Thoughts and advice on the care and feeding of fine automobiles from Machine Aficiionado and bestselling author John Elder Robison, owner of JE Robison Service in Springfield, Massachusetts

We are independent restoration, repair, sales and service for Audi, BMW, Bentley, Jaguar, Land Rover, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and Rolls-Royce automobiles.

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The last of the "original" Rolls Royce convertibles


Have you been thinking about a final series Corniche?  Me. too.  I always liked the style and performance of these vehicles, rare and exotic as they were.  The 2000-2002 convertible was the last design of the old Crewe management and ownership, and as such may be appreciated by future traditionalists and collectors.  Just 375 of these cars were built for the world; they are among the rarest modern RR-B products.

They are also the last Crewe convertible design, which in my opinion bodes well for their future value.   Pristine examples of the Silver Cloud drophead were selling at ten times their original cost forty years after production ended, in 2005.  If these cars follow a similar trajectory they will become very valuable indeed.  The opportunity is particularly great for people who acquire nice final series cars today, because they currently sell for just one-third their original selling price.

The final series Corniche mixed traditional Rolls Royce engineering eccentricities (like the pump/accumulator/mineral oil based brakes) with refinements adapted from other high-end cars (like the Mercedes convertible top mechanism.)  The Corniche was built on the same platform as the Bentley Azure but was considerably less common. 

The blending of technologies made these cars somewhat unusual.  Old standards like the round metal air conditioning vents sat beside modern Alpine stereo.  Seats and convertible top mechanisms had the old familiar Connolly leather facing but their antecedents were immediately recognizable to any German car enthusiast.

Strange as that combination seemed, it worked better than anything Rolls had done in recent years.  No one could argue that BMW influence led to improved operation and reliability.  These were some of the best driving cars to ever emerge from the Crewe factory. 

The venerable Rolls V8 was managed with state of the art electronics.  Suspension was handled by an undated version of the system that debuted on the Bentley Turbo R.  Braking was managed by a modern antilock system and there was even a reasonably good stereo. 

So why are people scared of them today?  They are orphans, some say.  You can’t get parts and they are impossible to fix.  I have been servicing Rolls Royce for 25 years and I can assure you that those concerns are vastly overstated. At least for today.

It’s true that body parts are no longer available, and you will have a problem if you wreck one of these cars.  However, the same is true of any modern Rolls except the Spirit/Spur which can be found in breaker’s yards.  Interior trim was always made to order, and we have it made today.  Convertible tops are still sewn anew from the original patterns and all the common service spares are easy to get.  Brake pads, spark plugs, oil filters and such are shared with other Rolls Royce cars, and there are many sources of supply.

In short, there is no problem with ordinary maintenance parts, or common replacement trim.  Specialty parts are a problem but it’s rare to find something that cannot be repaired or copied, especially given the value of these cars and the resultant sensible budget for repair.

The electronics are becoming a problem but I suspect we will devise ways to adapt other control units as the systems in these cars fail.   The electronic suspension is serviceable today, and when parts vanish, we will look to convert the cars to straight mechanical suspension as found on the original Turbo R.  I expect those parts will be available for many years.

Tires are a problem, as Avon has ceased regular retail production.  They are making small lots for Rolls, who sells them for $650 each as of this writing.  There is no availability problem as long as you’re willing to pay the price.

I was very happy to see that the current “legacy” Bentley laptop diagnostic system takes care of all the electronics on these cars, as well as every other RR/B product back into the 1980s.  These cars do require special tools for springs, hubs, and various body systems.  Those tools were distributed to those of us who supported these cars when new, and they are long out of production today.  I have some concern that the number of specialist service shops keeps dropping, but perhaps that isn't so important as shippings costs drop too.  Even now, we routinely see Rolls Royce cars shipped to us from 500 miles away and more.

So what should a buyer look for?

  • ·      Convertible tops are aging, and you should expect replacement to run $10k with liner and pad.  The whole thing is stitched together and it’s serviced as a unit.  There is no inexpensive path to that repair.
  • ·      The brakes have the same service needs as all 1990s cars – annual bleeding and front and rear accumulator changes every five or so years.
  • ·      Suspension bushings are prone to beating out on all but the smoothest roads.
  • ·      The GM transmissions are rugged, as are the engines.  Oil leaks remain a problem.
  • ·      Many of these cars were treated rather roughly and the interiors suffered as a result.  Repair costs can be high.
  • ·      The electronics can be a problem as that is one area where parts availability is truly spotty.

I strongly suggest have any Rolls Royce motorcar inspected by a competent specialist BEFORE laying down your money. Know what you are getting into.  If a $5-10,000 repair bill will disturb you, buy a different vehicle.  For what these cars are, they are a joy to drive.  Just remember, they cost $350k when new, and 2-4% of original cost is a good rule of thumb when figuring annual upkeep on most automobiles.  4% of a Toyota Camry or even a Mercedes E350 is fairly trivial.  4% of this car is not.

If you own one of these cars now, you know what great drivers they are.  If you are starting the search, I wish you luck with the hunt, and feel free to call if you’re in our area and need an inspection or repair.

1 comment:

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