Lead feature Rolls-Royce Silver Spur
If the final incarnation of any design is seen as its pinnacle, Nigel Sandell’s late-model Silver Spur – which features a range of unique upgrades – is arguably the ultimate Rolls-Royce SZ, as Paul Guinness explains.
WORDS: PAUL GUINNESS
PHOTOGRAPHY: GREGORY OWAIN
ULTIMATE EDITIONSOUPED-UP SILVER SPUR
When a Rolls-Royce & Bentley expert rebuilds a car to his ideal specification, you’re guaranteed to end up with an intriguing machine
When it comes to car design and the individual appeal of any model, enthusiasts often find themselves falling into one of two camps: those who prefer the original version in its pure, unadulterated form and those who appreciate the nearcountless improvements carried out during its career. Whether the car in question is mass-produced or handbuilt, the final version will be different from the original in many key areas; and when a range has enjoyed such a lengthy production run as Crewe’s SZ saloons, the multiple specification tweaks are all the more complex.
For Rolls-Royce, this process was epitomised via the Silver Shadow II of 1977, a model significantly upgraded from the original Silver Shadow that had debuted twelve years earlier. Admittedly, its aesthetic changes weren’t exactly ground-breaking, although the adoption of a front spoiler as well as alloy and rubber bumpers did cause consternation among traditionalists. But under the skin, the Silver Shadow II’s new rack and pinion steering and crucial suspension upgrades revolutionised the driving experience. And as anyone who’s experienced both an early Silver Shadow and one of the final versions from the late ’70s will confirm, the differences are immediately noticeable.
Indeed, so significant were the changes, a very late Silver Shadow II seems to have more in common with an early Silver Spirit – its successor of 1980 – in terms of spec and driving style than with the original Silver Shadow. And few owners are more aware of this than Nigel Sandell, whose prizewinning late-model Silver Shadow II has previously been featured in Rolls- Royce & Bentley Driver. This time, however, it’s the turn of his Silver Spur, another very late example from a long-running and regularly updated range.
The launch of the original Silver Spirit and Bentley Mulsanne in 1980 had marked a major change of style for Rolls-Royce Motors, ushering in a new square-lined, sharp-edged look that was a world away from the subtle curves of the Silver Shadow family.
The new direction was, of course, bang on trend for the time, and proved successful in bringing Rolls- Royce up to date without alienating even the company’s most traditional buyers. But it was also an aesthetic that would inevitably date – and given how long Rolls-Royce was likely to keep the Silver Spirit in production (its predecessor having lasted an impressive 15 years), this inevitably meant upgrades would be needed. Longest-lived of all the SZ saloons was the long-wheelbase version of the Silver Spirit, which debuted alongside its standard-length sibling and remained available to order for an unprecedented 20 years. Badged as the Silver Spur, the newcomer boasted a 124-inch wheelbase – an inch longer than its Silver Wraith II predecessor, and four inches up on the Silver Spirit’s wheelbase.
This time, instead of the bodyshells being modified to long-wheelbase after production, a different 8body in white Silver Spur shell was built by Pressed Steel. The extension was created in front of the rear seat and extended floor panels, with a double-skinned transmission tunnel also fitted to serve as a heater duct to the rear. Lengthened rear doors were needed, as was (obviously) a longer roof skin, created on early Silver Spurs by welding two standard panels together. Rolls-Royce claimed that the work was so neat it was hard to find the join, although the majority of early Silver Spurs came with an Everflex roof. Perhaps surprisingly in view of the extra length, the Silver Spur weighed in at just 60kg over the weight of the Silver Spirit.
Naturally, the Silver Spur went on to benefit from the same subtle updates and enhancements as the Silver Spirit, with the Series II models arriving in 1989. But by the time the fourth-generation line-up was being announced in 1995 (known simply as the New Silver Spirit and New Silver Spur), the changes were rather more obvious. In came the SZ family’s first sheet metal changes to allow fitment of a shallower version of the famous Rolls-Royce radiator grille and new-design bumpers.
Nigel Sandell’s example rolled out of Crewe two years later, by which time the Silver Spirit had been discontinued and the Silver Spur came as standard with a light pressure turbo (LPT) setup, boosting output to around 300bhp and providing a superbly smooth and rather useful performance boost. These days, of course, Nigel is a well-known figure in Rolls-Royce and Bentley circles thanks to the success of his N. Sandell company, based in West London since 1999. For the last three decades he has also been on the committee of the RREC’s Middlesex section. This is a man for whom Rolls-Royce and Bentley are a way of life, having experienced vast numbers of them – classic and modern – throughout his career. But the way in which he came to own the magnificent Silver Spur featured here was unusual.
Back in 2005, I had a phone call from a company called Unique Vacations, based in Chelsea, who asked if we could provide a quote for work on a 1996 Silver Spirit and a 1997 Silver Spur, recalls Nigel.
Both cars had recently arrived in the UK, having been exported to Jamaica in 1999 and used by the Sandals Resort there ever since. The problem was, the seven weeks that the two cars had spent at sea, heading for Southampton, were catastrophic. Neither Rolls-Royce was properly secured, and so the cars ended up bashing into each other and suffering lots of damage as a result.
STRIKING A DEAL
Nigel and his restoration team assessed the Rolls-Royce duo, with the quote for bringing them back to their former glory coming in at £28,000 each. The owner of the cars decided not to go ahead with the work, instead inviting Nigel to make a bid for them himself. In the end, he paid £5500 each for the damaged Silver Spirit and Spur, becoming the unexpected custodian of a matching pair finished in their original – but now rather battle-scarred – Dark Sapphire.
We ended up restoring the Silver Spirit first, explains Nigel.
With both cars having been in Jamaica for most of their lives, there were no corrosion issues – but obviously the amount of work involved was still extensive. In the end, the completed Silver Spirit was sold for £25,000 and work then began on the Silver Spur.
Nigel has always been a fan of final-edition cars, and decided that a late-model Silver Spur would make an ideal companion to his 1979 Silver Shadow II – a fully restored example in its original hue of Athenian Blue: Buying a late model of any car is always my preference, as all the original faults have been ironed out and the specification improved over the years. It’s as true with something like a Jaguar XJ40 as it is with a Rolls-Royce. So, being able to take on a dark blue end-of-the-line SZ to complement my Silver Shadow II seemed like too good an opportunity to miss.
Restoring the bodywork of the Silver Spur was labour-intensive but satisfying, with the original rust-free panels being coaxed back to perfection prior to the car being treated to a high-quality respray that’s as good as original. Certain items of trim proved quite challenging, meanwhile, with the damaged radiator grille being painstakingly restored by a specialist – a route deemed preferable to spending £4000 on a new replacement grille. As you’d expect of a Rolls-Royce That’s been used in sunny climes as resort transport rather than enjoying the attention of a cossetting private owner, however, there were also mechanical issues to deal with: the head gaskets were on their way out, and one of the pistons had dropped, says Nigel. The major issues were sorted, however, and what Nigel calls Phase One of the project was completed, with the Silver Spur ready to hit the road and provide its new custodian and his family with many enjoyable trips.
By 2011, with numerous adventures successfully completed in the Silver Spur, Nigel made the decision to take it off the road. Head gasket issues were occurring again, and it was obvious that the car needed further attention. Inevitably though, when you’re an independent Rolls- Royce and Bentley specialist focused on keeping your customers happy, your own cars often end up near the bottom of your ‘to do’ list.
We ended up mothballing the Silver Spur until 2017, keeping it in storage while we gathered the parts we were going to need, says Nigel. Then in 2014, I heard about a job lot of engines that Jack Barclay had acquired from Crewe, and so I managed to acquire a brand new factory-fresh LPT version for £3200. I wasn’t going to miss out on such a great opportunity, even if I didn’t have time to do the work just yet.
When Nigel and his team managed to make a start, he came up with a plan of action. He could, of course, have simply fitted the new engine and kept his car standard in every other way, but he wanted more. Here was an opportunity to create a one-off Silver Spur with the kind of performance that Nigel truly craved, and so he fitted an ECU from a 2000-model Bentley Azure, along with a transmission control unit capable of ‘talking’ with that new ECU.
He also installed a liquid charge cooler, fan and pump (standard on a Bentley Turbo but not on LPT cars), as well as a new downstream O2 sensor. The end result saw Nigel’s uprated factory engine producing a mighty 420bhp. While involved in Phase Two of his project, Nigel wanted to give his Flying Spur long-term reliability, and so embarked on a thorough mechanical refresh. A replacement four-speed gearbox was fitted, the brakes were renewed, and the active-ride suspension was overhauled and new dampers and gas springs installed. Understandably though, progress was slow: I’m not running a hobby shop, smiles Nigel, so this was very much a part-time project. It took five months just to get the new engine fitted and everything up and running, but that was fine.
I just wanted the car to be right. Numerous changes to the Silver Spur’s interior were also decided upon, with Nigel locating a pair of cocktail cabinets from Flying Spares as well as installing a pair of period in-car telephones and a cleverly upgraded sound system with Bluetooth connectivity.
‘I like cars with the maximum possible specifications, says Nigel, so it made sense just to tweak the Silver Spur’s spec to my personal preference.
BACK ON THE ROAD
Nigel’s rejuvenated Silver Spur was finally ready to return to the road by 2018, since when it’s been used extensively by him and his family: I’m not afraid to drive either of my cars, so we’ll think nothing of taking the Silver Spur on long trips. It’s been to Reims, and it’s travelled all around the UK – it’s not just a showpiece.
Nevertheless, when Nigel’s Silver Spur made its post-work debut at the RREC’s 2018 Annual Rally, it scored an impressive 87 points – but he’s hoping for even better this year once a programme of fine detailing is complete, and would obviously be delighted to win the Silver Spirit/Spur class. Experiencing Nigel’s Silver Spur today is, of course, a joy. Rolls-Royces of the 1990s don’t come much more regal than this, the extended wheelbase and handsome Dark Sapphire paintwork providing the perfect premium combination. But it’s when you get to experience the car’s immense power and performance that it truly impresses, as Nigel admits: ‘It catches a lot of people by surprise, as they don’t expect that kind of power from a classic Rolls-Royce. The Silver Spur has a lower-ratio back axle than a Turbo R – and so although the Bentley has the higher top speed, my car is mind-bendingly fast off the line. It’s very, very quick indeed.’
A short time spent being chauffeured around by Nigel in his lovingly crafted Silver Spur confirms his observations. It’s a car that uniquely combines astonishing levels of standing-start and mid-range acceleration with the kind of refinement, peerless comfort and high-end luxury you’d expect. And in that respect, it might just be the ultimate variation on the Rolls-Royce SZ theme.
We’re grateful to Nigel Sandell for making his glorious Silver Spur available to us for this feature. To find out more about the services he can offer today’s Rolls-Royce and Bentley owners, go to nsandell. com or call +44 (0)208 758 2322.
“The Silver Spur has a lower-ratio back axle than a Turbo R – and so although the Bentley has the higher top speed, my car is mind-bendingly fast off the line”
Sub-woofer and Rolls-Royce umbrellas make unlikely companions in the boot. Shallower grille used on 'New Silver Spur' from 1995 onwards is noticeable here. The view most road users see as the Silver Spur storms past.
Nigel's love for the highest spec: phone, rear seat heaters, cocktail kit, picnic tables, R-R cushions!
“I like cars with the maximum possible specifications,” says Nigel, “so it made sense just to tweak the Silver Spur’s spec to my personal preference”
Glossy wheel centres and white-band tyres make wheels appear larger As you'd expect, Nigel's engine modifications look entirely 'factory'. Right, the man himself.
Dark Sapphire can easily be mistaken for black at first glance Discreet timber cover folds down to hide radio fascia.
Piped hide, embroidered headrests, immaculate veneers: nothing but the best!
“I heard about a job lot of engines that Jack Barclay had acquired from Crewe, and so I managed to acquire a brand new factory-fresh LPT version”
Although the Silver Spirit and long-wheelbase Silver Spur arrived at a time of recession, their sales improved throughout the 1980s, ensuring Rolls-Royce Motors had a prestige hit on its hands. Much of the development in the early part of the ’80s was focused on Bentley, culminating in the Mulsanne Turbo and subsequent Turbo R. But by 1989 the Silver Spirit and Silver Spur came in for an upgrade via the Series II.
This ushered in an adaptive damping system known as Automatic Ride Control, which employed electronically controlled dampers front and rear, plus vertical and horizontal accelerometers, linked to a control module that could vary the settings between soft, normal and hard within fractions of a second in response to steering, acceleration and road surface.
A further revision came in 1992 when the Silver Spirit/Spur received a new four-speed automatic gearbox, while the Series III cars of August ’93 saw the classic V8 featuring redesigned cylinder heads with enlarged inlet ports and exhaust valves, while a new induction system improved low-speed torque. Electronic transmission control smoothed out the drivetrain, while revised anti-roll bars and reduced power assistance to the steering sharpened up the ride and handling. Inside, the car gained a revised dashboard with dual front airbags. The Flying Spur was announced in 1994, featuring the turbocharged engine from the Bentley models. And the range was again overhauled the following year with further revised cylinder heads, Zytek fuel-injection and a charge-cooler for the turbocharged cars. This latest Silver Spirit and Spur (never called Series IV, since ‘IV’ denotes death in some Far Eastern cultures) also gained a new wheel design and a shallower radiator grille – complete with smaller Spirit of Ecstasy – to allow for a modernising raised bumper height.
Despite the SZ family being in the autumn of its career by then, electronic traction control was added for 1997. That same year saw the Silver Spirit dropped from the range, while the Silver Spur gained a light-pressure turbo (non-intercooled) to push power to 300bhp. Body-coloured bumper centres and blue lettering for the model name were added in 1998, with the Silver Spur remaining available to order for another two years.‘