1994 Rolls-Royce Silver Spur

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$22,995
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By 

Los Angeles Times

There is a clear and un-Christmasy downside to driving a Rolls-Royce around a recessed Southern California.

In Santa Barbara, for example, a young man with the clean cut of UCSB crossed in front of the car. In the sad shaking of his head was the damnation of personal excess, most of Wall Street and all members of Britain's Tory government.

An Oxnard police officer rapped a little too hard on the driver's window. She expanded the impertinence with brusk words about a minor incident that would have been a non-issue had we been crammed into a Chevy Caprice. Then she tailgated the Rolls to the city limits--at 34.5 m.p.h.

And unless you remove the workbench, a 1994 Rolls-Royce Silver Spur III will not fit in the average two-car garage.

Therein the thing.

Ordinary people with average incomes are unlikely to worry about the fit of a Rolls-Royce alongside their mountain bikes and lava lamps.

Because this car is a gold standard, a freshly minted museum piece, a vehicle so august, so frightfully expensive and so thoroughly intimidating, it is probable that only 4% of America's population will ever ride in a Rolls-Royce. Usually when being married or buried.

General Motors would be flattered to have a mechanical object described as the Cadillac of backhoes. Advertise a birth control device as the Rolls-Royce of condoms, and your next call will be from a British solicitor.

For there is a company counsel who wanders the world citing several dozen copyrights and protecting a reputation of an automobile that exceeds the extravagance of De Beers, the aristocracy of French poetry and the visibility of Mother Teresa.

No wonder that after 90 years of tugged forelocks, and in an era when many cars inspire excitement and envy, only a Rolls-Royce will stir irritation and jealousy building an urge to strangle the driver.

Unfortunately, such recitations of the bloody decadence of it all--also knowing that the price of a Rolls-Royce would buy a Monet about the same size as the window sticker--there is a tendency to overlook the peerless craftsmanship and mystical mechanical precision of these motor cars.

Simply put, in terms of producing the finest there has been--despite world wars, depressions, oscillating fashion, and throughout the history of the horseless carriage--Rolls-Royce has Duesenberg and Bugatti beaten into grease blobs.

And the 1994 Silver Spur III is smoother, more grandiose and more powerful than ever. Its engine is the veteran 6.75-liter V-8, but with a new management system and better breathing for a 20% increase in initial acceleration and mid-range power.

It feels like 300 horsepower. That is a guess because Rolls-Royce--clinging to some Victorian silliness that has evolved into a standing joke nobody really gets--has never disclosed its exact ratings. But 300 horsepower is what it would take to effortlessly move almost three tons of walnut, leather and steel from rest to 60 m.p.h. in 8.9 seconds.

*

Other cars, of course, do as well.

But here's what makes a car a Rolls-Royce.

In this age of computer robotics, a Rolls engine is still put together by one man from hand-milled components. Even valve tappets are assembled while immersed in kerosene to prevent dust contamination. Then the engine is balanced by hand and bench-run for two hours until this great lump of aluminium, steel and high tolerances forms a friendship with its maker.

The Silver Spur--that nomenclature no concession to Texas buyers, just a reference to a body extension that makes the car a few inches longer than its sister Silver Spirit--now has two air bags, plus the standard acreage of Connolly leather and yards of walnut veneer.

So does a Cadillac.

But here's where Rolls-Royce renders everyone mundane.

Its air bags, whether mounted in dashboard or the steering wheel hub, do not announce their existence by bulges or lettering. Sniffs a Rolls-Royce spokesman:"If needed, the air bags are there. If not needed, there's not much point in advertising the presence."

Rolls-Royce leather is selected from free-range herds and hides unscarred by barbed wire or bovine boils. A craftsman known as a "coach trimmer" then cuts, stuffs, stitches and fits the upholstery by hand.

Carpeting is lamb's wool. Gouge a burr walnut doorsill, with its crossbanding and boxwood inlays, and Rolls-Royce will replace it with veneers of matching grain held in storage from the original stand of trees. Cars are spray-painted manually, given several dozen coats, and each layer is buffed and caressed by hand.

Rolls-Royce sold only custom-built cars until 1947. So it will refit the interior of your automobile to match boat or office. Or inlay the family coat of arms into the veneers.

Even the rear seats have power adjustments with angles ranging from bolt upright to Anglo-Barcalounger.

As Henry Royce told his serfs in 1905 while birthing those first cars: "Small things make perfection. But perfection is no small thing."

*

Optional rear-seat picnic tables in earlier cars may have seemed perfection enough. The small thing for this year's Silver Spur is offering them as standard equipment. Along with a cellular phone with Camilla Parker-Bowles' answering machine on the speed dialer.

By the way, those picnic tables are illuminated for typically darker outings in the British countryside. And there are footrests for rear seat riders.

Except for flat, single lens headlights in the European mode, there is little to change the Silver Spur's shape and silhouette. This remains a car that looms on any horizon and should not be driven in certain regions of Africa upwind of rhino poachers.

Also new for '94 is a smoother, electronically controlled automatic transmission; air conditioning that won't nibble at the ozone layer, and free regular maintenance for three years--which, the bilious might note, have been available for years on lesser vehicles of many nations.

And when much is said and done, Henry's 1905 thoughts on perfection tend to overlook several significant actualities of 1994.

Although smooth, imperial and quiet as Nelson's Tomb, this still is a car that stretches 17.5 feet and is longer than most singles' first apartments. The back seat is 6 feet across and wide enough for three passengers, but it's contoured comfortably only for two. Driving on crowded freeways is rather like leading a St. Bernard through your Waterford collection.

The ignition switch is on the left side of the steering wheel. The alarm system chimes instead of chirps. Own a Rolls-Royce and you will never, ever have a beater to hand down to a reckless infant.

*

So is this a car worth $189,000? It really depends on one's taste for quintessentials and h ow long it took to acquire the money. But if your breakfast figs are flown fresh from Tunisia and you can afford guitar lessons from Eric Clapton, then $189,000 isn't much for an object that in truth starts life as a classic.

And Rolls-Royce is quite happy plying that understanding, puttering along and making just 1,300 vehicles a year to service those who do know their Chateau Latour from Totts.

But for those of us whose motoring means a wardrobe of one and by Nissan, well, better to save the bucks. We can always ease our frustrations by strangling the next Rolls-Royce owner we meet.

1994 Rolls-Royce Silver Spur III

The Good An unattainable world standard. Enormous pace for the weight and grace. No mechanical detail left unrefined, no comfort left unconsidered because family craftsmanship lives.

The Bad Excess of weight, girth and length. Obscene fuel consumption.

The Ugly Leaving thi Earth without traveling in a Rolls-Royce.

Cost Base, and as tested, $189,000. (Includes cellular phone, CD player and 110-amp sound system, lamb's wool carpeting, Connolly leather, burr walnut with crossbanding and boxwood inlay . . . in fact, anything ever mounted upon or bolted to any other production car in the world.)

Engine 6.75 liters, V-8 developing estimated 300 horsepower.

Type Rear-drive, 4/5 passenger, luxury sedan.

Performance 0-60 m.p.h., as tested, 8.9 seconds. Top speed, track tested, 140m.p.h. Fuel consumption, EPA city and highway, 10 and 15 m.p.g.

Curb Weight 5,440 pounds.


    Expert Reviews 1 of 2

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