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In development for 10 years, in production for 4.

The Silver Spirit had been in production since 1980 and in the late eighties the company started to think about a new model. The Spirit had been designed for the American market and RRs chief designer Graham Hull had decided to return to the logical design progression from the earlier Silver Clouds and Shadows. There was a background issue related to the mechanical side in that Rolls Royce Motors, a relatively small manufacturer since its separation from the RR Aero engine side, did not possess the capability to design a suitably advanced engine for the new model, it was therefore decided that the new Silver Seraph was be designed around a major third party manufacturers components. Nothing really new here as all the models from the Silver Cloud onwards used American General Motors auto transmissions. RR motor division was then owned by Vickers, and a deal had been negotiated whereby the new S Seraph would be designed around BMW components with a view to a final sell out to the German company. The new model was announced at the March 1998 Geneva motor show and the first few models sold, but suddenly Volkswagen jumped in with an offer that could not be refused.

However, immediately there were problems. Although VW had acquired the Crew factory, all the machinery, designs and intellectual property rights including the Silver Lady mascot, they had no right to use the Rolls Royce brand name and logo which was the property of  Rolls Royce Holdings PLC. These had already been licensed to BMW for the sum of 40 million, indeed the aero engine division had been working in partnership with BMW for some time. Further, the new models were even designed around BMW running gear. A deal was struck whereby the new Silver Seraph would be produced at the RR Crew factory, now owned by VW, for 4 years, after which all RR production would move to a new factory yet to be built by BMW. However, VW would continue to own Bentley. The deal itself was simple, BMW owned licence to the Rolls Royce name and logo to use relative to motor cars and had invested money in tooling for the production of the engines and running gear for the new models. VW was their market for this, but there had to be a set time limit on it, after which VW would be on their own and able to only produce vehicles under the Bentley brand name. This affair is often misunderstood and indeed misstated.

This resulted in a total of 1574 Seraphs being produced, most for export, with only about 300 going onto British roads. There was also 124 long wheelbase versions called the Park Ward. However, the Seraphs sibling, the Bentley Arnage and its variants, continued to be produced until 2009. As already stated, BMW components could only be used for a short while so VWs solution was to redesign the old RR 6.75 litre alloy V8 with advanced turbo charging, unfortunately though, with a bad reputation for blowing head gaskets. After the cessation of the Arnage the engine continued to be used in the Mulsanne from 2010 until 2020.

So why should the Silver Seraph be considered the last real Rolls Royce?

Well to a purist there are certain features that make a Rolls Royce a real Rolls Royce. The Greek Parthenon grill, the silver lady and a few other features. Tradition is a backbone of a real Rolls Royce. The Silver Cloud 3 was possibly the last car to be manufactured in the UK on a separate chassis and with a bonnet hinged at the top. Indeed, a bonnet more like a flight deck! That long pointed bonnet with the brightwork hinge with the silver lady at the end gave a unique drivers perspective on the road ahead. And although the following Silver Shadow had a rear hinged bonnet, the brightwork strip was continued. This perpetrated itself all through the later models up to and including the Silver Seraph so as to maintain the unique drivers eye view of the road ahead. Rolls Royce were not the only manufacturer to follow this traditional them, Jaguar were the same, the bridgework strip ending in the leaping cat mascot was a feature of all of the Mk1 and 11s, S types etc through the 1960s.

Also, there is the interior forest of burred walnut. I am fortunate to have a copy of the book "Rolls Royce Silver Shadow" by John Bolster, and somewhere in the book he remarks that "without the wood a Rolls Royce would not be a Rolls Royce", indeed, the Seraph is just like that, even into the steering wheel.

Many will wonder what the attraction is with a car that drinks fuel and costs a fortune to maintain. A high mileage, 175K, no paperwork Bentley Arnage offered on eBay constituted the funniest advert I have ever seen. The seller described it as " the biggest money pit you can possibly buy and I am completely at a loss to understand why anyone would want to own one". But continued to say that it was lovely to drive. Basically, that's part of what its all about. YouTube "Car Wizard" describes the Bentley Arnage thus in terms of running costs -  "Forget your Porsche's, your Aston Martins, your Ferrari's, these cars are in a class of their own", but then goes on to say that the this isn't so with the Rolls Royce, its a completely different car. Mm, Hope springs eternal. Looking at adds it will soon become apparent that the Bentley version can be bought for about half the price of the equivalent Rolls Royce Seraph, but this is likely to be more a reflection on availability. The Bentley Arnage 6.75 litre cars do have a tendency to blow head gaskets, a straightforward job at time of writing is about 3500 to fix, but a lot more if the engine is overheated. Main thing is let them warm up slowly, be light footed when the engine is cold, but the gasket thing will happen at some point, usually between 60 - 80,000 miles.

Approaching one of these cars immediately one is struck by the sense of presence, opening the door is like opening a safe, everything is solid and feels like it. Sitting in the drivers seat and closing the door, immediately you are isolated from the world outside. It is an amazingly nice place to be. Starting the engine and gliding off down the road, there is chrome strip with the jewel like mascot pointing the road ahead.

Returning to Rolls Royce I will tell you something. At this time of writing there are a lot of Silver Spirits for sale, and prices are low. You will get a really good one for as little as ten grand. You can park this on Sainsury's car park right next to a top end brand new Range Rover that cost over 150 grand and guess which car people will look at as they walk past. The thing is there are a lot of Range Rovers, Beamers, and whatever else on the roads. But how many Rolls Royce's do you see! Especially north of Watford Gap LOL. Thing about the cheap Spirits as well is that if you buy a series 2, 1990 or later, it will have had much improved anti rust treatment.

Regardless of all the above, Rolls Royce had an all out record year in 2022 selling 6,000 cars worldwide. The latest models really are fantastic cars, but in the modern sense. I note the latest models have disappeared the brightwork strip, walnut is still available as an interior option but most people preferring carbon fibre or piano black. Maybe its just me, maybe I am an old dinosaur who will soon become extinct.

To be honest, life is a one way journey, and I think that there are two cars that one aught to own in a lifetime. One is a RR, the other a car such as a Ford Focus Cosworth or similar, both are an experience in themselves. Maybe the Cossy when one is younger, the Royce (never call them "Rollers!) when one is older, I don't know.

As a final piece of advice to anyone considering purchasing a classic Rolls or Bentley, please don't fall into the trap of thinking "I can just about afford this". It is imperative that one has a sort of 'slush fund' on the side of say about 10K - just in case. And unfortunately, same can be said for the much cheaper Shadows and Spirits. I have heard of 9K being spent on a shadow complete brake overhaul, and at the time of writing you can buy a reasonably nice one for about that. I owned a Silver Shadow in the 1970s that was not that old. Owning one has its moments. The first is after taking delivery and popping it round to the local filing station to put some petrol in it. So 100 worth of fuel goes in, and then watch the fuel gauge go up to slightly under half a tank. Its telling you something. Your first Rolls Royce Moment!

In the 1970s, as I have said, I had a Silver Shadow. I could tell you some tales, so yes, I will do just that -

My Silver Shadow

 


Technology Upgrade

I have updated the technology by fitting an Android touch screen set with GPS SatNav, MP3, Video, DAB and FM Radio etc, mainly to support front and rear parking cameras. Note the usefully placed USB port, the partial surround I made from an old plastic coat hanger! The fold down cover is kept safely in the glove box in case a future owner wishes to revert. The wallpaper background I designed myself on Photoshop.


 

As it was, the alarm fobs were US and I don't believe that new replacement parts are available for this model, although Flying Spares have exchange alarm ECUs with 2 fobs for 940, suitable for a later model. As an electronics engineer I decided to retrofit a modern alarm system into the existing ECU, and this has been completely successful. The old fobs were very poor by modern standards with about zero waterproof integrity. I used a Viper 350 system which cost 200 with postage and import duty from Germany and is very good. The fobs require a definite pressure to operate, unlike my Skoda which you only have to breath on for things to start happening, yes got up one winter morning to find windows down and my car full of snow. Fortunately later models have facility to disable this stupid feature, but that a different story.

As the car is now, I have alarm on Mascot, Doors, and Boot, plus shock sensor. Unlock illuminates interior lights, I can also remotely unlock the boot. pre-existing dash LED 'alarm on' is operative, as is mascot alarm, and an extra LED just as an extra warning on rear parcel shelf. Beside the Viper kit I had to make up some sub modules, basically P channel MOSFETs with appropriate gate sink resistors and diodes. I also had the little "RR" decals made up. I am thinking that there are others out there who would want this but am unsure what to do about it. Anyway, if there is any interest in this system, please email me and we go from there.

 

Further modifications are all interior lights replaced with LED lights, yes and there are 18 of them!. Illuminated grill and blue illuminated mascot.

I have also fitted a remote auxiliary battery isolator as there is a drain of about 65mA otherwise. Not the alarm, this draws a modest 15 to 20 mA, main culprit is the Android system which is poor performance on standby by my standards. Draining of the auxiliary battery is a common fault on this model, if anyone reading this has this problem go check that the glove box light is not on by peeping over the top of the lid. Another culprit is the Alarm and central locking ECU, by this I mean the original fitting. Be advised that this module is multi functional managing - Alarm (original fitting) - Central Door Locking - Interior Lights - Inertia Fuel Cut off Switch (yes, beware) and Automatic Headlight Switching.

As fitted, the battery isolator I regard as "Secure Parked Mode". Lock the car using the remote when securely garaged, and then isolate the battery. Alarm warning LEDs go off. Reconnecting using the second remote causes the LEDs to come back on and the hazards flash. The car is now alarmed. Unlock and the hazards flash again and the car unlocks with LEDs going out. Nice. Boot can be remotely opened as well from the alarm fob.