For sheer, imposing elegance, a Roll-Royce Silver Cloud (or equivalent Bentley) takes some beating. But it also takes some buying too.
For many enthusiasts, the Silver Cloud represents the end of an era – the last of the ‘mainstream’ traditionally-styled Rolls-Royces constructed on a separate chassis. The following Silver Shadow may be the most accessible of the marque – practically a Rolls-Royce for the people – but the Cloud and its almost identical Bentley S counterpart retain an exclusivity and dignity that links the type more with what came before than what succeeded it. This is despite it adopting the V8 engine that would go on to power future generations of Rolls-Royces through to 1998 and is still used by Bentleys today.
In looks, the Silver Cloud’s flowing lines and palatial presence are distinctively old school. Launched in 1955, it was somewhat old-fashioned even for the mid-1950s, when many manufacturers were turning to monocoque construction. But Rolls-Royce went with what it knew best and retained a separate chassis. This meant that the standard pressed steel body could be used or a number of coachbuilt creations bolted on instead.
The first cars had 4.9-litre six-cylinder engines, but in 1959, Rolls-Royce’s all-aluminium 6.25-litre V8 unit was dropped in, creating the smoothly magnificent Cloud II. The real revelation of the new engine was not its power but how quiet it was – V8s are generally quite raucous by nature, but when enveloped in the Cloud’s expansive body, occupants could still hear the clock ticking at 60mph, a characteristic the company enthusiastically trumped about what it still called ‘The best car in the world’.
A hint of radical changes just around the corner was revealed with the Cloud III of 1962, with its double headlamp units. These caused quite some controversy at a time when the 1960s had yet to completely start swinging, yet were undoubtedly more effective than the single lamps they replaced. They also managed to subtly update the looks without the need for major body surgery.
And that’s how the Cloud and S stayed up until the end of production in 1965, when the Shadow came along and completely changed the game. In doing so, it guaranteed the Cloud a selectness that has only grown stronger over five decades.
MAXIMUM SPEED 116mph
FUEL CONSUMPTION 12mpg
TRANSMISSION 4-spd auto
HEIGHT 1631mm (63.5in)
WIDTH 1880mm (74in)
LENGTH 5339mm (210.2in)
WHEELBASE 3124mm (123in)
WEIGHT 2078.4kg (4578lb)
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
First things first – are you looking at what you think you’re looking at? Rolls-Royce bonnets have a flat front edge, Bentleys a curved one. If the radiator grille and the bonnet don’t match up, expect identity theft. Doors, bonnets and bootlids are aluminium, so don’t corrode except for any areas where steel meets the metal. Elsewhere, rust can attack the complicated four-section sills, especially towards the rear, front wing edges adjacent to the doors, wing stay, wheelarch lips (all four), around the headlamps and front sidelights, and the body mounts. The lower rear wings are also vulnerable. Leaking battery acid can attack around the offside bumper mounting point and chomp into the chassis.
The chrome radiator vents will suffer if they get chipped by stones, and the hubcaps are vulnerable to rust…which is a shame, as they cost over £250 each to replace.
Two engines types were fitted – a six-cylinder unit and a V8. The V8 is packed into the engine bay, meaning it’s trickier to work on – for example, changing the spark plugs involves removing a wheel, then a panel to get at them. That takes three hours – something to consider before buying.
If an engine (whether six or eight) has been conscientiously serviced – every 6000 miles – it’s capable of upwards of 200,000 miles. Check the oil pressure – 25lb (or in the white band on the gauge) when warm is a healthy sign. Hydraulic tappets on the V8 engines can be noisy when cold, but so should quieten down when warm.
Expect some blue smoke from the exhaust, but it shouldn’t be excessive. You should also expect some black stuff to be weeping from the rocker cover gaskets, the front and rear crankshaft seals and cylinder liner seals, but again, not too much. Basically, these engines aren’t that oil-tight but you shouldn’t have to top up the oil more than a pint every 500 miles.
Look for signs of head gasket issues such as water in the oil and vice versa and, on your test drive, make sure the big engine doesn’t run too hot.
The General Motors-sourced four-speed automatic transmissions last well, but the smoothness of the changes can suffer with age, leading to notchiness. Make sure that that kickdown works properly too and listen for any noisiness from the differential, which will start to protest with age. When starting the car from cold, make sure there’s no slippage, otherwise reconditioning may be called for, which will run into the thousands.
KEEP US IN SUSPENSE
Drum brakes are fitted all around, which work well enough at speed but not at low velocities, due to the way the gearbox-driven servo operates. You can see the condition of the brake fluid in the glass reservoirs in the engine bay – if black, it means the car hasn’t been looked after religiously. If the brakes still feel ineffective at speed, then it could be because there are leaks from the seals. From 1957 onwards, cars got twin brake master cylinders, which means a bit more peace of mind. A strange groaning noise just before the car stops suggests wrong brake linings have been fitted.
Power steering is desirable, as these are heavy machines on radial tyres. However, do look for leaks, especially from the hydraulic ram under the front bumper.
If an example has tired suspension, it will sag, usually towards the front. This means that new springs will be required. The suspension needs regular lubrication, and if skipped, will start to wear quickly. Areas that will soon suffer are the front wishbone kingpins at the front and suspension pivot (fulcrum) components. Also feel for sloppy handling when on the move.
THE INSIDE STORY
Electrics are usually pretty sound, but run through everything inside, especially the electric windows, as the motors are difficult to source. Often dodgy contacts are the main issues. Also try out the complicated heating and ventilation system, as putting it right is quite a pain if the matrix is blocked.
Obviously, these cars offer the highest levels of luxury inside, so don’t underestimate how much a tired wood and leather will cost to rectify – at least £10,000 for a professional job. Which is why you come across so many that are quite worn.
Don’t go into Silver Cloud ownership expecting an easy ride – at least not financially. These are expensive cars to buy and maintain, and if you shirk on the tasks, you’ll soon find your Cloud evaporating around you. However, if you’re prepared to spend the money the cars demand, then few vehicles give you such an enormous sense of prosperous well-being to drive. And they won’t be in the Shadow of anything…