When it comes to the risks of an ageing rock-and-Roller, we don't need no education
By Mike Duff / Saturday, May 29, 2021 / Loading comments
The relationship between Rolls-Royce and rock aristocracy is a long, interesting and frequently damp one. It began with John Lennon’s decision to repaint the staid lines of his Phantom V into a psychedelic livery, widely regarded as heretical at the time, but now one that created a cultural icon the company itself now boasts about. Then there was the mythical tale of The Who’s Keith Moon driving his Roller into a swimming pool. This has never been substantiated with solid documentary proof, but as Moon once earned the grand total of £47 from a month-long tour once the cost of trashed hotel rooms had been deducted from his earnings, it certainly sounds plausible. The legend also inspired Oasis to dunk a real Silver Shadow into a real pool for the cover of ‘Be Here Now’ in 1997.
Now here’s the chance to own another example, albeit one slightly further from the blazing heart of the celebrity firmament. It’s a 1990 Silver Spirit II being sold with what the selling advert claims is a Pink Floyd link. To save less attentive Floydians from having to engage in research based on the portrait of car and owner, the keeper in question is Guy Pratt. Who wasn’t part of any of PF’s classic studio line-ups, but played bass for the ‘A Momentary Lapse of Reason’ and ‘The Division Bell’ tours – in the eighties and nineties, and who is now a member of Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets. (Wikipedia lists Pratt’s other career highlights as including co-writing ‘Ain’t No Doubt’ for Jimmy Nail. Let’s brush over that one.)
The good news is that there doesn’t seem to be any attempt to extract a (minor) celebrity tax in return for this connection. The Spirit is being sold by a Rolls and Bentley specialist in Blackburn for exactly what a regular civilian version of the same age and mileage would be offered for. And that’s without factoring in the new engine that was fitted just 2,000 miles ago.
Not that any Spirit could be described as fashionable, something that was as true when this one was brand new as it is 31 years later. This is a product from Rolls-Royce’s squarest era, the one where the company’s designers seemed to work exclusively with rulers and 90 degree set squares. Launched in 1980 the Spirit (and its long wheelbase Spur sister) were designed to deliver Rolls appropriate levels of presence through battleship proportions rather than any subtlety of line or detailing. U.S market versions wore horrible sealed beam headlights which make them look like oversized Lincoln Town Cars, but European cars got lamps vast enough to make the Corinthian radiator grille look somehow undersized. The rear lights are similarly XXL.
Power came from a version of the company’s long-serving 6.75-litre pushrod V8 that was barely altered from the one in the earlier Silver Shadow, and which delivered its meagre urge through a three-speed autobox. Rolls refused to discuss power outputs or performance at the time, officially as such vulgar subjects were beneath it, but also because these were almost embarrassingly modest. As launched the Spirit had around 200hp from its carb-fed engine and would take around 10.5 seconds to drag its 2.2-tonne mass to 60mph. Later fuel injected versions upped that to around 240hp, and dropped the 0-60 to just under ten seconds. But neither could be persuaded to deliver better than 15mpg under anything but the gentlest use, and would frequently do much worse.
As a later Mk2 version our Pill will have various useful updates including ABS, fuel injection and automatic damping control for its hydraulic suspension. But unless swapped, it is too early to have received the later four-speed gearbox that was introduced in 1991. Ebony metallic paint isn’t the shoutiest choice, but it looks inoffensive compared to the less modest colours that even late Spirits were often ordered in by buyers seemingly determined to prove money > taste. The cabin’s grey leather upholstery works better than you’d think with the orangish wooden veneer, too.
The Spirit’s long life corresponded with a near reversal of fortunes for Rolls-Royce and Bentley. As launched the Bentley Eight/Mulsanne that used the same bodyshell were minority partners that sold in much smaller volumes and were pretty much treated as base models – selecting them brought no extra urge or dynamic focus. But that changed steadily as the cars aged, with the launch of the Mulsanne Turbo and then the Turbo R proving that affluent buyers weren’t averse to extra performance, or the ability to go around corners at higher speeds. By the time the Spirit and Spur finally retired in 1997 the balance had swung the other way and the Bentley versions were comfortably outselling them.
That in turn created an imbalanced secondhand market, with a relative abundance of the early Rolls examples chasing little demand. Which is why the Spirit entered its third age of genteel bangerdom quicker than any of its predecessors, values of early examples well within the reach of the low-cost wedding car market even while new ones were still on sale. Values of the earlier and better looking Silver Shadow have started to rise in the last few years, but the Spirit is still stuck in the doldrums. It may remain there forever.
Yet you’d be hard pressed to deny our Pill represents a huge amount of car for the money, either in terms of weight or slightly faded grandeur. The seller reports a comprehensive list of services, and with reassuringly modest mileages between most of them as stated – although the hole between 59,000 and 71,000 miles does seem to represent a five-year gap according to the MOT history. The rest of the online record is unscary, with the most recent pass noting only oily rear dampers, but the current MOT ran out (after COVID extension) in December. The vendor promises it will be sold with a new one.
It won’t be cheap to run, of course. Spirits rust, often in inaccessible places, and the hydraulic suspension and power brakes can get pricey quickly. Engines are normally regarded as tough, but the fact our Pill is on its second proves they don’t always last. Pretty much any visit to a garage is going to be expensive, even if it is just to fill that vast 105-litre tank.
Anyway, with apologies for gratuitous citation of a completely incorrect era of Floyd, after a while you’ll probably grow comfortably numb. Or maybe realise that hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way.
See the original advert here
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