The Rolls-Royce Corniche, and its Bentley sister car, are perhaps two of the most desirable luxury coupés of their era. Blessed with gorgeous styling, effortless performance, and more than enough lounging room, they ooze class and look good in all of the smartest locations.
Interestingly, the car was launched before its name, appearing as the Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow two-door saloon in 1966.
Its huge additional cost over the car it was based upon was down to its coachbuilt body, handcrafted by Mulliner Park Ward, and with a build time of six months.
The following year, the successful Convertible debuted at the Frankfurt motor show, effectively ending the serious development of this model. In 1970 power was upped – in comparison with the Silver Shadow – distancing saloon and ‘coupé’, and also helping justify the premium. A year later, the cars become known as the Corniche, and remained so until 1995.
The Corniche gained more positive rack and pinion steering in 1977, and independent rear suspension with self-levelling in 1979 – both systems would later find their way into the Silver Spirit. The hard-top Corniche was dropped in March 1981, but the convertible powered on for a further 14 years after a total production run of 3239 – a huge success.
In 1995 a Corniche S was introduced to the line-up, with a turbo being bolted on to the already ample engine. Its production stopped in 2001 as Rolls-Royce and Bentley became separate companies, with Bentley being sold to VW and Rolls-Royce sold to BMW.
Torque c.300lb ft
Maximum speed 120mph
Fuel consumption 12-16mpg
Transmission RWD, 3-spd auto
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Avoiding the rusty ones. Most Corniches that do succumb suffer from cosmetic rust, but it’s worth paying close attention to the windscreen seal, especially around the convertible hood, as this will lead to damp carpets and soundproofing. Also have a look at the front wings and rear wheelarches, as well as the outer sills.
The inside story If the interior gets damp, it can play havoc – and not just because ultimately, it will lead to a rusting floorpan. You’ll end up with discolouring and lifting the lacquer on wood trim, and although repair is possible, removing some of the trim is nigh-on impossible without specialist knowledge.
KEEP ON TOP OF COOLANT Rolls-Royce’s V8 engine is legendarily smooth. But to keep it that way, you need to give it regular coolant changes to avoid internal sediment build-up. This mostly affects the two rearmost cylinder liners, which clogs the coolant channel. Ultimately the liner distorts, and you end up with ‘piston pick-up’, identified by heavy knocking sounds immediately after starting.
Checking your liners Also check for liner seal leaks by looking at sight holes in the side of the engine block. If coolant is dripping, the upper liner seal is leaking, and if it’s oil, then it’s leaking from the two lower liner seals. Drips are common – fluids running out are not.
CHECK IT’S IN GEAR Low oil level in the GM400 three-speeder can force air into the system, which will lead to oil starvation. Regular filter changes will alleviate this.
IS IT LEVELLING? The hydraulic suspension is expensive to fix – complete replacement units are available, but new seals may fix the problem. Check it’s level, and if the car’s sat low, the springs can be removed and shimmed to regain the correct height.
Does it stop? Lightly-used examples will suffer from binding brakes. Flexible pipes also corrode internally and allow fluid through them but don’t let it back, locking the brakes on. Check discs are fully floating, they are very expensive and take 10 hours to replace. Reason enough to properly inspect them.
Driving a Corniche is a wonderfully decadent and pleasurable experience. Yes, it’s not for shrinking violets, as you will get ogled at – but as it’s a classic, you’ll also get lots of goodwill from other drivers.
These cars are superbly engineered, and will last a lifetime. Unlike the Shadow, the market isn’t cluttered with poorly maintained examples, and that’s a good thing. A rough Rolls-Royces can empty your bank account alarmingly quickly – so, follow the guide and grab a great one.