At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock.’ I didn’t say that. Another journalist did; in fact, he was the technical editor of the The Motor magazine, and made this comment about the Silver Cloud when he tested it. This little note was picked up by a certain gentleman called David Ogilvy, who made it the headline for an ad for the Silver Cloud. The ad ran in only two magazines and two newspapers, yet is considered a classic, not just in automotive advertising, but in the history of advertising itself. This all-time great ad not just contributed to the making of the advertising legend called David Ogilvy, but also sold a car that was, to put it mildly, pretty expensive and splendidly anachronistic.
It was a Rolls, which means it had better be expensive. What else do you expect from a car that took three months to make and was fettled with the finest in wool, leather and wood veneer, boasted 12 coats of paint and the thickest chrome plating of any car in the world, was secured by nothing less than Yale locks, featured walnut picnic tables and, if you wanted, could be fitted with an espresso machine, a dictaphone, a telephone, a bed and even plumbing for hot and cold water! It was anachronistic because it actually looked out of place in a changing world – the imperial hauteur of the Silver Cloud, according to me, came about because Rolls-Royce failed to recognise the fact that it was hardly high noon over the British Empire anymore; the sun had well and truly set on it.
The Silver Cloud may have looked overtly old-fashioned in the Swinging Sixties – at a time when social customs, orders and morals were rapidly changing – almost like a dowager clinging to her past glory, wealth and appearance, but nevertheless carrying herself with an impressive dignity that can never be bought or lost. You see, the Silver Cloud was built on a heavy chassis and used manufacturing practices that were commonplace before the Second World War, at a time when monocoque construction in cars was proving to be infinitely better. The bonnet was hinged in the centre and opened sideways, just the way it was 20 years ago. Disc brake technology was available, but Rolls stuck to drum brakes because they were deemed to be quieter!
Defenders of the Rolls-Royce faith maysay that tradition overrules everything else, but do check out this fact. When Rolls-Royce finally replaced the Silver Cloud with the contemporary looking Silver Shadow, which used monocoque construction and was fitted with all the technology available at that time, including disc brakes and self-levelling coil spring independent suspension, it turned out to be the biggest selling Roller of all time. Rolls-Royce manufactured 34,611 Silver Shadows – substantially more than all the cars they produced since their first car, the 10 HP in 1904!
Coming back to the Cloud, it did make a break with tradition actually. It was one of the very first Rolls-Royces designed to be owner-driven, rather than being piloted by chauffeurs. Maybe that explains the just about adequate legroom at the rear. Which is just as well, because in spite of what I have said about it in the earlier paragraphs, driving this car is sheer, unadulterated pleasure. You sit virtually upright and your back and bottom is resting on fine, well-worn leather. The large spindly three-spoke steering is upright as well, the veneered dash is filled with a gaggle of Smiths gauges and at the extreme right is a speedo marked up to 120 mph. And beyond that is a column mounted shifter marked (surprise, surprise) 2, 3, 4 and N. Yes, it’s a four-speed automatic that is actually a General Motors Hydramatic gearbox which Rolls-Royce manufactured under licence. This is in fact one of the reasons why the Silver Cloud was touted as an owner-driven car. As Ogilvy’s ad says, ‘It is very easy to drive and to park. No chauffeur required.’ Absolutely.