The Corniche had a late baptism in 1971. The monocoque construction of the 1965 Silver Shadow range made it virtually impossible for traditional coachbuilders to practice their calling: there was no separate chassis on which to fit panel work. Rolls-Royce faced the problem by increasing their stake in Mulliner Park Ward (MPW), already their in-house specialist partner, in order to develop a two-door coupe (1966) and two-door convertible (1967) based on the Silver Shadow. By 1971, with Rolls-Royce in the throes of splitting the company into separate divisions to solve a financial crisis, the time was ripe for the publicity splash of a new model.Both coupe and convertible were revamped and powered up, and launched as the Rolls-Royce (and, of course, Bentley) Corniche. MPW learned how to press panels and weld them to the Silver Shadow floor-pan. After technical assembly by Rolls-Royce in Crewe, which included the major modifications that justified the Corniche as an independent series, MPW completed the cars back in London. The hand-built quality showed, even if the 1971 `production’ car didn’t look very different. The sumptuous luxury extended to the finest detail, like the power-operated soft top which, alone, took as long as two weeks to make, fit and adjust.
The bodyline still had the dip over the rear wheel arch that suggested the sporty monster sitting, poised on its athletic haunches. You couldn’t see many internal changes, but you could drive them. The Corniche wasn’t about top speed, but about shifting its magnificent bulk with incomparably smooth ease, no matter what kind of road, throughout the low, mid and upper-mid ranges. Its stylish, measured glide became the benchmark of comfortable cruising. It was, literally as well as figuratively, designed for the Corniche. Monte Carlo and California absolutely adored it.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: UK
FIRST MANUFACTURED: 1971 (until 1982 Coupe); (until 1987 Convertible)
ENGINE: 6,750 CC V8
PERFORMANCE: Top speed of 125 mph (201 km/h); 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 10.2 secs
YOU SHOULD KNOW: When Rolls-Royce first experimented with what would become the Corniche, the celebrated coachbuilder James Young designed his own version alongside that of MPW. It never went into production, and the few Rollers made to Young’s imaginative genius are among the rarest of the rare.