I don’t claim to be a classic car boffin, in fact I am very open about almost knowing nothing at all about cars that are older than I am (mid-90s). I guess I can put this down to that age old cliché of the aspirational poster wall car. Why would I look back at 60s as a 4-year-old and ogle over a wire wheeled MG when I could drool over a Ferrari 355 or Lamborghini Countach with its outrageous doors and rear wing taken straight off of a fighter jet?
Having spent the past few years in the fortunate position to see and pilot some of the rarest, fastest and most desirable modern cars on the planet (lucky git, I know) the equivalent cars of an era passed started to catch my attention. As with everyone and anyone I had in interest in the likes of the Aston Martin DB5 – more so because such as machine was appreciated not just as a car, but a style icon. Participating in Mille Miglia last year and attending concours d’elegance such as Villa d’Este ignited a fascination for old school motoring in my mind and I started to pay attention to poster cars of an older generation.
As I mentioned, the DB5 was an icon but it was not alone. The Jaguar E-Type shocked the world back in 1961 at the Geneva Motor Show becoming an instant classic. Then there were cars that did not care for speed but more for opulence and status – like the Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud, also from the 60s.
I have not listed these cars for no particular reason. UK dealers DM Historics & E-Type UK invited me over to their Kent based facility to pilot fine examples of both the E-Type and Silver Cloud. Such opportunities are rarer than hens’ teeth. The date with history was set.
Driving to meet cars I am due to drive is usually an exciting experience – this was a little different. From previous experience with older cars I am aware of just how difficult it is to drive them smoothly without hearing the dreaded crunch of gearbox elements grinding in pain accompanied by a grimace on the face of the embarrassed driver.
Heading into the shared DM Historics and E-Type UK workshop is a memorising experience. There are dozens of E-Types in various states. Many are glistening in the spring sunshine, others look slightly worse for wear and then there are cars that look more that climbing frames from a children’s playground than they do timeless classics. The team working at the respective companies begin to explain that there are cars in for routine services, others have just completed restorations and the final set are bodies that have been stripped back as donor cars that are soon to be returned to their former glory. I convey my nervousness to drive cars that have been painstakingly worked on for months or even years that are now unique. No one really bats an eyelid if your Lamborghini sets on fire – there are thousands more driving around and dozens rolling off the production everyday. The same cannot be said for an E-Type that has been rebuilt by E-Type UK.
I’ve found myself behind the wheel of a 1961 Series 1 Fixed Head Coupe and the interior is just as gorgeous as the exterior. The beautifully sculpted seats are trimmed in a bright red that highlights their dainty shape and hugging curves. The finish in here is sublime. I am told it is mechanically just as fit having had a full engine, gearbox and rear axle overhaul in 2015.
Time to find out. I must explain that this car has a Moss gearbox – a 4 speed that has no synchro and it notoriously difficult to shift smoothly. This is something I experienced a few years ago when driving multi-million pound Jaguar C and D-Types. As previously mentioned – It is a painful experience to hear grinding gear changes. I would love to say that this time things were different…but honestly, it wasn’t much better. That being said, I began to get a feel for it and the grinding was less frequent.
It allowed me to focus on other elements of the driving experience. Everything felt so direct and demanded maximum concentration, you have to rise to the occasion and this really caught my attention. Modern cars are easy, even the most hardcore variants need very little skill to drive at ordinary speeds. The contrast is startling and if, like me, you like a challenge and experiences that ask you to better your skills to unlock the potential of a machine, there is nothing like driving a classic E-Type. Fear it is too much for you? Take your car to E-Type UK and they will fit a more conventional gearbox – one of the more common requests.
Hearing that this example is up for sale for £195,000 had me sighing in relief that I had not put it in a hedge. Then I saw what I would be piloting next…and it’s price tag. Classic Rolls-Royces have been tarnished with an unfair reputation for being wedding cars, this example most certainly not. At £345,000 from DM Historics – this 1960 Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud II is one of 107 cars created by coachbuilder H.J. Mulliner of which only 32 are right hand drive. This thing is a land yacht, the epitome of elegance and status.
The interior was treated to a re-trim in 2018, returning to its original factory red. The red is a theme that, literally, runs through the limousine. The re-chromed hubcaps feature hand painted red pin stripes that also run along the restored Shell Grey body. The red powered hood sets these highlights and the interior of perfectly. The exterior was also carefully restored to look factory fresh and is immaculate.
Stepping into the cabin is an occasion and it is amazing to see that a car of this age features electric windows and roof. This is also the most bizarre seated position I have ever encountered – I’m sat on a leather bench and there is a humongous steering wheel awkwardly angled towards my face. The Rolls starts with an imposing burble – under the vast hood is a 6.2-litre V8 mated to an automatic gearbox. Phew, no more Moss fears, I just had to worry about the outrageous proportions – the tiny side mirrors mounted meters ahead on the bonnet did little to allay my trepidation. Once it gets rolling (pardon the pun..) it is a very serene experience, I even forgot about the silly driving position and sunk into the soft leathery environment.
This is not a car you hustle, you just feel the momentum taking you and enjoy the spongy suspension that absorbs any obstacles that try to scupper the warm glee you feel when in the car. It is really something very special and you do not feel that people are judging you as they would in a modern day Dawn or other Rolls-Royce. The space in the rear is respectable and the luxuries continue with wooden picnic tables and more soft leather to cosset you. The feeling of being in the car is so different from any modern RR, yet it still feels distinctly like you’re in a Rolls. It is wonderful and this is one of the finest examples in the world with only two previous owners and just 30,000 miles on the clock.
Spending a day with an E-Type and Silver Cloud made me think about how far we have come since the 60s, everything is easier, safer and more convenient. It also made me think about how disconnected we are today. For the prices that these two examples are for being offered so you could easily buy their modern day counterparts – I implore you not to. Go back to the 60s where cars involved drivers and master what they have to offer. Not only will they be more rewarding, but you will also look infinitely cooler sauntering along your local highstreet doing so.