A Rolls-Royce is supposed to be so quiet that you can hear the clock ticking inside. But I was unconcerned with the volume of the timepiece in the centre of the dash and more concerned with the incessant squeaking of my leather jacket on the cream leather seats. Many cows and trees have died for this 1996 Rolls-Royce Silver Spur, and they were well-nourished cows and trees, too. If it’s not soft leather (which adorns even the roof, it’s highly polished walnut burl — a swirling mass of grains like the great storm on Venus. That that is not walnut, is carpet so thick it is like the scene in one of the Jurassic Park movies where the velociraptors are chasing the expendable actors through long grass.
But nothing with serious bite lurks within. The engine might be the size of a supertanker, but the Silver Spur merely ‘gathers momentum’ as opposed to tearing your face off with a tsunami of torque. Gentlemen don’t need supercar acceleration when they’re reading the Financial Times in the back with a Martini balanced on one of the fold-down walnut tables, so the 6.75-litre V8 gently throbs away as it drowns its pistons in premium fuel to produce the continent-moving 600Nm of torque and 224kW required to overcome the laws of physics and induce forward momentum.
My first experience in the Silver Spur was as a passenger. I chose to sit in the back for fun, hoping the Grey Lynn Bourgeoisie may cast dagger-like stares in my direction. There is more legroom in the back than the front as well, and the seats recline electrically while the servant in the driver’s seat wafts you along in almost silent plushness.
Fortunately I had brought my opera binoculars and was able to see the ‘Spirit of Ecstasy’ perched atop the Parthenon-like grille several metres ahead of me. Even in the driver’s seat the bonnet stretches out its vast metal plateau towards the horizon. Exaggerated inputs into the steering wheel are comically mimicked by this slab of steel which seems as divorced from the road as if you were in an aircraft at altitude. Try to bring the Silver Spur to a stop and you’ll find the brake pedal is like pushing on a trampoline, kicking back at you while offering no discernable feel of what kind of deceleration you’re supposedly in control of.
Very little in the cabin is ergonomically created for the driver. Half of the switches have no clear indication as to what they do and are laid out as if positioned in a paintball gun battle.
Outside, the styling is less haphazard. A clean shoulder line runs from the front to the rear, only partially interrupted by the chromed wing mirrors. In a photo, the Silver Spur looks like it’s been lowered, but it is its sheer length that gives this impression. It is a massive 212 inches long (around 5.4m). Bear in mind that many garages (including my own) are five metres long. Guess we’ll have to leave the boot outside, then. The Avon CR227 whitewall tyres, specifically for Rolls-Royce and Bentley models, are 235/65VR16 and perfectly complement the chromed wheels. What should be of alarm to any Silver Spur owner is that by merely erasing the signature grille in Photoshop, the Rolls starts looking like a Cortina. Classy.
In my very brief time with the car it generated a lot of discussion, an offer of a date (by a woman at least 25 years older than me), a lot of quizzical looks and one hairy moment when a commoner in a Mondeo nearly sideswiped me. This car is imposing and distracting. It is quintessentially British, made when Rolls-Royce wasn’t part of the German automotive empire. It was a time when it was OK to be quirky because buyers understood that men with passion (and names like Norris and Harold) who had worked in the company since 1906 hand-stitched the piping into the seats and polished that walnut with love, devotion and steadfast attention to detail. It’s a passenger’s car, and one that I like much better in retrospect.
Price: A second hand model in this condition will still set you back around $80,000
What we like:
- Out of my way, oik!
- Engine noise
- If you’re a passenger, it’s great
What we don’t like:
- Fuel economy
- Finding a parking space
- Too many quirks
Words and photos Darren Cottingham