Silver Cloud and Bentley S: Launches and Market Perceptions
The launch of the new Rolls-Royce and Bentley saloons in April 1955 created quite a stir in the marketplace and Rolls-Royce were still confident that they were building “The Best Car in the World”, in the sense of the most thoroughly thought out and most carefully built. In the London Motor Show of the autumn of 1955, these were the cars which were in the same price range as the Rolls-Royce:
Jaguars are not listed in this category because of their very much lower cost.
The Daimler had retained a certain brand loyalty, but was not built to the same high standards and was not successful, as only 66 were sold.
The Bristol 405 was nicely equipped and carefully made, but only had a 2.0 litre engine and qualifies for inclusion simply on account of its very high cost. It had nothing like the interior space. 297 were made, the last in 1958.
The Mercedes-Benz cars were successful and sold well. They were well engineered and the overall quality was excellent, but their engines didn’t have the same power and the handling was not so refined.
All these cars were completely outsold by the American Cadillacs. Although their extrovert styling, ultra-soft ride and low-geared steering were features that did not travel well abroad, in 1955 Cadillac made 140,777 cars of which 18,300 were Fleetwood saloons. They may not have penetrated the European market, but in the Rest of the World category they were formidable competition.
Rolls-Royce came to the American market by degrees and their sales in the immediate post war years were very modest – a good year saw a mere 150 cars sold. These were made up chiefly of the Silver Wraith and neither the Bentley Mark VI nor the Bentley R type were big sellers, because the Bentley name was not familiar. Furthermore, it wasn’t until 1949 that any of the post war cars were available as left hand drive - the year the Silver Dawn was launched to try to entice a few more American buyers. However, even this seemed stylistically dated and by American standards the interior was small.
The American distributor was JS Inskip, who had been appointed in 1936. After the war Rolls-Royce sent over a representative who had an office there and who liased between the US and Crewe. Inskip as an individual was a highly successful salesman, but had put less effort into developing other dealers around the country and had done very little advertising. In the mid 1950’s Rolls-Royce created Rolls-Royce Inc to look after their US interests and three other distributors were appointed: Peter Sartori in Pasadena, BMC in San Francisco and Overseas Motors in Forth Worth.
In 1956 The Silver Cloud was priced at $13,500 and the Bentley S at $250 less. The Cadillac model 62 was $4,241 and the Fleetwood 60 Special was $6,019. Other leading American makes were not, in fact, serious rivals and other European manufacturers were practically invisible. The Cadillac was more powerful and had more room, together with some fancy extras like auto-dimming headlights, power seats and a signal-seeking radio; but it did not handle so well, especially at speeds over 70 mph. Nonetheless, the price difference was very large and since Rolls-Royce were relying on the prestige of their name, they accordingly took steps to see that their product lived up to it.
Inskip knew just what his American customers wanted and all the cars delivered to the US included power assisted steering and a centre arm rest, which were not available on the early UK cars. He did not wait for factory-installed air conditioning to become available; instead he arranged for an American manufacturer to design an air conditioning system that could be installed at port of entry. The factory-installed units which became available in 1957 had the control integrated into the dashboard, whereas the Inskip installed system had the control beneath the dashboard.
In 1956 Rolls-Royce sold 300 cars in the USA which grew to 500 in 1957. The previous record number of cars sold had been about 400 cars, set in the days of the Springfield factory, so Rolls-Royce had reason to be encouraged. In 1958 they hired the advertising firm of Ogilvy, Benson and Mather who launched a highly successful campaign whose objective was to “shun chauffeurs and baronial halls and show Rolls-Royce in the context of American life”. One advert showed a family washing their new Silver Cloud in their drive themselves! – a concept every bit as fanciful in the USA as it was in Britain at that time. The best known advert had the headline “At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock”. It may not have been strictly true, but it was highly effective. The budget was $250,000, which was a huge sum for those days, but it paid off. In 1958 sales rose to 600 cars and in 1959 it jumped to 1000 cars, a record that was not to be beaten until the late 1970’s.
In the United Kingdom Rolls-Royce were fortunate in that by 1955 the economic climate was picking up. 1951 had seen the morale boosting Festival of Britain and in October of that year Winston Churchill had swept back to power and promised a “bonfire of controls” and an end to post-war rationing. A new social chapter had opened when Queen Elizabeth II came to the throne in 1953 and by 1955 a market economy had returned. The people who first reviewed the new cars were uniformly stunned by their speed, smoothness, silence, handling and especially the braking. It was no longer seen as anti-social to be spending a large amount of money and demand was positively brisk.
When the improved Silver Cloud II and Bentley S2 were launched in September 1959, Rolls-Royce underplayed the fact of the new V8 engine, but word soon got about. Reviews in The Autocar and The Motor were both highly complimentary and the combination of a new technology image, a strong domestic economy and buoyant export sales meant that the Silver Cloud family began to sell even better than before. In the three years broadly from the summer of 1959 to the summer of 1962 a total of 4,403 standard steel-bodied cars were delivered, or just over 30 cars a week. This may not sound much compared to mass-produced outputs, but this was an all time record for Rolls-Royce.
The other cars in the same price range in September 1959 were:
The Bristol again qualifies because of its price and build quality, but still only had a 2.2 litre engine and still nowhere near the same amount of internal space: 292 were built.
The Daimler Majestic Major was considerably cheaper than the old 4½ litre and it was more successful. It also had a V8 engine of 4½ litres, which gave it a good performance.
The Mercedes-Benz was now the 160 bhp fuel injected 300d. It was a strong competitor and their marketing efforts were proving very successful in the Middle East.
Cadillac remained the major competition in the American market, which was very important for Rolls-Royce. In 1960 it had a 130in wheelbase (3,202mm), enormous tail fins and a 325 bhp 6.4 litre engine. They sold 142,184 cars in all of which 11,800 were Fleetwoods.
The deferential reverence towards luxury car makers, which characterised most pre-war motoring journalism, continued into the 1950’s and the various road tests of the Silver Cloud family do have a certain sameness about them. Publications like The Autocar generally led the way and set the standard, with everyone else seeming to do little more than re-hash their observations, mix in passages about the technical specifications taken from the Rolls-Royce press releases and finally sprinkle it with some trivial observations of their own. While the Americans initially approached the car with a “show me” attitude and the awareness of some very creditable competition of their own, they nevertheless expressed their conclusions about the overall impressiveness of the car in similar terms to their British counterparts.
But during the lifetime of the Silver Cloud family profound social change was to take place and attitudes towards the established order came to be completely revised. This mood was caught very well by Harold Wilson’s socialist sneer about “grouse moor politics” and as political commentators became more ready to challenge, it is not surprising that motoring journalism also became more critical. The Silver Cloud was unmistakably a tycoon’s car and some of the criticism which was later aimed at it had more to do with the social order it represented than with genuine defects in the car itself.
An early example of this is an article by Charles Gretton which appeared in the April 1958 issue of Modern Motor, and which had first appeared in the Sunday paper, The People - not a publication noted for its authority on motoring of any sort. Entitled “Still the Best ?”, the article is a curious mixture of ignorance and misplaced snobbery, which ignored the car’s performance and sniped at Rolls-Royce for turning the Spirit of Ecstasy into a decorative dummy while hiding the real - and very ordinary - radiator cap under the bonnet. Likewise they jeered at the hub nut on the wheels for being a flimsy pressed steel dummy hiding the real wheel nuts underneath – which were also just like those on an ordinary car. The author was indignant that Rolls-Royce were buying ready-made components like the dynamo, battery, gear box and steering, instead of hand-making their own and purported to quote from The Autocar road-test about the hydraulic ride control: “Disappointing….virtually no difference in the ride could be felt when this was operated”. In fact nowhere did The Autocar use the word “disappointing” and the rest has been paraphrased from memory.
Rolls-Royce were sufficiently stung by the original newspaper article to answer each point in turn. Their reply was also printed by Modern Motor who capped it with a declaration that they remained unconvinced. Rolls-Royce evidently allowed them a test drive, because in July of the same year Modern Motor printed their own road test of a Silver Cloud entitled “Yes – still the Best” and which reads, as do all the others, like an echo of The Autocar road test, laced with trivial observations of their own. Their criticisms of the Silver Cloud vanished into thin air.
But with the launch of the Silver Cloud III and Bentley S3 in 1962 murmurs of more credible dissent were heard. The Autocar published a review which broadly maintained the tone of reverence, but The Motor was disappointed by the slow advance in the car’s design and found that not much had changed since 1959 - a point of view echoed by others. They commented on the adherence to drum brakes and the friction servo, which they claimed still suffered a time lag in responding (though in fact barely noticeable) and acted slowly in city traffic (but only at the slowest of crawls). Elsewhere a well-known motoring magazine suggested that over certain selected lanes in southern England a contemporary Mini could out-perform a Silver Cloud III on every point.
The trouble was that the general standard of automotive technology was rising to the point where the idea of “Best” was losing its meaning without considering the context in which the car was to be used, and as deference towards a company like Rolls-Royce began to lessen, the technology gap also narrowed. Some said that Mercedes-Benz now made “the Best Cars in the World”: their 300 series were strong competitors and in 1963 they launched the high-tech 600, which hit Rolls-Royce very hard in the Middle East and also in Europe. The domestic market was also changing. A couple of years before the war a comparison of the low-priced SS Jaguar with the Derby Bentley had given Rolls-Royce cause for careful consideration and it was the much more affordable Jaguars of the 1950’s and 1960’s that were the benchmarks for popular aspirations to style. Although demand for the Silver Cloud III remained strong, it was not to reach the peak of the previous 3 years.
Rolls-Royce countered with a bold move. In 1964 they approached the racing driver Tony Brooks to prove that the Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud III and Bentley S3 could be driven in a truly sporting manner and in particular, were effortless and fatigue-free to drive over long distances. This road test stands head and shoulders above the bland and stereotyped reports of the Silver Cloud in its various guises, and reading it now without the distractions of the rapidly changing world in which it was created, the character and true mettle of the car stand out vividly.
The booklet was originally published by Rolls-Royce with black and white photographs, which are not reproduced here. What follows is the complete text only, as printed in the booklet: all the photographs are supplied by Club Photographer Colin Hughes.
This booklet has been written for every man who enjoys driving a high-performance car, and who requires a standard of comfort much above the average. Perhaps you have never thought of yourself as a natural Rolls-Royce owner. You take the car’s luxury and prestige for granted. Its performance you have always thought orthodox. If you have, you will read this report with interest, for it is a new look at Rolls-Royce motoring: an account of how the Silver Cloud III was tested by a man who made an enviable reputation as a Grand Prix driver; a young man passionately interested in high-performance motoring. He was surprised by many aspects of the car’s performance. Perhaps you will be surprised by the verdict. The fact emerges that for people like yourself the Rolls-Royce offers a combination of qualities that no other car can offer.
Note: The Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud III and Bentley S3 cars are identical apart from their radiator grilles. All comments made in this book apply equally to both.
A THREE PART TEST
The most conclusive was to judge any car is to drive it under extreme conditions. To do this requires a critic capable of driving and judging with the highest degree of professional skill: that is why we asked Tony Brooks to test the Silver Cloud III, for he is not only one of the great Grand Prix drivers of the post-war generation, but a man with an acutely analytical approach to motoring.
He agreed, enthusiastically, that the basis of the test should be: how does it react when it is driven in a sporting manner, and he asked that he should drive the car on the racing circuit at Goodwood, that he should drive it more than 700 miles across France to the South in one day, and that he should drive it over a mountain circuit in the Alps Maritimes. We agreed.
We agreed because this kind of test is highly relevant to much more ordinary motoring. For the way in which a car goes round a corner, for example, at 80mph conditions the way it behaves on the same corner at half the speed. It is a simple matter to build a car that gives a comfortable ride along a smooth, straight road. To build a car that will not let you down under any conditions is another matter altogether.
The Silver Cloud III aims to be such a car, so it is built to have great reserves of power, of braking, of road holding. These reserves enable the car to be driven in a truly sporting manner – as a young man’s car. They also enable the car to be driven, under more normal conditions, so effortlessly that strain, tension and fatigue simply disappear: the car for a man who does a great deal of motoring on business.
The test report that follows demonstrates, in a severe and practical way, the combination of qualities that makes a Rolls-Royce. After each section of the test, Tony Brooks tape-recorded his reactions and comments. The report is based on verbatim passages from the recordings.
The car tested was a standard four-door, saloon with the following specification: 8-cylinder engine of 6230 cc capacity. Compression ration 9:1. twin S.U. HD8 diaphragm type carburettors. Automatic choke for cold starting. Tank capacity 18 gallons. Rolls-Royce automatic gearbox. Four forward speeds and reverse through epicyclic gears. Manual overriding control. Brakes: hydraulic servo-assisted and mechanical. Suspension: independent at front by coil springs controlled by hydraulic shock dampers. Anti-roll torsion bar. Semi-elliptic leaf springs at rear, with hydraulic shock dampers electrically controlled through a switch on the steering column. Single radius rod. Steering: cam and roller, power assisted. Tyre size: 8.20 x 15 in. Length: 17ft 6 ¼ ins: width: 6ft 2 ¾ ins: ground clearance: 7 ins: turning circle: 41 ft 8 ins.
Goodwood is a challenging circuit, offering 2.4 miles of difficult motoring. Every effort has been made to reproduce the conditions of a road circuit, and at high speeds six of its seven main corners need to be taken in drifts – all four tyres sliding relative to the road. Essentially Goodwood demands a well-balanced car with excellent road holding and braking.
When we arrived it was raining steadily and the track was wet with pools of water reflecting the heavy sky. We checked in with the track manager: Tony Brooks donned his crash helmet: Louis Klemantaski, one of the most famous of the Grand Prix photographers, clipped the telephoto lens to his Hasselblad and we took up our position near Madgwick Corner. Tony Brooks began motoring the Silver Cloud III.
We caught a distant glimpse of the car in the Lavant straight – a short period of waiting – and then we had the remarkable sight and sound of this large, luxury saloon in a four-wheel drift through the long right-hander at Madgwick, tyres screaming, accelerating hard towards Fordwater with a wind roar like a jet exhaust. Soon the Silver Cloud, in difficult conditions with a lot of drag, was lapping consistently in well under 2 minutes, coming out of Madgwick at 78 mph, going up to 103 before braking for St Mary’s and up to 100 on the Lavant straight. After two hours of testing and photography we stopped for lunch.
After lunch the rain had stopped and the track had dried. Tony Brooks put in some more fast laps, this time with four people in the car. The two laps to test the braking in the severest way possible: 8 consecutive stops from around 100 mph. Finally a demonstration of the car’s ability to negotiate the chicane at speed.
Altogether Tony Brooks completed some 20 laps and a large number of specialised runs over parts of the course. He had, as he wished, taken the car to the limit. His Goodwood report occupies the next few pages.
“ My impression was one of the car being extremely light to handle in relation to its size and I was very surprised at its controllability. You could do more or less what you wanted with it and there was no tendency to oversteer or understeer. It had absolutely neutral characteristics with the tyre pressures used. It always slid bodily, and it could actually be drifted quite easily in the wet if you wanted to. Even when the circuit was wet, the car felt extremely safe at all times. It rolls so very little too. I drove the car through the corners as hard as I could and the roll for this class of car was very low indeed – and this was commented on by the track manager. We also put in some fast laps with four people up. And even with this sort of load there wasn’t very much roll. I was particularly surprised at the way the car could be thrown around and yet behave in such a gentlemanly way. The impression was not of a large heavy car at all.
The braking was a very even braking, particularly noticeable in the wet. With four up we stopped at from 90 to 100 mph as often as we possibly could on two successive circuits of the track. A very exacting and hard brake test, and the brakes stood up extremely well, with only a very slight tendency to fade….but otherwise they were first class.
The steering of the car was a little to low-geared for my taste but this didn’t present any real problem at Goodwood other than at the chicane where it was necessary to cross my arms to get through in a really fast manner; I rarely had a need to correct more than about one inch or two inches of steering wheel movement and therefore I didn’t worry about the low-geared steering from this point of view. In day to day motoring this is a very small problem.
The acceleration of the car is extremely good. You can leave black marks on the road from a standing start, and with automatic transmission that is really something. The acceleration is good up through the gears. This is noticeable even when at 90 miles an hour; when you throw your foot right down, the acceleration is still impressive.” Tony summed up the day as follows: “The track test was a very hard test for a car of this class, and the Rolls-Royce came out of it with flying colours. Very few standard cars, which might handle well on the roads, are quite so at home on a circuit.”
Traditionally a Rolls-Royce will carry its passengers over great distances in exceptional comfort; and today when continental touring is part of ordinary motoring life, this is an important advantage. Tony Brooks decided to put it to the test. He suggested that he should drive the car from le Touquet to Cap Ferrat in one day, and that he should de so without any attempt at desperately fast motoring. In fact, the journey was made very much in a holiday spirit – we did not start particularly early and we paid the kind of attention to our déjeuner that one naturally does in France.
Here is a brief summary of the journey. As it happens, road conditions were by no means easy, and this added to the validity of the test. The car carried four people – Mr and Mrs Brooks, Louis Klemantaski and an observer – and, in the boot, 15 pieces of luggage and equipment.
Tony Brooks’ comments
“ We’ve done nearly 14 hours of motoring. We’ve covered roughly 740 miles and I can honestly say that I’m good for many more miles of motoring yet. I’ve never arrived at the end of a similar journey less tired – even a journey 200 miles shorter, and we haven’t had an easy run. We had rough and then fairly twisty roads early in the journey; heavy traffic for about 4 hours after lunch and finally about 3 hours of night driving. We are still pretty fresh. It has been effortless high speed travel, and this aspect of the car impresses me enormously “
Mrs Brooks adds: “A very comfortable journey indeed. I have tried many other cars, but I have never felt so fresh after so long.”
HIGH SPEED CRUISING
“ On some very rough roads we’ve been able to cruise at 90 and 100 mph – and even at 105 here and there – and the car has taken the bumps extraordinarily well considering how severe they were, and it has dealt with them without anybody in the car feeling uncomfortable. This is essential for effortless continental driving because the roads are often long and straight and the limiting factor is the speed at which the suspension will allow you to cruise comfortably.
The first-class braking, steering and suspension of the Rolls-Royce mean that you can make full use of the performance of the car. You can always drive it to the limit that the conditions permit, without any aspect of the car letting you down, and there are very few cars, outside the sporting category, about which you can say this. It is the most comfortable car for long-distance luxury touring I have ever driven”
“ The steering is very impressive. It is extremely light at all times, with no variation in the amount of effort that has to be used, and yet it retains plenty of feel. Many power steering systems are effortless, but you just lose all sense of contact with the road which of course can be very dangerous in slippery conditions. This can’t happen with a Rolls-Royce. You can always place the car precisely, and it will never do anything unexpected. It is certainly the best power steering I have ever tried. The car really digs in on the corners; in fact, with the tyre pressures I used, you can corner remarkably fast on any kind of corner. I have not sampled better road-holding in a luxury saloon.”
POWERFUL AND PROGRESSIVE BRAKING
“Even in the wet the stopping distance is incredibly low because of the very smooth, light, progressive and even braking. This gives a particularly reassuring feeling to the driver that everything is well within his control, and the braking is so effortless that you aren’t conscious you are being decelerated in a very powerful way. Most of the time you need to do no more that breathe on the brakes. They’re always there… powerful and progressive…. As smooth as if a parachute brake were used to slow the car.”
HANDLING IN TRAFFIC
“ I particularly liked the override control on the automatic gearbox because I could, for example, put it in third and hold it there as long as I wanted. This made overtaking much quicker. The acceleration was very impressive, particularly in relation to the weight of the car; it made a vital contribution towards getting along in heavy traffic. Combine this with the superb braking and steering, the automatic gearbox, the good forward vision, and the Rolls-Royce is as effortless to drive in traffic as a luxury saloon of this size can possibly be.”
EFFORTLESS TOP SPEED
“What impressed me was the way the car achieved the higher speeds – it was so quiet and effortless. It went up to 100 mph very quickly, and if you gave it half a chance it soon went up to 115 mph. With any car, however, particularly on the continent, the absolute top speed is less important than that the cruising speed should be effortless. During the whole of the journey down our cruising speed was governed purely by the conditions on the road, not by the cruising limit of the car. Sometimes we were cruising at 100 mph, sometimes at 110, and we never at any time felt the car didn’t have sufficient performance. If we had come down in the middle of winter with a completely clear road we might have been cruising at 110 mph for much of the way down.”
THE SILVER CLOUD III
The Silver Cloud III is powered by an 8 cylinder vee unit with a capacity of 6,230 cc. Like all Rolls-Royce power units, it is a ‘slow revving’ engine inherently smoother, more reliable and less fussy that the smaller high performance engines used today in most fast mass- production cars.
The unit is almost entirely constructed of aluminium, a design feature which has been made possible by the company’s long experience in the manufacture of aero engines. The result is an engine actually lighter that the old ‘straight 6’.
The silence of the power delivery is the result of the Rolls-Royce tradition of taking not only every reasonable care, but every possible care. All components are tested not only at every stage of manufacture, but also when assembled. All rotating parts are statically and dynamically balanced. And the unique silencing system has three different expansion chambers, each acoustically tuned to absorb different frequencies.
The Silver Cloud III has a fully automatic gearbox providing one reverse and four forward ratios. This automatic transmission will ease the car forward at 2 mph in dense traffic, and yet take it to maximum speed more quickly than most drivers find possible with a manual box.
Three separate braking systems are used: two hydraulic and one mechanical linkage. The hydraulic systems provide the main braking of the car and are completely independent of each other, having separate master cylinders, high-pressure piping and fluid reservoirs. The very light pedal pressure which is sufficient to stop the car from its highest speeds is characteristic and is derived from a mechanical servo originally designed by Sir Henry Royce. The assistance received during braking is directly related to the effort applied to the pedal.
The Silver Cloud does not have power steering, but power-assisted steering. The assistance is related to the manual effort of the driver and thus to the resistance offered by the road surface. At all times, and at all speeds, Rolls-Royce steering retains a positive and sensitive ‘feel’.”
IN THE SILENCE OF THE NIGHT
“ On the autoroute at night the car was impressive at very high speeds. The autoroute is far from straight and full of very fast swerves, many of which we took at over 100 mph – in fact, at one point, we reached 120 mph on a slightly downhill section. The whole sensation was one of effortless driving and controllability. One simply set the car up in a corner and left it to do the rest. The whole of the night section was impressive in that the absence of other cars on the roads in the still of the night emphasised the properties of silence in the car. You felt you were floating along as if on a magic carpet. A little wind and tyre noise was all that could be heard. We covered a lot of ground very quickly and easily.”
Tony Brooks: “ The Rolls-Royce has a combination of qualities that certainly I have not experienced before on other motor cars: a combination of comfort, performance and roadability; and because this combination is unique, you get a unique satisfaction out of driving the car.”
Mrs Brooks: “ The comfort of the seating position, in the back seat where I was, impressed me. I never felt any cramp or discomfort, as you do in many cars after so many hours. I like the high position, the ease of seeing ahead without stretching my neck, and I liked the ventilation. Even at the back, I could always have fresh air on my face. This is very pleasant. You really don’t feel you are in a car at all.”
“ THE BEST VENTILATION SYSTEM THAT I HAVE EVER TRIED”
The Silver Cloud III has a comprehensive air-conditioning unit which supplies fresh or recirculated air at the desired temperature range to all regions of the car interior. At the request of the customer the unit may also contain refrigeration equipment.
Tony Brooks had this to say: “ It is the best ventilation system that I have ever tried. It is so flexible. There is the upper fresh air system which one can adjust to give warm or cold air and the separate lower system to recirculate warm or cold air. In winter you could have cool fresh air blowing on your face and a pleasantly warm atmosphere down below, so avoiding drowsiness or fug in the car. I think this is a great safety factor in long distance driving, and as we found, the rear passengers also get a flow of cool, fresh air following the roof line. On a long journey, such as we had, the car’s ventilation system plays a very large part in keeping everybody fresh.”
“The refrigeration unit is also very useful; obviously it would be pleasant in warm weather, and in certain conditions of humidity the system can also help to demist the car – particularly helpful for the side windows – for it dries as well as refrigerates the air. The whole air-conditioning system is very good and obviates the need to drive with the windows open which, not surprisingly, can produce wind noise at speed.”
Fast mountain motoring is an excellent test of the braking, steering, balance and acceleration of any car – and particularly of a luxury saloon; so Tony Brooks suggested he should drive the Silver Cloud over the kind of circuit that has been used as an elimination run in the Monte Carlo rally.
Accordingly we left Monte Carlo and drove over the circuit la Turbie – Laghet – la Trinite – Drap – L’Escarene – Col de braus – Sospel – Castillion – Menton and back to Monte carlo.
At first the roads were busy, but as the traffic fell away Tony Brooks began to motor the car at something approaching rally speeds. In particular we made a fast ascent of the Col de Braus – paused at the top for photography – and then made an all-out descent to Sospel on a completely clear road.
This descent includes some 30 hairpins, separated by short stretches of straight. In many of these straights Tony Brooks took the car up to around 70 mph, braked, flung the car round, accelerating hard out of the bends. The 2 – ton car rushed down the 3,287 ft high Col almost continuously on left or right hand lock, taking a corner very fast every few seconds.
At the bottom we pulled into a garage for petrol. Smoke was pouring from the brake drums and the garage lad reached for a bucket of water. No need. In fact, the brakes had never grabbed nor shown any appreciable sign of fade. We motored on over the rest of the course.
“The response of the steering was extremely good between left and right handers which often followed in quick succession within a matter of seconds of each other; but I would prefer higher geared steering for this sort of motoring. Despite these tight hairpins, it was quite easy to get the car round even if you approached them very fast and got a little bit of understeer. On many cars of this size one would have found it very difficult. There was always ample lock to spare and this gave the car considerable manoeuvrability. The overriding manual control of the gearbox was extremely useful under these conditions. I could play between 3 rd and 2 nd all the way up the Cols; I could keep it in 3 rd and change down to 2 nd for the really tight hairpins.”
” On these tight hairpins the car handled very well. Despite its size and weight it was possible to throw it round the corners without any difficulty, and as on other types of corner it was noticeable that when the car reached a certain point of roll, there was little or no increase in the roll angle on further increasing the cornering speed.”
“ The car gave the driver every confidence with never any impression that it was going to do something unpredictable or let one down. The way it dug in on those turns was most impressive.”
My overall impression was one of a vehicle which almost thrived on such conditions. The harder one threw it around, the more it seemed to enjoy it. I was surprised by the controllability of the car under such very difficult conditions.
After living with the Silver Cloud III for two weeks and driving it far and fast for 2,700 searching miles Tony Brooks summed up his impressions in these words.
“ The pleasure that I found in driving the Silver Cloud came from a balance of qualities that is unique in my experience. The result is that the car gives you high performance motoring as near effortless as it can be under the varied road conditions experienced on the test. The surprising thing to me is how well adapted the car is to modern traffic conditions. Indeed it tends to solve many contemporary motoring problems. Motoring of this kind cannot be anything but expensive, but I would say that in terms of sheer motoring pleasure, safety and durability, the Rolls-Royce is excellent value for £5,500. As a big, luxurious car that can nevertheless be driven in a highly sporting manner, there is nothing quite like it.”
The Silver Cloud III, after the necessarily severe handling it received in the test, had a routine service, which included renewing the tyres and re-lining the brakes. A few days later it was driven to Munich to take part in the British week, in which it was used for VIP transport. Afterwards it underwent full road tests by the French “L’Auto Journal” and by a series of British motor magazines and newspapers.
TONY BROOKS MEETS THE CHIEF ENGINEER
After he had completed the road test Tony Brooks went to Crewe to discuss the performance and design of the car with SH Grylls, Chief Engineer of the Motor Car Division. They had a two hour meeting, the typescript of which runs to some 14,000 words. All that we have space to do here is to summarise some of the points that they made. And it seems right that we should begin with Tony Brooks’ criticisms.
“I should really preface all these comments with the point that I have driven this car not as an average Rolls-Royce owner would – but in a decidedly sporting manner.
From this point of view I have found the change down to second on our particular car not very smooth. If I was behind traffic and pottering along at about 20 mph in top, then all of a sudden the road became clear, I would press the accelerator to the floor and the car would lurch forward.
Yes, it certainly had done 500 miles when I took it over. It’s certainly true that a Bentley I drove the other day was smoother on that particular gear change. And, of course, the situation can be avoided by moving the lever into third position; then your ready with power available immediately the road is clear – and this works very well. But there’s another criticism here. Between second and third from the point of view of ultimate performance, there’s too big a gap – particularly if you happen to hit the change-up on a hill. The fall off in acceleration is very noticeable as you get into third.
It was deliberate, of course. But is there no possible way of closing down the second to third gap?
But surely a torque-converter overcomes this, doesn’t it ?
This is inherently more difficult with an aluminium engine and so far we have not found a satisfactory answer
Another point I would like to take issue on was the restricted fuel range of the car. In a 740 mile journey we had to stop four times to fuel. This means about every 150 miles the warning light comes on. With a car with such long legs one could usefully use a bigger fuel range.
Let’s turn to the hard and soft ride control. All its doing is to give you a stiffer movement at the rear of the car if you have got a heavy load. But it seemed to me from the cornering point of view it was upsetting the balance of the car. Couldn’t one have this switch operating on all four shock absorbers so that one has an honest-to-goodness hard ride as opposed to a compromise?
It is a compromise only if you judge it from a severely sporting point of view. With the present system you have the kind of ride that most people expect from a Rolls-Royce and, as you’ll agree, you can drive the car in a very enterprising way if you want to.
I was very impressed with the handling of the car in the wet – particularly at Goodwood. It rolled moderately easily up to a certain point but after that it didn’t seem to go anymore.
Mr Brooks had a number of other minor points to make, some of which he agrees are a matter of personal preference. He felt that amendments to the layout of the dash and the inclusion of additional protective padding could be made. He found one aspect of rearwards visibility slightly difficult when driving on the right hand side of the road and he was surprised by the firm pull needed to shut the doors. He also remarked on the travel of the wipers at very high speeds and the noise made by the air scoop in the scuttle, and the ventilation fan. He said he would have preferred louder horns on a test of this nature.
A CAR DESIGNED FOR HUMANS
During the course of this interview, the Chief Engineer was asked how he would define the essential engineering qualities of the car. He replied “ We always say that it’s the most pleasant car we know in which either to be stuck in a traffic jam or to be going flat out on the M1.
“Furthermore it’s a car designed for humans. We do a whole lot of little things which nobody else does.”
Here is a short list of some of the little – and some of the big – things which go to make Rolls-Royce motoring.
When you first get into the car you will appreciate the rational layout of the controls. The ignition switch is not hidden behind the steering wheel, and the pedals are the right distance from the steering wheel – the same distance, in fact, as was used on the Silver Ghost. Even when you are wearing a safety-belt you can reach every control immediately.
The Rolls-Royce has three independent foot brake systems, so that in the event of one being damaged the car still has both front and rear brakes. When the car is in reverse the front and rear brake ratio is different, so that the front wheels do not lock when backing down a hill.
A Rolls-Royce has two keys: one which will lock everything, and one for the doors and ignition alone. You can leave the second key with a garage proprietor without giving him access to the boot or cubbyhole.
You can go out in a Rolls-Royce on the coldest morning, switch on all the heaters, start the engine and go back to breakfast. When you come out the car will be warm and the engine will still be running.
A smooth engine can be obtained only if the whole is in balance and the large rotating components individually free of an unbalanced couple. Rolls-Royce therefore treat the fluid flywheel to a balancing operation on two planes, as is now customary for road wheels, and then re-balance the entire crankshaft-flywheel assembly in an engine.
Great care is taken to keep down road noise. Body mounting is handled by a unique system which uses compressed air plungers to equate loads on the various mounting points.
Rear window de-misting is entirely dependent of the heating and ventilation systems and is performed by means of an electric heating element sandwiched in the glass of the window; the wires of this element are so fine as to be virtually invisible to the naked eye.
Rolls-Royce devote careful thought to the avoidance of gritty switches. Each of the controls for the heating and ventilation systems operates tap and flap through the medium of an electric servo. The main switchbox is scrupulously engineered and departs in principle very little from its Silver Ghost counterpart. No starter motor is directly connected by the driver’s switch because the current is too large. A relay is used for this purpose, but the current to actuate the relay is now beyond what can be connected by a switch having a nice feel. Rolls-Royce use a second relay to tell the first relay to tell the starter to engage.
A Rolls-Royce has a fully fused electrical system. It retains many individual fuses for the various circuits and does not rely on a two-fuse system common on other cars. This is an important safety feature and greatly simplifies fault tracing and rectification.
The tyres on a Rolls-Royce at recommended pressures are cleared for all running conditions including motorway driving.
Even after prolonged high speeds on motorways a smooth tick-over is maintained. This is achieved because the engineering of the throttle controls has received a lot of attention and also because the engine is capable of spending several hundred hours at full throttle on the test bed without damage to the exhaust valves.
A solenoid operated petrol filler flap does away with the need for a lock.
The picnic position of the ignition switch not only allows the radio to be used, but also includes the circuit for the windscreen wipers, so that one can enjoy a Point–to–Point or a Gymkhana on a wet day.
The wiper blades park tidily on the glass right at the bottom of the windscreen. In this position the blades are warmed by the demister.
The steering geometry of a car cannot be perfect throughout the entire range of wheel movement, but the errors can be negligible in the normal position of the front suspension. This can only be achieved by measuring movements of the steering mechanism while the car is moved through its suspension range. Every Rolls-Royce car has its steering set after carrying out this quite difficult operation.
A Rolls-Royce has thicker chromium plate and finer leather than any other in the world. It has 12 coats of paint and primer. Its wood veneering is handled by master craftsmen. The result is that a Rolls-Royce retains its good looks long after other cars are much the worse for wear.
“A STANDARD THAT YOU CANNOT GET ELSEWHERE” A Bentley owner talks about his car.1963 S2 Continental Mulliner Park Ward drop head coupé
This booklet, so far, has been concerned with a professional test, which has demonstrated certain features and qualities of the car; but a car, any car, is more than an assembly of qualities: it has something that can be called “character”: a feel, a responsiveness that affects one’s whole attitude to motoring. This character can only be fully assessed by someone who has lived with the car over a period of years, so we thought we should include an interview with an owner. We chose someone who seems to us admirably typical of the kind of younger man who can appreciate to the full the qualities of Rolls-Royce and Bentley motoring.
Mr M.C. Hughes has both business and farming interests. He has had considerable experience of driving other makes of sporting and luxury cars, and he is under 50 years old.
We asked him to tell us what owning a Bentley had meant to him – and how the car fitted into his way of life. Here are his tape-recorded comments:
“No car that I have ever driven has had anything like the precise quality feel of the Bentley. Although I am a farmer now and have some business interests, I did serve my time as a marine engineer and I think that has always helped me to appreciate the engineering quality of the car. This quality helps to make the car outstandingly easy to drive, and one feels that benefit in a number of ways. For example, if you should be feeling a bit harassed or tired or below par or not particularly well and you have to face a journey, it’s that much easier in a Bentley and you probably feel better at the end of it instead of worse. I think primarily it’s the whole combination of features of the car, the silence, refinement, the ease of everything. For a long time, perhaps, I felt that the automatic box was really only and advantage in town driving. I still rather have a hankering after the manual box, but I don’t think I would ever want to go back to in now because I think the advantages outweigh any possible disadvantages.”
“On long cross-country journeys the Bentley is invaluable. For example, I occasionally motor to North Wales. It’s an interesting journey because you get fairly fast main roads away from here. You can then go up Worcester way but I usually take a cross-country route and cut up over the lesser roads that go into the Cotswolds: and, you know, the Bentley excels on these minor roads and even on mountain tracks. It always feels much smaller than it is because it handles so beautifully.”
“It has such wonderful traction. Even going into agricultural shows on a wet day when most cars are being towed in and towed out, you just motor through with the Bentley as easily as anything. You have got the tyre section, you have the weight of the car and you just motor through in a wonderful manner. There was one show where, coming out, one had to face a muddy hill, and where everyone else has had to be towed out with tractors. I’ve just dropped into second gear and motored quietly out with a horsebox trailer behind me!”
“There is no question of my car being a company car or anything like that. I virtually pay for it myself on comparatively modest means. I find it well worthwhile spending more than perhaps other people with my means would spend on a car. I’m quite sure that if you have a Rolls-Royce or a Bentley and change it after three or four years, which is about my average, the depreciation is less, unquestionably, than other cars costing half as much which you feel you have to change considerably more often. I do not think it is unduly expensive at all for a big car.”
“One should not think in terms of snob value, that is ridiculous, but I think one is entitled to take pride in ownership, and there is little else which gives you that kind of feeling. It is a sheer joy to slip into the car, even if you are just going down the road. To me it means one has achieved a standard that you cannot get elsewhere – something very fundamental.”
“I was about three or four months without a Bentley a few years ago. I accepted a very tempting offer for the car I had then, and was waiting for the S2 to be delivered, but being without a Bentley for a few months seemed an eternity and something which I do not want to repeat, even though I have other cars. The Bentley is one of my most cherished possessions in this world’s goods.”
TONY BROOKS TESTS A SIX-YEAR-OLD BENTLEY
The qualities of Rolls-Royce engineering are seen not only in the performance of a new car but in the way that performance is maintained over many years. Since the introduction of the Silver Cloud III and Bentley S3, many S1 and S2 cars have come on the market. These cars offer all the essential qualities of Rolls-Royce motoring at a considerably reduced cost. We thought you would like to have an objective report on one such car, and we asked Tony Brooks to undertake a test – with his experience of the Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud III still vividly in mind.
He selected a Bentley S1 from a London showroom. The car was first registered in 1957, had done 40,000 miles and was valued at £2,650. Tony Brooks drove the car from his garage at Weybridge, via London and the M1 to Crewe, and back on the same day. Thus he included suburban and town traffic conditions, sustained at high-speed running on the motorway and a good mileage of country roads. He reported as follows:-
“My general reaction to the car is that it goes extremely well. In fact, it’s very difficult to detect any real deterioration in its performance; and, of course, you’re saving yourself something like £3,000 compared with a new car. The car tended to wander on the M1 but this was probably because the tyres were brand new; also I think the wheels are a shade out of balance, because we had a little vibration on the steering – but that’s all. The brakes are good, rather heavier than on the SIII, but I’m sure well up to S1 standard. The steering is a little bit heavier than on the SIII, but still light and just as positive. Road holding was good – it went very well round the curves.”
“With this car at 40,000 miles you could probably look forward to at least another 40,000 miles without anything major being required to be done to the car, and I think it would represent extremely good value over such a mileage. It gives you much that a mass-produced car never could. I don’t think there is any other car which would show so small a difference from new, in condition and performance, after seven years.”
FOR YOU ?
This booklet has tried to demonstrate that when you own a Rolls-Royce or a Bentley you own:
Other cars have many fine qualities, but only this car offers such a happily balanced combination of qualities. That is why, when you own a Rolls-Royce, you own the best car in the world.
A Silver Cloud III saloon casts £4,565.0.0 plus £951.12s.1d purchase tax.
A Bentley S3 saloon costs £4,455.0.0, plus £928.13s.9d purchase tax.
(The purchase tax is expressed in the pre-decimal monetary system, in which pounds were divided up into 20 shillings (s) which were each in turn worth 12 pennies (d). In the decimal system only the value of the penny changed and a pound was now made up of 100 (p). Shillings were really an anachronism and not used any more, but dividing a pound into 20 of them meant that each shilling was now worth 5p, instead of 12d.
12s 1d would therefore approximate to 60 ½ p. 13s 9d would approximate to 69p: Ed)
Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud: The Complete Story: Graham Robson, The Crowood Press Ltd 2000.
Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith, Silver Dawn & Silver Cloud: Martyn Nutland, Veloce Publishing 1997.
“The Three Giants – Building the Market for Rolls-Royce Motorcars in America” The Flying Lady: Magazine of the Rolls-Royce Owners Club, September/ October Issue 2005.
Road & Track: Rolls-Royce & Bentley Road Tests 1950-1965: Brooklands Books 1984.
A New Look at the Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud: Rolls-Royce Motors Ltd 1964
All photographs courtesy of Colin Hughes