Why you’d want a Rolls-Royce Corniche
When Rolls-Royce finally embraced monocoque construction for the Silver Shadow in ’65, coachbuilders shuddered: only the expensive Phantom chassis remained for them to practice their art. Few had the resources to engineer structural bodyshells, and to do so would add vastly to the cost of the standard product.
Mulliner Park Ward had long been a Rolls-Royce subsidiary, so it was no surprise that when a two-door Shadow came along in 1966, it was from that source, as was the convertible in 1967. MPW continued to build the Corniche bodies to the end, though final assembly was transferred to R-R’s coachbuilt division at Crewe in 1991.
James Young, owned since the 1930s by Rolls-Royce London dealer Jack Barclay, made just 50 two-door Shadows in 1966-’67 (35 R-R, 15 Bentley). The JY car lacks the kick in the waistline of the MPW and has a more upright rear window; perhaps it’s just familiarity, but the MPW style looks ‘right’, whereas the JY looks awkward.
It’s easy to forget just how expensive these cars were new: an MPW Convertible cost about the same as two Interceptors or five E-types in 1970. It was almost half as much again as the price of the four-door Shadow. You could have a Miura plus a Mini or two for less. The fact that Rolls-Royce could sustain sales at those prices is an indication of the quality – and the complexity – of the product. It’s also a warning of how much they can cost to run and, especially, restore.
The standard of construction means that they will go on for a long time without costly maintenance – but when work is required, especially something such as a brake overhaul, it can be hugely expensive compared to more mundane vehicles. There are no fewer than three hydraulic systems, two at high pressure, and the set-up is interlinked with the rear self-levelling, which will inevitably need attention at the same time.
Don’t let this put you off owning one of these magnificent machines – just make sure you buy one that has had care and attention lavished on it mechanically as well as cosmetically. Confirm that absolutely everything works as it should, and keep some funds in reserve just in case.
Ten times as many R-R as Bentley-badged cars were built (most exclusive were the eight turbocharged Bentleys in ’92/’95). It’s worth checking individual specs with the Rolls-Royce Enthusiasts’ Club, which holds the factory records.
Rolls-Royce Corniche: what to look for
See above for trouble spots
The all-alloy V8 engine with cast-iron wet liners was beautifully built, although it suffers if neglected. A well-maintained unit can easily clock up 500,000 miles, but be prepared for problems with clogged hydraulic tappets, worn camshafts and so on if not serviced properly; listen for a rattly top end. The engine should be super-smooth.
Aluminium engine parts need constant use of a corrosion inhibitor in coolant. If it’s not kept up, overheating and internal damage will follow: inspect for signs.
Magic-carpet ride and superb braking depend on high-pressure hydraulics with multiple circuits. Little-used cars suffer expensively seized and corroded parts.
R-R used GM gearbox because it was one item that it couldn’t significantly improve; check for smooth changes. Hydramatic is £3594 (exch); three-speed just £1194.
Dampers and bushes have a lot of weight to deal with, so both wear. The 1977-on steering rack is sharper than earlier box; play in either means attention is needed.
The multi-lined soft-top, especially with Vybak window, will not last for ever; when it needs doing, it’s best to spend the extra on an experienced R-R trimmer (c£7000).
An enormous amount of time, money and care was lavished on creating this cabin. If it has deterioriated, it will need as much to bring it back. Best to buy a good one.
Rolls-Royce Corniche: on the road
With a cold engine, turn on the ignition: two brake warning lights should illuminate. If not, there may still be pressure in the system if the engine has run recently: pump the brake pedal quickly until they come on. If they don’t, there’s a problem. Start the engine: both lights should go out within 30 seconds (less with a hot engine). Once the motor is properly warm, turn it off and then pump the brake pedal until the lights come on: you should get at least 40 pumps.
The engine should run smoothly and quietly; listen for exhaust leaks and rattly hydraulic tappets (they should quieten within 30 seconds of a cold start). Rough running on later cars may be blocked injectors. Before moving off, check (with brakes on) that all the gear positions engage: electrical contacts corrode and give poor connections. Test for smooth changes; shuddering indicates wear or imbalance in the driveline, usually the driveshaft UJs, which can be upgraded to Spur CV joints (c£3000 for the factory kit).
On a bumpy road, listen for clonks from the suspension (worn dampers and bushes – extra costly on late cars with electronic dampers); also test for a smooth, controlled ride and reasonably precise steering. Most jobs require specialist tools (DiYers can rent these from the RREC).
Make sure that absolutely everything works: lights, heater, air-con, electric seats, windows, mirrors, door locks, sound system – and see that all the accessories, tools, keys and literature are present. Some service parts are not expensive, especially on exchange, but anything missing or beyond repair will be costly to replace.
Rolls-Royce Corniche price guide
- Show/rebuilt: £45,000
- Average: £20,000
- Restoration: £7000
- Show/rebuilt: £125,000
- Average: £50,000
- Restoration: £15,000
Rolls-Royce Corniche history
1966 JY and MPW launch two-door saloons
1967 MPW convertible introduced
1968 GM400 three-speed auto standard
1970 Engine size up from 6.25 to 6.75 litres
1971 MPW saloon/convertible renamed Corniche
1972 Suspension revised, radial tyres
1977 Shadow II/T2 mods: rack-and-pinion steering, stiffer suspension, rubber-tipped bumpers, front spoiler, bi-level air-con, Solex carb on US cars
1979 Mineral oil hydraulics, petrol tank moved
1980 All except Corniche drophead discontinued; US cars get fuel injection
1985 Bentley Corniche renamed Continental
1987 Corniche II: fuel injection, anti-lock brakes
1989 Corniche III: MK-Motronic injection, airbags, revised suspension/interior, colour-coded bumpers
1992 Corniche IV: GM4L80 four-speed auto, adaptive suspension, glass rear window
1992 Oct 21st Anniversary model (25 made)
1993 Aug Power boosted by 20%
1995 Final Corniche and Continental built: last 25 (all US market) were 385bhp turbo Corniche Ss
The owner’s view
Craig Barfoot has owned his Corniche since 2015.
“My first Rolls-Royce was a 20/25 saloon and I’ve had several since – before the Corniche, I had a Cloud III,” he says. “Why did I buy it? I suppose that I wanted the sheer elegance of the thing: I was smitten by the looks. Clearly the drive quality is the same whether one has a Corniche, a Spur or a Camargue, but the convertible option does it all for me.
“I’ve driven it about 2300 miles and, despite only having covered 33,000 from new, it has needed a few repairs. The manifold was leaking, which was a day and a half’s work to swap the gasket; the brake spheres were changed; and the screenwash button on the end of the indicator stalk was falling off. If I replace it, it would be with a Phantom III.”
Sophisticated and desirable, a good Interceptor offers a great blend of performance and luxury. But they were too cheap for too long and rot for England.
Sold 1966-’76 • No. built 6728 • Mpg 9-18 • 0-60mph 8.7-6.9 secs • Top speed 126-143mph • Price new £5838 (’70) • Price now £30k (fhc)/80k (dhc)
MERCEDES-BENZ 280SE 3.5 COUPÉ/CABRIO
The ultimate W111 combines style, quality and pace. Durable, but there’s a lot to rust when it goes and parts are dear. Exclusive, but the most affordable model to run.
Sold 1969-’71 • No. built 4502 • Mpg 13-22 • 0-60mph 9.5 secs • Top speed 130mph • Price new £6994 (’70) • Price now £80k (fhc)/150k (dhc)
Rolls-Royce Corniche: the Classic & Sports Car verdict
Just a car, but one over-engineered and built to the highest standards, a Corniche will give immense pleasure to own and cruise around in provided it has been properly maintained, and is kept that way.
Mechanical parts are readily available secondhand: body and interior condition are the most important, but new running gear, if needed, is often costly, too.
- Ultimate luxury
- All parts available
- Exceptional build quality
- Durable if properly maintained; the RREC offers seminars for those keen on DiY
- Extremely complex
- Expensive to fix if neglected
- Liable to induce jealousy
Rolls-Royce Corniche specifications
Sold/number built 1966-’95/7370 R-R; 723 Bentley
Construction steel monocoque
Engine alloy-block, alloy-head, overhead-valve 6230/6750cc V8, with twin SU HD8 carburettors/Bosch K-Jetronic/MK-Motronic fuel injection; 215bhp @ 4200rpm; 325lb ft @ 1450rpm
Transmission 3-speed GM400 auto (4-sp ’92-on), driving rear wheels (UK to ’68 4-speed Hydramatic)
Suspension: front wishbones, telescopic dampers rear semi-trailing arms; coil springs, anti-roll bar, self-levelling f/r (to 1969 at front)
Steering power-assisted recirculating ball, 3.4 turns lock-to-lock; rack and pinion from 1977
Brakes power-assisted discs; vented front ’72-on
Length 16ft 111/2in-17ft 1/2in (5170-5196mm)
Width 6ft-6ft 2in (1830-1836mm)
Height 4ft 11in-5ft (1492-1518mm)
Wheelbase 9ft 113/4in-10ft 1/2in (3042-3061mm)
Weight 4862-5346lb (2210-2430kg)
0-60mph 10.7 secs
Top speed 115-125mph
Price new £11,556 fhc, £12,078 dhc (1970)
BUY A CLASSIC ROLLS-ROYCE CORNICHE