Let the good times Roll

It's a Shadow of its former self, but the pleasure of driving one is still there, writes Martin Buckley
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Indy Lifestyle Online

I'm sure loads of really cool people have owned Rolls-Royce Silver Shadows, but the only person anybody can ever think of is Jimmy Tarbuck. Still, for three grand, which is what my 1968 Silver Shadow cost, I can live with the Jimmy Tarbuck gags. For ages now, the poor man's Rolls-Royce has been a Rolls-Royce - particularly if it's a Shadow. Perceptions of thirst, complication and expense - not to mention the fact that the neighbours will think that a legend of Seventies light entertainment has moved in next door to them - keep buyers away from the misunderstood, ultimate luxobarge.

I'm sure loads of really cool people have owned Rolls-Royce Silver Shadows, but the only person anybody can ever think of is Jimmy Tarbuck. Still, for three grand, which is what my 1968 Silver Shadow cost, I can live with the Jimmy Tarbuck gags. For ages now, the poor man's Rolls-Royce has been a Rolls-Royce - particularly if it's a Shadow. Perceptions of thirst, complication and expense - not to mention the fact that the neighbours will think that a legend of Seventies light entertainment has moved in next door to them - keep buyers away from the misunderstood, ultimate luxobarge.

None of the above has ever worried me and, up to now, this bargain Rolls-Royce has been a total pleasure. There is something humorous about driving around in it as virtually an everyday car, but I didn't buy it to be ironic or a smartarse. I bought it because I liked them, always have. It's now worked its way into my affections to the extent that I can hardly contemplate life without my Shadow.

My car is an early one, registered in 1968 (the model appeared in 1965), which means chrome bumpers, no spoilers and the so-called Chippendale dashboard, which is much prettier than the later padded fascia. The interior is the glory of the Shadow. The aromatic leather is a bit cracked in this one, the veneer on the doors a little flaky, but it all smells, looks and feels so wonderful that every journey in the car is, to mis-quote Harley Earl, like taking a little holiday from your troubles and stresses.

It doesn't have many "toys" - just power front seats and visciously swift power windows - but it doesn't need them; somehow, the sense of luxury is intrinsic, not bolted on. Even the owner's handbook is special. Finished in red leather with gold lettering, it looks like the Book of Common Prayer. It also contains a surprising amount of DIY information for the Shadow owner who fancies having a go himself. Not that I do, but then I haven't had to. This has been one of the cheapest old cars I've run in terms of maintenance, and odd bits I've needed - such as a window motor - I've bought second-hand from one of the fairly commonplace Rolls-Royce breakers, such as Flying Spares.

There is a tendency to compare the shape of the Shadow unfavourably with its more grandiose predecessor, the Cloud. I thought Shadows were cool from the moment I first saw one in My Ladybird Book of Cars. It's a handsome, dignified shape, a skilful Sixties interpretation of a Rolls-Royce for the modern motorway age which, particularly in early chrome-bumper form like mine, is anything but ostentatious. Well, apart from the fact it's a Rolls-Royce. In fact, the first owner was the antithesis of bling, Mr Cyril Rex-Hassan of Hampstead, the first honorary secretary of the Society of Environmental Engineers.

Finished in sand over sable (or, to its detractors, butter over dung), mine has an air of down-at-heel grandeur about it - thanks to its faded paint and occasional rust bubbles, but it is still straight and sound. I'm long past caring what other people think but, perhaps because it is obviously an old lady, I don't get any bad vibes from other road-users. Quite the reverse; most people smile, wave and let me out at T-junctions.

My offspring, Sean and Caitlin, love the Shadow. The Spirit of Ecstasy that sits atop the Grecian radiator particularly intrigued Caitlin. "It's got a fairy on the bonnet," she screamed on seeing the car for the first time. "And she's showing her nipples!"

It made the perfect accompaniment to a French holiday we had recently, wafting us serenely through Brittany and the Loire Valley as the kids drew, using the picnic tables as drawing boards. We did 1,400 miles and when I added up my petrol bills, I was shocked to find the Roller had given 17mpg, which is almost sensible. My kids behave in the back of the car on long trips, possibly because they are farther away from each other than usual, but also because being in the Shadow just makes you feel calm, serene. If you get in the car in a black mood, you get out of it at the other end in a good one, even if it is just a trip to the corner shop.

To drive my Shadow is everything you hope from a Rolls-Royce, but faster. On a motorway, to cruise at anything below 100mph seems beneath its dignity, and it will pull away from most things at the lights, if you must.

The Shadow is a sensual car that you drive with your fingertips. Its smoothness and relative silence (you can't hear the V8 at tick-over) give the sensation of easy, wafting power, making it therapeutic for both driver and passengers. Parking is a doddle and the ultra-light power steering, combined with the delightful precision action of the electrically powered steering-column gear change, allows you the satisfaction of parking this 5,000lb piece of luxury with one finger. You can see all four square corners from your commanding driving position and the turning circle is second only to a taxi: you never get in embarrassing situations. Handling? Nowhere near as bad as people make out. If you need to hurry on a road with corners, the Shadow will hurry with you, up to a point.

I don't think I've ever owned a car I've enjoyed so much. I usually get bored with new wheels after a couple of weeks, but I've hardly stopped driving this since I bought it five months ago. It's a fabulous machine and I think everyone should own one at least once. My Rolls-Royce is thrifty compared to some modern V8 off-roaders - and nobody bats an eyelid at one of those that does 13mpg. I know which I'd rather be driving.

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