1968 Rolls-Royce Shadow MPW

1968 Rolls-Royce Shadow MPW

‘It’s the solidity and elegance that define the Shadow’ The List Your dream drive made real. Robert Cohen grew up driving Rolls-Royces and Bentleys. Today we put him in his ultimate high-roller – the Mulliner Park Ward coupé. Words Emma Woodcock. Photography Jonathan Jacob.

The List Will a Rolls-Royce MPW Coupé satisfy a lifelong marque fan?

An MPW drive after a lifetime of longing for one Rolls fan

Simply drawn yet still imposing, the Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow Mulliner Park Ward coupé looms in the dark Classic & Sportscar Centre showroom. The quad headlights are split by 22 polished radiator panes, forming one of the most recognisable front ends in classic motoring. Robert Cohen already knows it well. His father owned a Silver Shadow II saloon in the Seventies and let the teenaged Robert drive it regularly. He’s loved the model ever since. Today he’ll climb behind the wheel of the rare and stylish Mulliner Park Ward variant to discover whether the Silver Shadow lives up to his memories.

1968 Rolls-Royce Shadow MPW

Robert climbs up into the cabin and his eyes go straight to the butterfly outline on top of the radiator cap. ‘The Spirit of Ecstasy is quite something,’ he smiles. ‘It’s a statement about the car – not necessarily the person at the controls – and it’s so much more prominent than I remember. It reminds you that there really was nothing else like a Rolls-Royce back then. In a world that’s moved away from bonnet emblems, seeing the silver lady is very exciting.’

‘It’s the perfect height to step straight in or out, which is exactly the right idea’

‘There’s luxury everywhere around me, yet it’s still nicely understated. I can imagine someone who’s achieved something in life getting into the Rolls-Royce after a long day at the office and travelling home in comfort. It might be a two-door coupé but it’s still a true four seater with an air of elegance.’ He reserves his greatest compliments for the substantial driver’s chair. ‘I already feel like I could drive for three hours or longer and get out refreshed. The seats are soft but supportive, and that makes them even more comfortable than a leather armchair.’ Eight-way electrical adjustment ensures he quickly finds the perfect driving position.

1968 Rolls-Royce Shadow MPW

‘I’m sitting high up and upright but the Mulliner Park Ward doesn’t have me ridiculously far off the road,’ Robert adds. ‘I don’t feel like I’ll be lording it over other traffic like I might in a Bentley S3 or other older models. The Rolls-Royce is the perfect height to step straight in or out, which is exactly the right idea.’ Thoughts quickly turn to the steering wheel. ‘The size really strikes me – it’s so much bigger than anything we have today. I like the feel though. It’s slim and comfortable, so it doesn’t seem like the steering would run away with me.’ With his hands planted either side of the 17-inch rim, Robert is ready to drive.

‘All I can hear is a distant background throb overlaid with a sense of power’

He slots the ignition key into the centre of the dashboard and twists. The 6.2-litre V8 yawns into life. ‘I like the way the Mulliner Park Ward makes the driver reach forward to start the car, unlike later Shadows and their right-hand mounted key slot. The cabin rolls ever so slightly over to the right when the engine catches too, which is another lovely feeling.’ After a few seconds of lumpy hammering, the Rolls-Royce settles to an almost imperceptible idle. ‘All I can hear is a distant background throb overlaid with a sense of power. The MPW has the hush of a Rolls-Royce.’

1968 Rolls-Royce Shadow MPW

Pulling away onto pockmarked North Yorkshire roads, the Shadow continues to impress with its splendid isolation. ‘There’s not an awful lot to say about the ride quality because I’m not noticing anything about the road below me. It’s so smooth that the Rolls-Royce almost glides over the surface, to the extent I don’t even know where the bumps are.’ Turning the hydraulically-assisted wheel offers no further clues. ‘I can’t call the steering accurate. Not a lot happens at first and I’m really having to concentrate on applying the right amount of lock as I get used to the car.’

Memories of his father’s Rolls-Royce and several Shadow loan cars come flooding back as Robert glides to a halt. ‘I was probably the only young man turning up to parties in a Bentley or a Rolls-Royce,’ he laughs. ‘These cars were incomparable. Dad had a Humber Imperial, a Rover P5 and a Vanden Plas when I was growing up, so I was used to leather and wood, but his Shadow and Bentley boasted a clearly higher interior quality. The smell is part of it. The way the leather and the wood polish come together is unique to the two marques and very evident in this MPW, as is the distinct aroma of warm air coming through the heater system.’

As we walk the Silver Shadow’s 5.17 metre length, the smallest details continue to delight him. ‘The door handles are unique to the Mulliner Park Ward. I love how they manage to be purposeful – there’s a little sliding cover for the lock – without looking over the top,’ he comments. ‘When we look at the rear styling, the early Shadow shows more of that simple elegance. It’s unadorned apart from the bumper-mounted Rolls-Royce motif, which is enough for even non-car people to know what they’re following.’ He pauses for a moment to admire how the bumper, bootlid and rear light assemblies intersect across the simple tail.

Lifting the bootlid, we stare in at 92cm depth of ample luggage compartment. ‘I’m sizing it up to see if I could fit my surveying equipment and use one of these cars for work. There’s enough space for all of a couple’s luggage, so you could take it touring across the Continent without issue.’ His previous experience with Silver Shadows helps him locate some thoughtful hidden touches. ‘There’s a ring-pull failsafe release for the fuel filler cap and a floor hatch that lets you check the pressure in the spare tyre. The wheel itself is under the car. I’ve always liked how it can be removed without disturbing the boot contents.’ Above all, though, he appreciates the depth of the carpeting.

‘It’s better furnished than most houses would’ve been in the Sixties,’ he says as he settles back behind the wheel. ‘The wooden dashboard, the door cappings and even the inlays on the bottom of the dash are of the best quality, as are the beautiful sunken screws that hold them all in place. I love the details on the dash too. The metal switchgear moves with a click and there’s a discreet lamp just above the ignition slot. Pull the toggle instead of turning and it lights up, helping you guide the key into place when it’s dark.’

The longer he looks at the cabin, the more Robert finds to enjoy. ‘There’s nothing vulgar about the Silver Shadow. The gear selector and indicator stalk are slim but purposeful, which is so unlike American luxury cars of the same era, while the patterned overhead lights add a distinctive elegance. The individual ashtrays and cigar lighters on either side of the car have caught my eye too.’ Adjusting the electric quarterlights, he shares a final thought before we continue our drive. ‘Each MPW coupé would have been months in the making. I’m struck by the craftsmanship of the men and women who stitched the seats or polished the dash. I hope they were as passionate about creating this car as I am about driving it.

‘It’s a tight turn out of this layby and I’m really having to spin the wheel,’ he continues. ‘The turning circle is tight though, so the car feels very manoeuvrable for its size. I’m just watching the silver lady go round to judge the car’s dimensions.’ Keeping his eyes on the Spirit of Ecstasy, Robert positions the car with ever increasing confidence. ‘She’s a direction finder, which is what my father was told about the Flying B fitted to his Bentley S3. Driving the MPW becomes instinctive once you realise that.’ When we join the narrow country roads around Wintringham, he begins to test the car more thoroughly.

‘The steering is still vague – the rack and pinion system fitted to the Shadow II is much more precise – and the handling is similar to an S-series Bentley. Tighter, blind corners are a little unnerving, because the slight dead zone in the steering combines with pronounced body roll, but that’s becoming less of a problem as I get used to the car.’ Robert has few complaints about ultimate cornering ability. ‘A Rolls-Royce director once told me I’d lose my nerve before a Shadow loses its grip but sharp bends aren’t what these cars are about.

‘I wouldn’t buy an MPW to beat people off the traffic lights either,’ he adds. ‘Though the 6.2-litre engine runs well and I do like the feel of the slim accelerator pedal, there isn’t a huge deal of performance to be had. I’ve put my foot down on a couple of occasions and the pick up has been slower than I imagined.’ The hydraulically assisted brakes also defy expectations. ‘They’ll stop the car sharpish if I hit the pedal hard enough but there’s substantial pedal travel before they bite.’

Robert prefers to cruise and take in the car as a whole, ‘The essential comfort, quietness, luxury and elegance of a Rolls-Royce are all present in the MPW. My lasting childhood memory of the model is seeing Steve McQueen drive one in The Thomas Crown Affair. The proportions and styling were perfect then and they still are today. Driving one is a sheer delight. I could take the Shadow almost anywhere.’ The miles roll by at a steady pace, Robert drinking in the ambience as we meander back towards Malton.

A familiar shape appears in the rear-view mirror just before we reach our final destination. The Mulliner Park Ward now has a baby blue Corniche in its wake. ‘Now that is unusual,’ he remarks. ‘You don’t see a lot of classic Rolls-Royces, let alone a pair of the same body style driving together. That’s one of the early chrome-bumper Corniches too, which only adds to the excitement.’ He takes a closer look at the younger model as it draws alongside.

‘It’s difficult to choose between the two. The Corniche boasts several mechanical upgrades but the older car has the more attractive dashboard and interior. I love the elegance of the MPW rear styling too – the big rectangular badge on the back of the newer car is too obvious for my tastes.’ Robert finally settles on the Corniche. ‘I’d look for a later example with my own money, largely because of the upgraded 6750cc engine Rolls-Royce fitted from 1970 and its extra power. These cars are meant to be driven, after all!

‘An MPW or a Corniche cost the equivalent of £260,000 when they were new and there’s no point leaving that kind of value in the garage. My father used his Silver Shadow II every day and I’d do the same with one of the coupés if I could. Today has proven that a Sixties Rolls-Royce can still be a lovely, usable machine that prioritises comfort and relaxation, which is what I’ve always liked in a car. The only restraint would be where I could leave it.’

Robert is in a reflective mood when we say our goodbyes. ‘I think part of growing up is understanding what your parents worked to achieve and striving for similar things. My father’s Bentley S3 and Shadow II were cars I loved driving, not because I wanted to show off but because I thoroughly appreciated them. I feel the same way about the MPW. I’ve no interest in being ostentatious but I appreciate the engineering and the comfort. It puts a smile on my face and I’m sure my father would have felt the same.’ Decades pass and generations change but the appeal of the Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow Mulliner Park Ward endures.

1968 Rolls-Royce Shadow MPW

  • Engine 6230cc V8, ohv, twin SU HD8 carburettors
  • Power and torque 200bhp (est.); 250lb ft (est.)
  • Transmission Four-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
  • Steering Recirculating ball, power-assisted
  • Suspension
  • Front: independent with double wishbones, coil springs, hydraulic dampers and hydraulic height control rams
  • Rear: independent with trailing arms, coil springs, hydraulic self-levelling dampers and hydraulic height control rams
  • Brakes Girling discs all round with hydraulic power assistance
  • Weight 2100kg (4640lb)
  • Performance 0-60mph: 11sec (est.)
  • Top speed: 120mph (est.)
  • Fuel consumption 12mpg
  • Cost new £7895
  • Classic Cars Price Guide £25,000-£70,000

1968 Rolls-Royce Shadow MPW

Robert loves the elegance of Coke bottle MPW shape. Hydraulic reservoir holds fluid for brakes and height control. 6230cc V8 familiar from the Bentley S3 owned by Robert’s father. Robert can still find hidden functions in Shadow’s boot Eight-way electrically adjustable seats help him get comfortable. Gear selector controls GM400 three-speed auto.

Article type:
Chris Randall Chris Randall 2 years ago #

A life well-lived

Your ‘Man and Machine’ article about Arwel Richards and his Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow in struck a chord. In May 2021 I sold my Daimler Double Six Coupé after 30 years’ ownership and promptly found a very nice 1970 Bentley T1 to replace it. Like Arwel, I contacted the Rolls-Royce Enthusiasts’ Club and found that the car had been ordered by Sir Nicolas Cayzer (later Lord Cayzer), a shipping magnate, and the T1 cost him the princely sum of £8,108.90. This included £1.25 for a GB badge, £6.00 for a badge bar and £3.55 for two yards of Ambla headliner, to be used for the later fitting of the sun roof. The average UK house price in 1970 was £4000! Arwel describes his Shadow’s paint as ‘shabby’. I think of mine as showing 52 years of a life lived well – and, like Arwel, I enjoy the car far too much to be precious.

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