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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hi! I am a life-long car nut and fan of opulent cars giving serious consideration to buying my first RR. My current "collection" consists of two old ('60, '61 Cadillacs), but I am looking to add a third car that is more modern in terms of safety features and easier to drive, but still opulent and unique. The wife is pushing for a convertible since we have never owned one before and live in convertible country (N. Calif.). I had not given serious consideration to RR, since I assumed that nice ones were out of my price range. I'd been looking for a Jensen Interceptor convertible, but in my search I've been coming across mid-70's Corniche convertibles that seem to be comparably priced for what appears to be similar condition (a nice driver that is ready to enjoy). I enjoy wrenching on the simpler things, but do not want a project. OTOH, I also don't want a show car that I'm afraid to drive much. I already have one of those. I'm well-aware that many aspects of a Rolls are going to be more complex and expensive than old American cars, even a Cadillac.

I'd love to hear from others about what to expect from a Corniche of this era. Are there years to avoid? I know that brake systems and suspension can be expensive to sort, but can I expect that a lower-mileage car than has had the brakes and suspension done would be a reasonable and reliable weekend cruiser? Beyond the things one looks for with any older car, are there specific things to be on the lookout for?

Thanks,

David
 

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I know that brake systems and suspension can be expensive to sort, but can I expect that a lower-mileage car than has had the brakes and suspension done would be a reasonable and reliable weekend cruiser? Beyond the things one looks for with any older car, are there specific things to be on the lookout for?
Any of the mid-70s Corniche models will be of the RR363 era of hydraulics.

I don't know what you consider "lower mileage" but I am here to tell you that most of these cars develop most of the problems they have directly from lack of use, which directly enables lack of routine maintenance, and that's particularly so when it comes to the braking and height control systems. I own 2 late 1970s SY cars, and the one I bought with about 23K on it has been a lot more of a challenge to resuscitate than the one I bought with about 82K on it was.

All cars benefit from relatively regular use. Electromechanical systems tend to stick, freeze, rust, or become otherwise cranky when left without adequate exercise.

Jon Waples of the RROC-US wrote the book, The Shadow Owners' Companion: Maintenance Projects for Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow and Bentley T Enthusiasts, and used to have the attached evaluation form for SY cars downloadable from his website. He granted me permission to post copies of the evaluation form: Shadow Evaluation Form - J. Waples. I'd go beyond that form, though I have used it myself, and absolutely get a pre-purchase inspection from someone who specializes in the marque before you "pull the trigger." The eval form is very thorough and definitely allows you to "cull the herd of prospects" with ease.
 

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Compared to many contemporary rivals (Mercedes, Italian marques) these cars are a current bargain. There are many small changes throughout production (almost 25 years) but I tend to think of 4 major Corniche generations. 1971-1980 were the Silver Shadow (SY) based platform. This included carburetors and R363 fluids for brakes and leveling. 1980 - 1987 1/2 was the first Silver Spirit (SZ) platform cars. Among the biggest changes was the use of mineral oil in place of R363. '87 1/2-'89 is the 20,000 series cars, they eventually develop fuel injection and ABS (by '88). The last are the '90-'95 that adopt increasingly cool features (e.g. air bags, adaptive suspension, etc.) but bring commensurate complexity, much of it electronics (ECU) dependent.

There are a lot of devoted fans of the SY cars. They are a slightly softer ride than the SZ cars. Some prefer the performance of a carb to fuel injection. (In a Rolls-Royce it's a subtle difference.) If the hydraulics haven't been well cared for (scheduled fluid replacement) there will be complex and expensive work to bring them up to snuff. The mineral oil cars can be a bit more forgiving of neglectful servicing. They have their own complexities. I am a HUGE fan of the 20,000 series cars (I have a sedan and a Corniche II). They are nice engineering but straight forward enough to maintain, with less electronic dependence. Richard Vaughn has written the must have book on the SZ cars, Rolls-Royce and Bentley in the 80s and 90s that will discuss all of the changes. It's available from Amazon.

From an ownership/driving perspective, these are AMAZING cars! You will completely enjoy driving it. My counsel would be to read the literature, look at several cars, drive them if you can, to see what you like. As always, buy the very best car you can afford. Be prepared to spend some money to bring even a good car up to snuff. Repairs are more expensive than some cars, but these aren't delicate cars.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Thanks for the fast and informative replies! As for the issues with very low mileage old cars, I'm aware that lack of use can create all sorts of problems. The particular car I was referring to has under 40k on it, and appears to have been well-maintained, with documentation from the last several years of work done to the brake and hydraulic systems. I know enough to know what I don't know, and would certainly have it inspected by a knowledgeable 3rd party before pulling the trigger. While the later models do have some desirable features, the prices seem to escalate quickly once you get into the 80's.
 

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... the prices seem to escalate quickly once you get into the 80's.
As David mentionned : buy the very best car you can afford.
Unless you are sold on the early examples looks (bumpers, dash etc...), imho from an owner/driver /mechanic point of view, choices are :
1) 20.000 series (87,5-89) ;
2) pré-20.000 series (80-87) : LHM hydraulics + Bosch fuel injection ;
3) pre-80 cars : RR363 hydraulic fluid (fastidious to maintain) + SU carbs ;
4) forget about post-90 cars : more expensive to buy.... and maintain.

Any generation is well worth the effort : they are a joy to drive.
My 88 Corniche II (24.5xx) :

 
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