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THE ROLLS-ROYCE SILVER CLOUD was “a lady of quality, unruffled in a crisis,” or so described R&T, May 1958. No specific crisis was cited; could it have been exposure to crass road testing?
Elegance. These days there’s good tidbit gleaning in this road test, especially in retrospect of 1958 approaching an apogee of baroque automotive styling. Noted R&T of the Silver Cloud, “The styling may not be modern by U.S. standards, but it certainly is elegant.”
Maneuvering a Silver Cloud. R&T wrote, “The external dimensions and weight of the Rolls-Royce are not so great as those of the Phantom series cars, but all interior dimensions have been increased considerably…. The driver sits quite high, and the view which he commands gives great confidence in traffic. We drove the car out for the first time and immediately started down crowded Wilshire Boulevard with only inches to spare on each side, yet felt no trepidation over judging where the right front fender was: a most unusual feeling to experience with a strange machine of such size—and value.”
“The interiors virtually reek quality and good taste;” wrote the magazine. “There are no loud contrasting colors, weird contemporary materials or juke box instruments. The upholstery is soft genuine leather and there are two folding armrests in the middle of the front seat, plus one on each door. The steering wheel is plain black.”
This, mind, was an era when several domestic marques offered push-buttons on the steering wheel and record players built into the dashboard.
“The instrument panel,” wrote R&T, “is natural walnut and the instruments are sheer joy—legible white on black, with real calibrations which tell you exactly what you want to know. A multiplicity of panel-mounted controls take some learning, but this can be excused when you realize some of the unusual features available. To cite just a few, there are a plug for the battery charger, a release for the gas filler, an oil level indicator button, and a chassis lubricator pump.”
A Modern Motor Car. “Finally,” said R&T, “a word for the die-hard classicist, the man who says ‘they don’t make them the way they used to.’ Technically, he is right. No longer do we find Rolls-Royce using both a magneto and a distributor for dual ignition, or taper bolts reamed by hand to hold brackets to the frame, or spring leaves fitted to each other with Prussian blue and hand scraping.”
“Unfortunately for the die-hards,” R&T observed, “a modern coil ignition system is more reliable and gives more accurate timing (spark advance) than the old, expensive system. Modern frames with welded junctions are many times more rigid than those with the traditional tubular crossmembers. Springs function better and last longer when the leaves are separated by modern friction materials.”
And What of Custom Coachwork? The magazine noted, “And remember, too, the advent of a standardized body in place of having all bodies built to order has alone accounted for an overall cost savings of nearly $5000 per car…. However, if you want a custom body on a Rolls-Royce, the firm will supply the Silver Cloud chassis with a choice of a standard (123-inch) or long (127-inch) wheelbase, or you may have the 133-inch Silver Wrath.”
To put these in perspective, the 1958 Chrysler 300-D rode highly finned on a 126-inch wheelbase with an overall length exceeding the Silver Cloud’s 212 inches by another eight inches. R&T called the 300-D “an athletic but lovable Amazon.”
Egad, hardly a “lady of quality.” ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2023
We got to store a 1957 Bentley in the barn for six months.
Compared to the other cars, TR3, two Morgans and a 1936 Austin 7 Ruby, the Bentley was HUGE.
Monsignor Simanaitis, Tried a couple times yesterday to leave below comment but it didn’t take. So here ’tis, closing with a Chrysler connection to dovetail with your 300D profile. Thanks, good stuff as always. Only wanted to add some historical perspective: An article suggested the Cloud’s designer, J.P. Blatchley, was inspired by Cadillac, R-R unwilling to admit they’d installed a curved one-piece windshield on the otherwise razor-edged design of moribund Packard’s 1941-47 Clipper. R-R increasingly focused on aero engines since 1935, the time of Packard’s, Cadillac’s, Lincoln’s company saving junior models, respectively ’35’s One Twenty, ’34-’36 LaSalle a gussied Olds 8, ’36 Lincoln’s “Ford-and-a-half” Zephyr, the Cloud and concurrent Bentley S series rationalized, assembled boutique products; GM Delco electrics, HydraMatic, bodies by Pressed Steel of Cowley near Oxford, who supplied much of the Sceptered Isle’s motor industry even as Briggs did Packard (1941-on), Chrysler, Ford.
Someday, historic perspective will come to the fore, resultant less genuflecting to what Laurence Pomeroy called “a triumph of craftsmanship over engineering,” another respected English motoring journalist summed “a bloody good confidence trick,” Rolls-Royce in the years immediately preceding War II annually disassembling a new Buick to glean the latest Detroit production tips. R-Rs/non-Cricklewood Bentleys are competent automobiles if you require animal skin upholstery, wood veneer trim, the cachet of importation, R-R/Bentley in the prior models copying nut-for-bolt Packard’s Saf-T-Flex i.f.s., as did at the rear, the postwar Lagonda, all R-R’s and ’33-on Bentleys but the 727 complex, troublesome 1936-39 Phantom III V-12 tracing their lineage to the 1920 Buick Six, tho’ in the words of one English motoring writer, “not so good,” R-R’s first major departure, 1959’s ohv V-8, heralded at its press debut by its well lubricated chief engineer, “bloody near as good as the Chrysler.”
I sort of have one of these. Which is to say I have the identical Bentley S1, which the former owner had converted to a Cloud by the simple expediency of swapping the original grille for its Rolls equivalent. Normally I’d source the correct grille and return it to Bentley spec, however I bought the car from the former Prime Minister of Kuwait, so I figured with such interesting provenance the aesthetic swap is part of the car’s history. It’ll stay…