2020 Auto News Auto Sales Rolls-Royce

Tested: 1981 Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit Rejuvenates Traditional Luxury

Excuse us if we don’t get too Consumer Reports-y in this test. It’s just that we don’t think enough of you guys are actually considering the new Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit for us to get all solemn about Trunk Liftover Height and Area of Floor-Mat Coverage (both of which are pretty darn good, actually).

This is a staggeringly expensive car. Seeing the window sticker bottom out at $109,000 only hints at the cost, because, in paying so much for a car, you give up not only the principal but also what that sum could be earning for you. Consider this: you take the $109,000 and, instead of buying the R-R, you sock it away in some CD at the prevailing rate for notes over $100,000. Use the first year’s interest as a down payment on a Porsche 928. Subsequent interest will cover not only the payments, but gas and insurance as well. Moreover, you can trade off the 928 every two years with this arrangement and never have to touch the original sum. That should give you some idea of how expensive the Silver Spirit is: $109,000 and a new 928 every two years.

Maybe none of us can afford this Rolls-Royce, but its fantastic price makes it all the more interesting from an academic point of view. Automobiles are a sort of standard task. They all have wheels, seats, and trunks, and they all burn fuel. Every carmaker has to cope with the same problems. So it’s fascinating to see how a cost-is-no-object company like Rolls-Royce approaches the assignment. And how well it fares.

Cutting right to the bottom line, we think it fares just fine. If we were rich guys confined to four-doors and had to live with the possibility of outrunning the Tupamaros every so often, we’d go with the Roller. It’ll really make dust. All things considered, it’s probably no more adroit an escape vehicle than a V-8 Mercedes or a 733i, but it’s certainly capable of similar performance. And when you consider that it weighs within a suitcase of 5000 pounds, and that it’s quieter inside than a church on Tuesday, that’s really saying something.

For the recent past, at least, Rolls-­Royces have been great cars to be driven in, but you wouldn’t want to do the job yourself. They were totally devoid of any driving feel, like a ’55 Chrysler, only more so. It was intentional. Rolls­-Royce engineers had a way of describing the tactile sensation they were looking for. “Ball of silk,” they’d say. Smooth. No friction. No resistance. The steering felt as though it was some sort of radio hookup to the front wheels. The shift lever, in fact, moved only a set of electrical contacts, which telegraphed instructions to servos on the transmission. You encountered the world’s most beautiful detents when you moved the lever, and nothing more. The rest of the car was the same way. It was a conspicuously difficult way of carrying out the automotive assignment—nobody could ever say R-R took an easy hit—but it wasn’t at all rewarding to those of us who prefer the snick of a well-connected five-speed.

The difference between the recently obsolete Silver Shadow II and the new Silver Spirit is that you’d like the new one. It somehow manages to feel right to the driver without repudiating the “ball of silk” philosophy of past models.

In fact, Rolls-Royce didn’t repudiate anything with the Silver Spirit. Most particularly not bulk. Or weight. Or prodigious fuel consumption. It scores 10 EPA mpg and costs the company—and ultimately the buyer—$650 in federal gas-guzzler tax for each example sent to the U.S. Rolls-Royce does not downsize to avoid some piddling tax, thank you very much. The new car is as heavy as the model that went before, slightly lower, and just over two inches wider. Really, it’s meant to be the same car with a new body and a few significant engineering revisions. The styling improvement is questionable. Behind the trademark R-R grille stands a bland, middle-European sedan. People who see the front give it recognition followed by all due respect, but from the back it could just as well be German.

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