A photo for Sunday: Rolls Royce Silver Shadow

Here is a Silver Shadow with the glass compartment divider.


This car has caused me to reflect on the “shoebox” theme of many 60s cars. The gross form is very simple. All the interest is in the proportions and the detailing. In the middle is the medium level of the design where little deviates from the engineering minimum of large boxes for the engine, passenger cell and the boot. Rolls Royce could rely on opulent materials and lustrous finish to carry the argument that this could be called the world’s best car.

Apart from those it’s quite simply a formal oblong on wheels, one with impeccable proportions, repeated to great effect on Vickers’ last Rolls, the Seraph, which also revived the rich and voluptuous radii that characterise the minor transitions of the Shadow that the Spur eschewed, making it all too much like an English Caprice. That car’s panels had a crudeness suited to Detroit production standards inappropriate for the marque.

The car here had cloth seats which are ideal for this class of car.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

29 thoughts on “A photo for Sunday: Rolls Royce Silver Shadow”

    1. I think that re-branding came along with the Shadow II’s introduction, if I’m not mistaken.

    2. Hello James: I ought to have said “hi” earlier. I didn’t have time to record the bootlid or front of the car. I had to make do with a brief interlude when there were no cars in the way. It was brave of the owner to leave the carc in that particular garage as the spaces are absurdly narrow (1985 dimensions).

  1. Nobody else seems to have noticed, but the Shadow’s really a great big Peugeot 403.

  2. I always preferred the curves of the Silver Cloud (especially the mark 1). Why do you say cloth seats are ideal for this type of car?

    1. Leather ‘s durable but for the super-rich comfort matters more. The Rolls here had wool twill which is very warm to the touch, grips the passenger and has a nicer acoustic. I had velour on my last car and leather on the replacement. The cars were mechanically identical. The leather-trimmed car sounded and felt colder.

    2. It’s good old Connolly hide we’re talking about, Richard! Not the stuff ripped off those poor plastic cows that have to suffer the posthumous indignity of having their flesh misappropriated by McDonald’s and their skin used on the seats of a 320d. Nothing beats Connolly, in my humble opinion – Poltrona Frau and Bridge of Weir may consider themselves equal, however. And high-grade velour is a very classy alternative, obviously. But Connolly simply is leather as it should be, which is a good thing.

    3. I read somewhere – possibly in the Graham Robson Silver Cloud book – that the Cloud III was a far better car than the Shadow to drive hard in demanding conditions. The Cloud is around 200lb lighter than the Shadow, despite its larger dimensions and separate chassis. The driving position and simpler suspension probably helped, likewise the home-grown PAS. The Shadow I’s GM-sourced system never found much favour.

  3. What a lovely car! Although i confess to like the later Silver Spirit as well, not the prettiest of cars perhaps but what a splendid way to travel. The Seraph is the opposite to me, lovely to look at, but not really that special, too many BMW parts.

    1. Strangely, I find the Fritz Feller-penned Bentleys not unattractive, yet the Royces never managed to escape their “runt of the litter” status. A Rolls-Royce simply is not a sober car, hence the inappropriateness of trying to marry the status and aura of “The World’s Best Car” with the clean aesthetic of the ’70s. Jaguar were facing a similar challenge with the XJ.40 and did a better job, even if the basic stylistic contradictoriness remained apparent there, too.

      In marked contrast to Richard, I found the Seraph a rather sad pastiche of Royce styling cues of yore, awkwardly applied through sloppy mid-’90s soft design. Its underpinning’s age was becoming all too apparent in its proportions and the surfaces were not shaped with an awful lot of subtlety (unlike the Bletchley cars, which were both opulent and delicate). The best thing about the Seraph was that it so obviously pointed out the dead end modern Rolls-Royces had manoeuvred themselves into – and thus paving the way for the Phantom’s modern interpretation of grandeur.

    2. Feller was an engineer, and a very gifted one. He worked among other things on the L410 V8 under Jack Phillips, then went on to develop the first diesel Wankel engine (see http://www.google.com/patents/US3228183 ). Apart from the Spirit & relatives, the only other car ‘designed by an engineer’ that i can think of would be Spen King’s Range Rover. Any others ?

  4. Leather: the more leather gets to be pleasant the more its advantage is compromised. Any of those three firms do a good job at handling hides. For me cloth is unsurpassed in its tactile quality and the way it takes dyes. It is much more vibrant than hide (says the guy with the car decked in black leather).

  5. Roberto – other cars designed by an engineer – Morris Minor and BMC Mini. Although there are those who wouldn’t dignify Greek Al with the title.

    Gerald Palmer is also credited with the full design package for the Jowett Javelin, and the Riley Pathfinder and Magnette ZA.

    Until relatively recently, at least outside the USA the distinction between stylists and engineers was somewhat blurred. Leonardo Fioravanti, Lorenzo Ramaciotti and Brown Bag’s qualifications were all in Mechanical Engineering, and Ercole Spada’s degree is in Industrial Engineering.

    Greek Al failed all his exams at Battersea Polytechnic…

    1. Thank you Robertas, very interesting. I had completely forgotten Issigonis, of course. It would be interesting to discuss whether he was a blessing or a curse for the UK’s motor industry. He was hugely influential, for sure.
      I’m not that surprised on the Italians, as they, in my experience, tend to move comfortably from art to science and back, without the slightest of problems.

  6. Mention of the Caprice – I’m presuming the “downsized” 1977 version – takes me back to the years of trepidation as we awaited the Shadow’s replacement. To put this into context, I don’t think I will ever recover from the psychological damage and mental distress brought about by the Austin Allegro and Jaguar XJ-S. The Camargue wasn’t quite as traumatic, but only because the stakes were lower.

    Anyway, I reckoned that if the new Royce looked like a more restrained, Anglicised, Caprice all would be well. The SZ wasn’t a disaster, but it followed the Camargue’s ‘more metal for the money’ tendency. By this I mean that the Spirit’s wheelbase and tracks were barely half an inch (13mm) greater than the Shadow II’s, but the thing was four inches longer, and three inches wider.

    Rolls Royce were in an invidious position as regards sizing their cars by the mid-70’s. The Shadow looked tiny in US car parks, compared with the mainstream behemoths. The vertical emphasis and slab sides exaggerated this. Rolls Royce made the right choice in going bigger , but the Spirit lacks the Shadow’s ‘tightness’.

    (Some here may be interested to know that the Spirit’s track is the same as a Granada Mk.1, but the car is 96mm wider)

    1. That is interesting since, when I first set eyes on the Spirit, I was immediately put in mind of the Granada’s Ugly Sister.

    2. The replacement car has an over-inflated look to it. I gather it was faster and was more adept at handling. Those two attributes were not, I gather, attributes of the Shadow. It was a town car not a GT. I don’t expect many owners ever crossed Europe in one, and few might have crossed the UK. It’s a car for a trip around central London or Paris. I’ve seen them in Los Angeles where the quality and detailing sets them apart from Cadillacs and Lincolns. I expect customers knew Rolls wasn’t selling length and the interior is certainly spacious.

  7. Gerard Palmer deserves a re-look. His cars have an integrity and interest to them. I say that while thinking of the Pathfinder. Do you think that these engineers still had help from people with styling expertise?
    The more I read about Issigonis the more he seems to have the worst aspects of an engineer: a closed mind and a dislike of ambiguity and a refusal to acknowledge human factors.

  8. Although Raymond Loewy ‘invented’ Industrial Design in 1929 (citation needed as they say in Wikiworld) and Carnegie Institute started an ‘Industrial Design’ course in 1934, dedicated design education was hard to come by until the 1950s. So it’s hardly surprising that older designers were effectively autodidacts. Even in the 70s, in the UK at least, many manufacturers still regarded product design and being a bit of an indulgence, rather than a necessity.

  9. I’d be the last to commit a character assassination of Issigonis.

    He wasn’t a ‘moments and moduli’ sort of engineer, possibly a phenomenal avoidance as there’s evidence that he was borderline innumerate. Unburdened by the distraction of mathematics, he could give his creative spirit free rein, and did, with clarity and innovative genius.

    Imagine someone who is dyslexic but verbally highly articulate – actually not an uncommon situation, and my notion of Issigonis emerges. He sketched well, and surrounded himself with people who could keep him right on the stress analyses and calculations, and small matters of common sense.

    It’s hard to imagine someone as hard-headed as Len Lord, or as intelligent as Alex Moulton putting their faith in a blithering incompetent. Likewise, would the men who kept him right: Daniels, Shepherd, Kingham et. al. have stayed loyal to him long after he had passed from this world?

    His greatest contribution to automotive engineering? Apart from three phenomenally successful and charismatic cars, I’d say subframes. They’d been done before, but not in the way which modularised assembly of the whole front end of a car – engine, transmission, brakes, suspension. Nowadays the practice is near-universal.

    1. I´d be the last to argue that Issogonis was incompetent; as you´d say he would never have got to where he did. However, the Peter Principle https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_principle may be at play here. Issigonis could do sub-frames and had some novel ideas on packaging. It could be he was promoted above his level of ability.

  10. Another thing he could do right was monocoque structures. His designs are notably rigid, this at a time not noted for producing strong unibody cars. If i recall correctly, the ‘landcrab’ was measured at 18.000 nm/deg, a value not seen again in it’s class until the FEA-optimized structures of the 80’s

  11. Hindsight makes it easy to judge Issigonis for his shortcomings. Against contemporary measures his methods can be found wanting. But it takes a rare kind of person to take a back of the fag packet sketch drawn out of pure instinct, and turn it into something that both works and can be productionised. That was effectively what he did with the Mini, plus numerous other products. Such an approach requires great talent and strength of character.

    The flip side is that the singular focus required can also lead the designer to occlude other important factors. For example, Issigonis was notoriously dismissive of styling, regarding it as tinsel placed atop what he regarded to be the most rational solution. That other people had to be convinced to buy the results of his ideas was not his concern. (In this regard the success of the 1100 and the Mini sowed the seeds for much greater problems down the road.)

    Less forgiveable was his occlusion of any sort of meaningful testing regime. This position was born of complacence, both of Issigonis in the strength of his own ideas, and that of the British car industry as a whole, who did not grant the veracity of its products any significance. Complacence can easily be misread by buyers as contempt, and more than any other single factor, it was the neglect of quality that did for the British motor industry.

    1. On Issigonis, could it not be argued very simply that he was badly managed – i.e. any decent boss would have sat him down and told him his ‘development needs’ and insisted that his basic designs be handed over to a) a proper design team to be made commercial; b) a proper production design team for the same reasons; and, c) development life-cycles and productionisation schedules include testing regimes. The alternative to accepting these would be the sack …

    2. That is a fair point SV. He might have been arrogant and high-handed, but he did have very definite virtues and he was an employee. He wasn’t a tyrant in a position of absolute control and decent management would have identified his strengths and weaknesses and made the best use of him. This would have been better for the company and really better for him in the long run.

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