The Silver Spirit was available from 1980 to 1998, always with a 6.75-litre Rolls-Royce V8 engine. There were multiple changes of spec in those 18 years, especially to engine power and suspension, but a late Spirit is recognisably the same car as an early one. As with all Rolls-Royce cars, these models offer a very special motoring experience as long as they have been properly maintained.
That experience is about wafting and gliding. It is not about powering through corners, although a Spirit offers surprisingly good dynamics when hustled along.
Most important is to understand the car’s character before buying one, and to appreciate it as a work of automotive craftsmanship rather than just a lot of metal for your money.
ROLLS-ROYCE SILVER SPIRIT, 1988
Torque (lb [email protected]) Not quoted
Top speed 115mph
0-60mph 10.3 sec
Gearbox 3-speed automatic
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
BODYWORK & CHASSIS
Despite top build quality, Silver Spirits do corrode. On the outside, any problems with the wheelarches (both front and rear) or the lower trailing edges of the front wings should be apparent. Repair panels are available, but it takes a skilled specialist to insert them seamlessly and match the paint. Look carefully at the sills and round the front bulkhead, too. Two-tones were available but not common.
Inside the car, lift up the front carpets and check the floorpans. Blocked aircon drain tubes and leaking windscreens seals are quite common, and water can sit under the carpets. Eventually, the floorpans rot. You can often smell impending trouble when you get down to carpet level!
Check the front spoiler for kerbing damage. Replacements for later cars are expensive. Underneath, check that the underseal is intact, and double-check places where it is not. Examine the mounting areas for the rear springs and rear suspension arms – and don’t be surprised to find corrosion under the boot floor.
The Rolls-Royce V8 was new in 1959 and therefore more than 20 years old when it reached the Spirit. It is an under-stressed engine, which means that major components go on almost indefinitely, but it is not bullet-proof.
Check the service history. Who has done the work, and how regularly? Regular maintenance is essential, and belts, hoses and fluids must all be changed at intervals to ensure tip-top running. A rough-sounding engine in a Spirit is a definite no-no: knocks suggest piston wear from corroded liners. Leaks can be bad news, although oil leaks from the sump area may be innocuous. Blowing exhaust manifolds will prove expensive. Overheating might not be serious, but finding out the cause could be costly.
DIY maintenance is only for the skilled, whether it’s a carburettor engine (to mid-1986) or an injected one (Bosch K-Jetronic from 1987 MY).
Both the three-speed (to 1990) and later four-speed automatics are strong and generally trouble-free gearboxes. Changes should be barely perceptible. Listen for a whining back axle, which suggests a lack of maintenance.
The hydraulic self-levelling suspension is a complex. Don’t buy a car with suspension problems, because the cost of sorting it out will make your eyes water. Don’t try to work on it yourself; the high fluid pressures involved can cause injuries. Even the metal suspension parts need proper maintenance, and don’t imagine that changing a coil spring is a DIY job. To find out what you can and can’t do safely, join the RREC – the club runs maintenance weekends to show owners how to do the DIY-possible jobs on their cars.
Expect brake troubles on a car which has not been used for some time. These will range from rusty discs to dodgy hydraulics.
Don’t lose your heart to a gorgeous-smelling, well-preserved cabin when the rest of the car is below par. Check for matching over-rugs as well as carpets, and be wary of any damp smells.
Check that all the instruments and warning lights work. On 1990 and later cars with Active Ride, the suspension warning light may not go out; you can often clear the ‘fault’ and extinguish the light, but there can be more worrying underlying causes. Does the aircon work properly – without leaks? What about the electric windows, especially on a car that has been standing?
Replacing damaged leather to OE standards will be very expensive indeed. Then, how did it get torn? Was a previous owner unlucky or simply careless? As for damaged wood trim, don’t even go there. Veneers were matched to individual cars.
You’ll buy one of these old-style luxury saloons because there is no experience like driving an elderly Rolls-Royce. You’ll appreciate the utter serenity that comes with it, although it isn’t entirely without stress, unfortunately, as your wallet will notice. Fuel bills are high, and repairs cost what these cars’ original owners could comfortably afford. Roadholding and handling are adequate, but spirited driving will make you understand why the much quicker Bentley Turbo R needed a major suspension and brake revamp.