I was driving with my kid over some fun back roads this weekend, and while zipping around I noticed something amazing mouldering by the side of the road: a 1979 Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith II, in resplendently shitty condition. I had to stop to just appreciate this thing, because there’s really something amazing about a Rolls-Royce completely gone to shit.
Now, I’ve seen things sort of like this before, including one powered by an old Volkswagen air-cooled engine shoved in the trunk, but I don’t think I’ve really had the pleasure of encountering such a specimen up close.
From the front, this one doesn’t seem all that bad, and even retains the iconic grille and Spirit of Ecstasy winged-lady hood ornament. There’s a little Union Jack license plate, just to really drive the Britishness home in case the owner can’t fling a cup of tea at you.
Around the rear, though, things go downhill like a luge:
Oh boy. That rear tire is rapidly re-merging with Mother Gravel, and the paint is the worst thing you’ve seen until you look up a foot or so and see that vinyl roof, rapidly decaying into something that resembles a pile of discarded pastrami.
From the rear, we can also confirm this is, in fact a Silver Wraith, not the more common Silver Shadow. The Wraith was the long-wheelbase version and as such carried much more important people inside it, people deserving of an extra few inches of Rolls-Royce carpet and floor.
I think making something like this drivable, but keeping the look of it exactly like this, would be fantastic. Because it would be such a wonderful, confusing drivable dichotomy.
I’m pretty sure Rolls-Royces of this era were using the GM-licensed Hydramatic automatic transmissions, so I bet you could bolt in a V8 from some old Nova or something to keep it going on the cheap.
A beat-to-shit Rolls-Royce tells a story, no matter where it goes. It suggests a roller coaster ride of fortune, a peak and a fall, accomplishment and failure, the cruel fist of chance and a bit of the strong grip of pride.
It’s a car that lets you mention that time you got deposed or dethroned, and people will believe it. It’s a car that you can park somewhere and have a person yell at you to move that piece of shit out of here and then you get to yell back “What, you mean this Rolls-Royce?” and then enjoy those few delightful moments of abject silence and confusion.
A new Rolls-Royce just means you’re some boring rich dude/dudette. Fundamentally, nobody gives a shit. But a ramshackle, decaying Rolls-Royce, well, that implies some depth, something exciting and maybe a little unsavory, and that’s a much more potent impression for a car to make.
I wonder if it’s for sale? If so, I wonder if I can find a ratty old general’s uniform from some country no one has heard of? I bet I’ll have to cuff the pants like four inches, but still.