I recently had the chance to drive a 1973 Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow, which was the finest luxury car of its day. Today, you can buy a nice one for around ten grand. This, in my opinion, reflects the level of luxury that the car possesses by modern standards.
But before I go any further with my feelings about the car, allow me to give a little background. I borrowed this 1973 Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow from Motorcars of the Main Line, a local dealership here in the Philadelphia area with an unending inventory of interesting and cool cars. This Rolls is certainly an interesting and cool car, in the sense that it was the Rolls-Royce Phantom of its day.
I mean it. Though the Silver Shadow doesn’t have the imposing presence of the modern Phantom, it was a big deal back in the 1970s — the flagship Rolls-Royce sedan, which preceded the Silver Spirit, which preceded the Silver Seraph, which preceded the Phantom. Back in the 1970s, this was the definitive luxury car, save for perhaps the Rolls-Royce Corniche, which was effectively a 2-door convertible version of the Silver Shadow.
So, with that out of the way, let’s get back to why this thing is worth ten grand. The primary reason, I would say, is that it’s just not all that exclusive. Rolls-Royce manufactured about 30,000 of these from 1965 to 1980, making it the most common Rolls in history — and not only is it relatively popular by Rolls-Royce standards, but it just doesn’t have any unique features compared to modern vehicles. Yes, there are power seats and power locks, and there’s a power antenna and cruise control — all of which would’ve been a big deal back in 1973. But the only thing this car has that you can’t get in a modern vehicle is a mirror mounted inside the C-pillar in the back seats.
Well, that and the hydraulic system. Rolls-Royce models of this era possess a hydraulic system for a lot of features in the vehicle — including important components like the suspension and brakes. This system is highly complicated and very expensive to fix, with limited parts available and limited technical knowledge of exactly what to do to get it into working order. When you get a cheap car with expensive faults, you tend to run into a problem, because people buy the car cheaply and don’t fix the issues — and in many cases with these Silver Shadows, that’s exactly the situation. Many of these suffer from deferred maintenance or years of neglect.
With that said, the one I drove seemed fine — not perfect, as none of them are, but fine. And here’s what I discovered: It’s quiet, but no quieter than a modern family car. It’s smooth, but no smoother than a modern luxury vehicle. The suspension is laughably soft, to the point where you actually start to slide out of your seat due to the immense body roll around corners. Steering is light and effortless, and there’s no pretense of sport. And the interior quality and equipment is mediocre by modern standards.
In reality, then, this car’s primary “cool factor” is what’s sitting at the front of the hood — the Rolls-Royce Spirit of Ecstasy, the “flying lady” hood ornament that everyone associates with this brand. Combine that and the massive grille, and you’ve got yourself a very cool vehicle — even if it lags behind modern cars in driving experience, ownership costs, equipment and quality. Indeed, this car is cool for one reason and one reason only, and you see it in front of you every time you drive down the road.
Still, it’s interesting to get insight into the world of high-end luxury from 45 years ago — and to see what buyers would’ve regarded as the world standard. These days, a Toyota Camry is better in every way — and even though it’s hard to imagine we’ll be saying the very same thing about the 2018 Rolls-Royce Phantom in 2063, I suspect we will. Find a Rolls-Royce for sale
Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.