BRUTISH EMPIRE

A ROLLS-ROYCE IN STREET MACHINE? HOLD YOUR FIRE; THIS POMMY BRAWLER PROVES THAT ACTION SPEAKS LOUDER THAN ACCENT

PHOTOS CHRIS THOROGOOD STORY GLENN TORRENS

TO THE ears of a hardened petrolhead, it has the unmistakeable corrugated idle, valvetrain clatter and bassy exhaust of a tough street machine. But the sound doesn’t match the scene – where said petrolhead might expect a wicked-up Monaro or Falcon, they are instead confronted with the stately sprinkled-withchrome white elegance of a 1965 Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow. Huh?

“People see it roll by and it’s like: ‘Is that – that’s a – wow, a Rolls-Royce!’” owner Ben Crombie explains, pointing comically at his tough white luxo-barge. We get that.

This car’s odd blur of sight and sound scored plenty of smiles – and a thumbs-up from a couple of black-suited security spooks – at Canberra’s Old Parliament House where we took some pics.

Ben bought his Rolls with a Chev V8 already installed. It’s a common enough conversion for older Rollers – the Chev is simple, durable and far easier to service and maintain than the sometimes troublesome, always timeconsuming Rolls-Royce V8.

For his first seven years of Rolls ownership, Ben delivered happy brides to weddings around his hometown of Orange, NSW. Then three years ago, he blew up the diff doing a burnout. As you do. “So I thought: ‘Ah stuff it, I’ll do it up,’” he says. “After seven years of Saturdays, I was starting to not enjoy doing weddings. Sure, it’s the bride’s big day, but too often I was hearing: ‘Oh it’s too hot,’ or ‘Oh it’s too cold,’ or ‘Oh, I don’t drink that brand of mineral water’, or whatever. I’d had enough.”

The busted diff – within a subframe that carried the Roller’s complex height-adjustable independent rear suspension – was replaced with a shortened Ford F100 nine-inch. There was a fair bit of modification needed to anchor the four control arms and Watt’s link the nineinch required, and of course to make sure those 20x13-inch Billet Specialties wheels would fit.

Working by himself, Ben had to tinker with the chassis rails from the back seat to the rear of the boot to make it all fit. “You make it up as you go along,” he admits. “I had no one I could ask!”

The rear suspension change was matched with a rework of the front end, too. The original strut front and box-type steering was replaced with a wishbone front end created from an amalgam of a Southern Rod & Custom crossmember, 1980s XF Falcon uprights, larger early-noughties BA Falcon brakes and BMW 3 Series rack-and-pinion steering. Both ends are suspended on airbags, capable of bellying the big Rolls.

Helping the build logistically and financially was the fact that Ben was given an unwanted Roller dragged from a farm. The donor car’s engine/suspension K-frame helped with the front suspension conversion, while items such as the grille and door trims were sold to give Ben some extra spendooly and make a few other older Rollers pretty again.

Many car enthusiasts get a surprise when they learn that these Rolls-Royce Silver Shadows used a GM TH400 three-speed auto. That makes fitting a Chev V8 a relatively easy task.

And of course, with a Chevrolet V8 comes the opportunity for more good ol’ grunt. “Yeah, it was screaming out for it,” Ben says. “It needed some attitude!”

The 408ci Chev – an overbore of a 400 smallblock – that Ben’s Rolls now sports is a no-fuss engine, with a torquey Camtech bumpstick, Dart Sportsman II heads and a Holley 850 on a Weiand manifold. Keeping it cool is the standard Rolls-Royce radiator but with three thermo fans.

IT WAS THE FIRST SILVER SHADOW IN AUSTRALIA. AND I CHOPPED IT UP!

ENGINE

Ben’s Rolls already had a truck-spec Chev heart transplant when he bought it for wedding use, but this one is a little perkier. It’s 408 cubes with a Holley carb, Weiand intake and Dart Sportsman II heads. It sits in an engine bay that has been pleasantly, rather than obsessively, detailed

BODY

“It’s a welded steel body with aluminium hanging panels,” Ben explains of the Silver Shadow’s factory construction.

Having the car’s mudguards fixed to the shell added an extra element of challenge for Ben in carrying out his modifications, especially crafting the custom front suspension

GRILLE

In the world of flash cars, that finely slatted Rolls-Royce grille is an icon. It’s been inspiration for plenty of others over the years, too, such as Lincolns, and Australia’s own Ford LTDs and Holden Caprices

HISTORY

With a government gig in its past, chances are this Rolls-Royce has been to Parliament House once or twice before.

But last time, it wouldn’t have been looking quite this casual!

THIS CAR’S ODD BLUR OF SIGHT AND SOUND SCORES PLENTY OF SMILES

INTERIOR

ABOVE: Coffee tables? Yes, Rolls-Royces (and some other Pommy cars such as Humbers) have these drop-down tables in the front seat-backs. But we bet Ben doesn’t let his kids sit their milkshakes there when they’re cruising!

BELOW: Ben has retained the Roller’s gorgeous interior, right down to the standard gauges inset into the varnished timber dash, which was carefully crafted from a tree trunk split so one side is a mirror image of the other. He’s made a Hurst Pro Ratchet shifter appear standard, too, replacing the factory column item

“I got the motor from some bloke in Lithgow who specialises in Holden grey motors,” Ben says. “It was to be used in an HQ Monaro, but that ended up with an LSX instead.”

The Chev’s natural match to the transmission meant there was little mucking around with crossmember or shifter – the shifter is now on the console, not the column – and of course that TH400 trans has a reputation for easy performance, too.

Ben loves the shape and personality of the Rolls, so most of his effort was spent on the suspension and driveline, rather than modifying the body and interior. Having been kept classy for weddings, both were in terrific – but not perfect – condition.

“They’re a very well-built car,” Ben says of his luxury icon, before pointing out a few features that helped make the Silver Shadow ‘The Best Car In The World’ in the 1960s.

“People reckon I’ve shaved the gutters from the turret – but I haven’t,” he explains.

“It’s standard. They’re very subtle along the edge of the roof. The flip-forward bonnet is standard, too.” But not the reverse-cowl bonnet scoop!

What Ben did manage to shave from the car with his modifications was weight: “I chopped out about 300kg; it’s only 1960kg now,” he says.

Ben mentions other aspects of this Rolls- Royce’s heritage that would strengthen its collectors’ appeal – if it was still original!

“It was the first Silver Shadow delivered to Australia,” he says. “It was the sixth ever built – real early. It was shown at both the Melbourne and Sydney Motor Shows in 1965.

“Originally it was grey with a green interior, and it was used for government duties in Melbourne until 1968. When new, it cost more than the average Sydney house.

“All that, and I chopped it up! Ha!”

With its early build number, and government and wedding work in its past repertoire, it’s clear this particular Rolls has what some stodgy automotive historians would call provenance. But for Ben, its past roles pale compared to the simple honour of being a family cruiser for him, his wife Bec and kids Enzo and Jack.

“We go get milkshakes,” he says. “The kids in the back seat – it’s really a fun car.” s

BEN CROMBIE 1965 ROLLS-ROYCE SILVER SHADOW

Colour: White

DONK

Make: Chev small-block V8 Capacity: 408ci Heads: Dart Sportsman II Intake: Weiand Carb: Holley 850 Cam: Camtech

TRANS

Gearbox: TH400 three-speed auto Rear end: Ford nine-inch, narrowed, 4.56:1 gears

BENEATH

Front: Upper/lower wishbone and R&P steering conversion with XF Falcon stubs; Shockwaves airbag suspension Rear: Five-link (with Watt’s link); Shockwaves Brakes: PBR discs, BA Falcon twin-piston calipers (f); PBR discs, Camaro single-piston calipers (r)

ROLLS

Wheels: Billet Specialties; 20x8.5 (f), 20x13 (r) Tyres: 245/30 (f), 335/25 (r)

THANKS

Thank you to my wife, for putting up with the build!