Thursday, July 5, 2012

Film producer Robert Johnson fondly describes his first car, a 1948 Plymouth, as ‘pretty used.’ Nevertheless, at the student stage of his life, he was happy to have any car.

As his life progressed, the quality of his automobiles dramatically improved. He has always admired Rolls-Royce motor cars, but thought them unattainable. In recent years, to his eye, Rolls-Royce had permitted its cars to grow too large.

When the new millennium began, so did his informal search for an older Rolls-Royce. He had no particular model in mind; however, he knew he preferred an original-condition car that had been conscientiously maintained.

The hunt for such a car ended in the autumn of 2004 when an automobile broker in California located a 1978 Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith II in Los Angeles. The like-new bronze-beige car with a tan vinyl top was built in December 1977 at the Crewe factory in England. The broker sent photographs of the car accompanied by detailed descriptions and Mr. Johnson liked what he saw. He then took a leap of faith and in November 2004 purchased the Rolls-Royce sight unseen.

He spent the next few weeks wondering, ‘What have I done?’

Even when the enormous truck transporting his car stopped in front of his McLean home, Mr. Johnson remained anxious. Only after the pristine Rolls-Royce had been off-loaded was he relieved. ‘It’s a beauty,’ he says.the condition of the car was remarkable. Unnoticed in the photographs were the dual back pinstripes running the length of the 17-foot, 7.5-inch-long car.

The tan piping on the chocolate brown leather interior has been maintained and shows no flaws.

The left-hand-drive Rolls-Royce has an exquisite wooden instrument panel with sufficient gauges to monitor practically everything. The speedometer stops climbing at 140 mph.

Near the audio system controls is a relatively wide slot to accommodate the popular (at the time) eight-track tape recordings.

Spinning the two-spoke black steering wheel lock-to-lock enables the big car, riding on a 124-inch wheelbase, to be turned within a 40-foot, 6-inch circle.

Back in the early days of safety 5 mph bumpers, many otherwise attractive cars had clunky looking bumpers attached. Rolls-Royce designers obviously avoided that pitfall with chrome and rubber creations.

Several Silver Wraith models have been produced over the years, early ones from 1946 to 1959.

In late 1977 the Silver Shadow model underwent several alterations.

Silver Wraith II was the name attached to the long wheelbase version of the Silver Shadow.

The 22 vertical vanes in the grille beneath the famous ‘Spirit of Ecstasy’ ornament permit air to flow to the 412-cubic-inch (6.75-liter) V-8 engine that produces, as Rolls-Royce is wont to say, adequate horsepower to propel the 5,035-pound car.

All that power is transferred to the 15-inch rear wheels through an automatic transmission.

To keep service stops to an absolute minimum, the engine is well lubricated by 10 quarts of oil and the 22.5-gallon fuel tank is filled with premium gasoline.

The odometer now has recorded 84,600 miles.

‘We enjoy the car,’ Mr. Johnson says. ‘It’s a real head turner.’

For those special occasions, nothing quite compares to stepping out in a timelessly elegant automobile that is 5 feet high, 6 feet wide and has a double R on each wheelcover.

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