1991 Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit II
Buying your first Rolls-Royce can be a daunting experience, but in Steve Bassett’s case it’s proved to be a rewarding one – aided by the sheer value for money of this impressively smart Silver Spirit II. Words: Paul Guinness. Photography: Gregory Owain.
Perfect Choice 1991 Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit II
SILVER SPIRIT II WHY IT’S THE PERFECT CHOICE FOR TODAY’S FIRST TIME ROLLS-ROYCE BUYER
Buying your first Rolls-Royce can be a daunting experience, but in Steve Bassett’s case it’s proved to be a very rewarding one
For today’s first-time buyer of a classic Rolls-Royce or Bentley, there’s certainly no shortage of choice. From pre-war models to modern classics, there’s an abundance of options to suit most budgets. It is, however, when we start talking about finances that the restrictions start to kick in, as those potential buyers with the least amount to spend will inevitably have fewer choices. That, I’m afraid, is the reality of a classic market that has seen so much upward movement in recent years, as demand increases and specific models become more sought after.
This is exactly what’s happened to the SY-generation cars, typified by the Silver Shadow and its Bentley T-series sibling. There was a time when perfectly decent examples could be picked up for a song; but as the worst cars have gradually disappeared and those that are left have become appreciated by enthusiasts rather than buyers simply out to impress, values have increased accordingly. A genuinely tidy and original Silver Shadow is no longer the ‘cheap’ option it once was.
Inevitably, of course, as a period classic starts to increase in value, so the attention of bargain hunters turns to its successor – in this case the SZ series of models, introduced in 1980 as the Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit and Bentley Mulsanne, a range that went on to enjoy a hugely successful career of more than seventeen years. Although the best examples of an SZ – particularly late-model cars and the finest turbocharged Bentley versions – are already seeing increases in asking prices, there’s no doubt that this line-up offers some of today’s finest Crewe-built value for money. And out of the extensive range on offer, it’s the Silver Spirit that perhaps offers the best value of all.
This was one of the reasons why Steve Bassett, who lives in rural south-east Essex, purchased the impressive example you see here – a Silver Spirit II of 1991 vintage. “I’d always wanted to own a Rolls-Royce,” explains Steve, as he shows us around his car on the day of our photo shoot.
“It really was a lifelong dream. And finally, in 2020, I found myself in a position to do something about it.” It's a familiar story, of course, although in this instance it was slightly complicated by the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and the various restrictions introduced by the UK government in March of that year. “I saw the car advertised in April 2020,” says Steve. “It sounded very promising and seemed to be exactly what I wanted. However, travel restrictions at the time meant I couldn’t view it myself, although I could commission an independent assessor to take a look at the car for me and prepare a report.”
The result of the assessment was positive, with only very minor faults reported – including a few cosmetic issues (such as perished seals around the doors), a battery that was past its best and so on. The Rolls-Royce was deemed to be mechanically sound and with excellent bodywork, giving Steve the confidence to agree a deal without even seeing it for himself: “Everything stacked up for me. It was a 79,000-mile example that appeared to have been very well maintained and looked after. It wasn’t such a low mileage that it had suffered from years of inactivity, bit it wasn’t high enough for major components to be worn out. The fact that the independent expert issued a glowing report gave me the confidence to agree a deal.”
With the car being almost 300 miles away in Nantwich, Cheshire, there was no way Steve could justify its collection until official restrictions had eased, which is why he didn’t get to drive his Rolls-Royce home until July 2020. Given the price he was paying, however, he was quite willing to wait: “It was originally advertised at £11,000, but the dealer agreed to sell it for £10,000. It seemed a very fair price considering the condition of the car, plus the fact that it had been treated to a full respray and detailing of the engine bay some months earlier.” The story of such work is interesting, as the dealer selling the Silver Spirit II had owned it for around three years, using it primarily as a promotional vehicle, although it also enjoyed a role in a major TV series. Steve explains more: “This was one of the cars that appeared in the Channel 4 series, It’s a Sin, which was shown in 2021. It was used in an episode starring Stephen Fry, who played the fictional MP Arthur Garrison. The production company wanted the car to be as smart as possible, and so it had a bare-metal respray at a cost of £9000. I’ve also got an invoice for the engine bay detailing, which came to £5500.”
Against a backdrop of such expenditure, Steve’s purchase price of £10,000 for the car seems exceptionally good value for money, confirming the Silver Spirit’s role as the ideal choice for any Rolls- Royce buyer working with a relatively restricted budget. And it’s the second-generation model that nowadays offers what’s probably the perfect compromise between affordability and a rewarding ownership experience.
The Silver Spirit of 1980 marked an aesthetic departure from its Silver Shadow predecessor, boasting a wider-looking stance and sharper, more angular lines. Under the skin, however, it was a case of evolution rather than revolution, with the SZ generation of cars inheriting essentially the same platform and running gear as the last of the SY models. The final Silver Shadow II arguably had more in common with its Silver Spirit successor than with the original Silver Shadow of fifteen years earlier, thanks to numerous welcome updates introduced in the late 1970s.
The Silver Spirit and its Bentley derivatives went on to be steadily revised throughout the ’80s, with one of the biggest updates being announced at the Frankfurt Motor Show of October 1989. So extensive were the changes, Rolls-Royce Motors decided upon a new model designation of Silver Spirit II, with these facelifted cars featuring a revised dashboard and trim details, as well as an uprated audio system, one- touch electric driver’s window and an automatic parking brake linked to the ‘Park’ position on the gear selector.
Inevitably, however, the biggest revisions were mechanical, with the fitment of Bosch’s Motronic engine management system lifting power slightly (although still officially described as ‘adequate’, it was estimated to be around 226bhp), taking the Silver Spirit II’s top speed to 126mph. The suspension, meanwhile, gained an adaptive damping system marketed as Automatic Ride Control; this employed electronically controlled dampers front and rear, plus both 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 major revision arrived in 1992 when the Silver Spirit received a new four-speed automatic gearbox which offered a lock-up clutch on the overdrive top gear, improving both refinement at speed and economy. This was followed in August 1993 by the announcement of the Series III model, with the classic V8 engine receiving redesigned cylinder heads with enlarged inlet ports and exhaust valves, while a new induction system improved low-speed torque. The effect was a performance boost, giving a top speed of 134mph, with the Bosch Motronic system offering emissions approval until the end of the millennium.
The SZ-series four-door saloons were finally replaced by the all-new Silver Seraph – and its Bentley Arnage cousin – in 1998. And 24 years later, the Silver Spirit (of all the SZ models) offers particularly strong value for money, although there’s an argument that the earliest cars are best avoided unless funds are particularly tight.
As the Silver Spirit evolved, its build quality improved along with its technical spec, with the fuel-injected versions (from the 1987 model year) offering the finest combination of smooth running and long-term reliability. With the Silver Spirit II of late ’89 boasting the upgraded engine management system, however, as well as Automatic Ride Control, it marks perhaps the sweet spot in the line-up. It remains significantly more affordable than the final versions of the late ’90s, whilst offering welcome refinements over the derivatives that went before.
Steve Bassett could certainly see the appeal of a Silver Spirit II as the ideal choice for a first-time Rolls-Royce buyer, and was delighted when he finally went to collect his from Cheshire: “My partner, Ann, drove me up from Essex and as soon as I saw the car, I knew I’d made the right decision. Its Light Oyster paintwork looked superb, and the interior was just as good. Everything was exactly as described in the independent report.”
The long drive home was something that Steve recalls with affection: “It was only the second time I’d ever driven a Rolls-Royce – and it didn’t disappoint. That 300-mile journey was so relaxing and comfortable, I jumped out at the other end feeling really fresh. It’s the kind of long-distance motoring that the Silver Spirit excels at.”
Soon after buying the car, Steve booked it in at Jaggard & Moore, Essex-based independent Rolls-Royce and Bentley specialists, where Dean Jaggard was impressed with the Silver Spirit II’s overall condition: “Dean described it as ‘stunning’, which is good enough for me!” laughs Steve. “It’s been there three times in total, as I like to make sure it’s serviced and maintained correctly. I’m not one of those people who owns a classic to keep it tucked away and used only occasionally. I like to drive my cars on a regular basis, which is why I added about 7500 miles to the Rolls-Royce during my first eighteen months with it.”
The car has become a bit of a hit with Steve’s family, too: “My mother-in-law, who’s in her eighties, absolutely loves being chauffeured round in it. And I like how it attracts attention everywhere I take it. A while back, a guy and his young son got chatting to me and I could see how much the lad loved the car. I offered them both a ride in it, and they were over the moon. We’ve got to encourage the next generation of enthusiasts, and I’d like to think that lad will go on to have a classic of his own one day.” Another highlight of Steve’s ownership occurred last year, when his Silver Spirit II was used in a short film called Hubris, starring Andrew Koji (best known for playing the lead role of Ah Sahm in Warrior), Rom Blanco and Luke Christian: “Most of the film is set inside the Rolls-Royce. When the guys came to view the car, they told me it was exactly what they were looking for. The film is now at the post-production stage and will be appearing at film festivals around the world in 2022.”
So enamoured is Steve with his first ever Rolls-Royce, he plans to keep it for a very long time: “I’ve also got a BMW Z3 that I’ve owned for sixteen years and have just had restored,” he explains. “Once I find a car that suits my requirements, I hang on to it. I don’t see any reason why I’d want to sell the Rolls- Royce, especially as it’s in such great condition. I’ll continue to use it regularly for years to come, but will always make sure it’s maintained to a very high standard. After all, these cars were built to be driven, not left in a garage.”
“That 300-mile journey was so relaxing and comfortable, I jumped out at the other end feeling really fresh”
The engine bay had already been professionally restored and detailed prior to purchase Steve Bassett is happy with his choice. The Silver Spirit II received a redesigned dashboard and other interior enhancements as part of the update.
“So extensive were the changes, Rolls-Royce Motors decided upon a new model designation of Silver Spirit II”
Steve Bassett’s Silver Spirit II plays a major role in Hubris, a new short film from Minoan Pictures that’s set for release in 2022. Most of the film, which stars Andrew Koji, Rom Blanco and Luke Christian, is set in and around the Silver Spirit II.
“As a period classic starts to increase in value, so the attention of bargain hunters turns to its successor – in this case the SZ series of models”