didn’t show you the glory of a Shadow’s fully upholstered boot (including rear foot rests) and the lovely wool headliner material – no sunroof here. These cars really do represent an old school elegance and charm the likes of which don’t really exist any more. To think that you can experience that for as little as $8,600 is mind blowing. Do I have any regrets about not waiting for this car? Well, I’m pretty thrilled with what I bought, but I’d have been VERY tempted by this had I seen it first. Still I can’t help but think it could be just a smidge better…  With mustard.


2 responses to “1980 Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow II: British Elegance for Pence on the Pound

  • Cameron Parkhurst

    Fun car. My rule of thumb when purchasing older used cars is to budget at least 1/3 of the purchase price for immediate repairs and maintenance. Perhaps even 1/2 if the car cost under $7,500.

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