by David Towers
Photographs by Colin Hughes except where stated
There were many changes to the models during the eighteen year production period from 1980 to 1998 – the longest for any standard Rolls-Royce or Bentley model. Also, there were many different models within the range. The range comprised the Silver Spirit (1980-89), Silver Spirit II (1990-93), Silver Spirit III (1994-95) and Silver Spirit (1996-98). However, within each of these periods there were significant changes. The aim of this article is to explain these changes.
The discussion is limited to the four door saloons. The years quoted are model years, rather than the calendar year in which the car was produced. Usually the model year started after the August holiday in the year before the model year. So the 1994 model year started in August 1993. However, some model years started late, while others were early.
The chassis number is found on a plate in the driver’s door jamb. The most important part is the last three letters followed by five numbers. The first letter is the model year, with:
The second letter is ‘C’ for Crewe, where the car was made. For the third letter ‘H’ means right hand drive, while ‘X’ is left hand drive. (The first Silver Spirit had a chassis number ACH01001). The cars went down the production line in approximately sequential chassis number order, Bentleys mixed with Rolls-Royces and also with two door cars. Sometimes there were breaks in the sequence, with a new model year starting at a thousand (and one). For instance, the first 1996 model year car was TCX57001, and the 1997 model year cars started at VCH59001.
The Silver Spirit and Bentley Mulsanne were unveiled in October 1980 as replacements of the Silver Shadow II and Bentley T2.
The main changes were the new body and a new rear suspension. The long wheelbase Silver Spirit (4 inches longer), replacing the Silver Wraith II, was called the Silver Spur. The long wheelbase Bentley Mulsanne was called the Mulsanne L.
The body looked more modern than the Silver Shadow, and the rear suspension improved handling
and reduced road noise. Otherwise, the car was very similar to the earlier Silver Shadow II. There was no change to the engine, which did not include fuel injection. Interior styling was changed with the wooden door cappings only on top of the doors (no side part with walnut and cross-banding.) The electronic display in the middle of the fascia used digital instrumentation. The suspension was still very soft, more for comfort than effective cornering.
From 1980 until 1986 there were a number of improvements, including firming up the suspension and having conventional wood on the doors with walnut and cross-banding, like the Silver Shadow II.
For the 1988 model year the Mulsanne was renamed Mulsanne S.
1.12 Bentley Mulsanne Turbo
In 1982 the Bentley Mulsanne Turbo was introduced, with a turbocharger and a Solex 4A1 four choke carburettor in a sealed box (after the turbo). This increased the engine’s power from 200bhp to 300bhp and reduced the 0-60mph time from over 10 seconds to only 7 (very quick at the time). The Solex carburettor had suffered tuning problems in the (unturbocharged) two door Corniche and Camargue models. The (carburettor) Mulsanne Turbo was not without its problems. The Bentley Eight was introduced in 1984 as a lower priced version of the Bentley Mulsanne. The Eight cost just below £50,000 and had a wire mesh front grille, simpler wood-work and no mirrors in the rear quarter panels. To appeal to the younger buyer, it had firmer front suspension.
The turbocharger is a small gas turbine utilising the exhaust gases from the engine. The turbine drives a compressor (a bit like a fan), which compresses the air before in enters the engine, thus pushing more air in. In compressing the air its gets hot - like it does when you pump up a bicycle tyre. The intercooler (only fitted on Turbo R engines) cools the air coming out of the compressor before it goes into the engine and this in turn makes it more dense and is thereby able to push an even greater mass of air in. The amount of air you push into an engine effectively determines its power, so a non-turbo engine produces less power than a turbo engine with no intercooler, which in turn produces less power than turbo engine with an intercooler. As the turbo produces a higher compression ratio, this also increases the power and efficiency of the engine. The intercooler reduces the temperature of the air in the engine and this allows a higher compression ratio before knocking occurs - thus increasing power.
In March 1985, there was an improvement to the Turbo’s handling with the introduction of the Turbo R, which had stiffened suspension and wider wheels and tyres. Although this improved the cornering and handling, it resulted in a much firmer ride.
A recognition feature of the carburettor cars is the two exhausts on either side of the rear of the car. The turbos always have twin exhausts on the offside. Fuel injected Silver Spirit/ Spur and Silver Spirit/ Spur II’s have a single exhaust on the offside, and Silver Spirit/Spur III (’s) and later models have twin outlets on the offside (like the Turbo R).
For the 1987 model year fuel injection and anti-lock brakes were introduced, and the front seats gained electrically reclining backrests. The suspension of the cars was made stiffer (except for the Turbo R, which was very stiff already). Cars for North America and Japan had been fitted with fuel injection from 1980.
With the introduction of fuel injection, the cars were more economical, more powerful and better behaved while warming up. The fuel injected cars have 30mph/ 1000rpm in top compared with 26.5mph for the carburettor cars. The Turbo cars changed from 30mph/1000rpm to 35.5/ 1000rpm.
The higher gearing and fuel injection improved economy - typically 16mpg compared with 14mpg for the carburettor car - but the performance remained the same with the increased power being offset by the higher gearing. The top speed increased from just under 120mph to about 127mph. From 1989 model year, the Bentleys gained four headlamps, rather than the single headlamps of the earlier cars and all Silver Spirits/ Spurs.
There were no changes of model designation and these cars were still called Silver Spirits/ Spurs (or similar Bentley name), but it can be seen that there are two distinct models – the carburettor cars and the fuel injected ones.
The Silver Spirit/ Spur II were introduced for the 1990 model year. The main change was the introduction of ‘adaptive damping’, whereby the dampers (shock absorbers) could be changed between ‘soft’, ‘normal’ and ‘hard’ within 1/100th of a second. The settings were controlled by a computer, which checked a number of factors including speed, throttle position, braking, longitudinal and lateral acceleration. In the Silver Spirit/ Spur, the adaptive dampers give a very soft ride, which firms up as speed increases and if you start to go round corners. It can even detect brows of hills and dips, when it stiffens the dampers and prevents bottoming of the suspension. It transforms the ride of the Turbo R, as the soft setting gives a smooth ride, while the harder settings give firm control during cornering (ie the ride was like the ‘old’ Turbo R when cornering, but softer and smooth when cruising).
The Silver Spirit/ Spur II had a neater fascia with boxwood inlays between the walnut and the cross-banding on the fascia and side rails. There are now four eyeball air vents in the fascia compared with two in the earlier models, and they gained ‘organ stops’ to control the airflow. The audio was much improved with ten loudspeakers – the sound is excellent. Silver Spirits/ Spurs gained alloy wheels (Bentleys had had them for a number of years). The parking brake releases when you engage drive. The Silver Spur gained electrically adjustable rear seats.
When General Motors discontinued the 3 speed automatic, Rolls-Royce introduced the 4 speed overdrive automatic gearbox for the 1992 model year. For the Silver Spirit/ Spur II this gave 35mph/ 1000rpm in 4th and 26.5mph/ 1000rpm in the direct drive 3rd (like the carburettor cars). The Turbo R’s gearing became 40mph/ 1000rpm in 4th compared with 35.5mph/ 1000rpm in 3rd in the earlier 3 speed cars. In 4th gear there is a clutch which locks out the torque converter and further improves the efficiency of the gearbox.
The Bentley Brooklands appeared for the 1993 model year. This replaced the Bentley Mulsanne S and Eight. The Brooklands introduced the central gearchange, to replace the previous one to the right of the steering column – the new position looks sportier. The central gearchange was introduced on the Turbo R at the same time.
The Silver Spirit III was introduced as the 1994 model. This was a significant improvement over the earlier models. The engine had electronic fuel injection with a new inlet manifold, which increased the power to 240bhp (the earlier cars had mechanical fuel injection).
The engines have covers, which make them look much tidier, but require time to remove when servicing. They cover a multitude of sins and a mess of pipes and wires. What looks like the rocker covers are in fact plenum chambers for inputting air into the engine (there are four pipes from each plenum chamber which go into four cylinders). The centre part is a cover (which can be removed by a few screws) over the inlet pipes, the main engine air inlet pipe (which goes down the middle), the fuel injectors, and plug leads, air pipes from the air pump (for emissions). Underneath this are the two hydraulic pumps (driven from the camshaft) and quite a lot of electrical wiring.
They also have a catalytic converter for better emissions - previously, this was optional but had been fitted as standard for a number of years on cars for N. America, Japan and Australia. Airbags became standard, with the driver’s in the steering wheel and the passenger’s in the (previous) locker in front of the passenger - the replacement is the drop down locker in front of the passenger’s legs, which used to contain the fuses. The seats were re-styled for greater comfort.
In May 1994 a turbocharged version of the Silver Spur was produced, called the Flying Spur. Essentially, it is a Rolls-Royce Silver Spur with a Bentley Turbo engine. 134 of these cars were produced. In the 1995 model year, the more powerful Turbo S was produced with a higher powered engine.
A long-wheelbase version of the Silver Spirit, known as the Silver Dawn, became available. Rolls-Royce transferred production of the 6.75 litre engines to Cosworth. Later, production was transferred back to Rolls-Royce at Crewe.
For the 1996 model year the numeric portion of the model name was dropped since the designation IV is unacceptable in certain Far-Eastern markets.
These cars had wrap-round bumpers front and rear extending into the wheel arches, to make them look more modern. The tops of these bumpers were placed above the level of the earlier cars, thus reducing the height of the radiator. To maintain the balance, the Spirit of Ecstasy mascot’s height was reduced by 20%. There are more stylish alloy wheels. The external rear view mirrors were moved from the door to the quarter-light (which was deleted). There was a change in the centre console, which extended back to the armrest between the front seats. The gearing of these cars was raised to 40mph/ 1000rpm with no change to the Turbo R’s gearing.
The standard wheelbase Silver Spirit was deleted during the 1997 model year. However, the long wheelbase Silver Spur continued, and was joined by the long wheelbase Silver Dawn. The Silver Spur had a higher trim level than the Silver Dawn (and earlier Silver Spirit) with picnic tables in the backs of the front seats and electrically adjustable rear seats.
For the first time, the steering column was electrically adjustable, and the spare tyre was inside the boot, rather than being hung underneath, where it was subject to road dirt and corrosion. The air conditioning has additional outlets in the rear compartment.
For the 1997 model year the ‘light pressure turbo’ was introduced in the Silver Spur and Bentley Brooklands. It produced 300bhp, similar to the first Mulsanne Turbo, and 60bhp more than the standard unturbocharged engine (which was now only used on the Silver Dawn). By that time, the Turbo R engine was producing 385bhp.
Finally, in mid to late 1997 a special Turbo RT was introduced with a 400bhp engine (the same power as the Bentley Continental T cars).
The last Silver Spirit derivative models were produced in Spring 1998, just before the introduction of the Rolls-Royce Silver Seraph and Bentley Arnage. Apparently, a few Silver Spurs were produced for the USA later in 1998, using some ‘spare’ bodies.
It can be seen that the 1998 cars are very different from the first cars produced in 1980. Fuel injection replaced carburettors, the 4 speed overdrive gearbox gives 40mph/ 1000rpm in top compared with 26.5mph/1000rpm, giving more relaxed cruising and better economy. The seats are more comfortable with electrically reclining backrests, heating, lumbar support and memory. The woodwork is improved and in the Bentley a rev counter is fitted and a more sporting central gearchange. The suspension is firmer and the handling/ride balance is improved with the adaptive damping and there are attractive alloy wheels. The cars are faster, particularly the turbocharged Turbo R’s – which can even be called ‘sporting’. During the period the market changed, from almost 100% Rolls-Royce cars in 1980 to 80% sporting Bentleys and only 20% Rolls-Royces at the end.