In 1998, Rolls-Royce revealed its new Silver Seraph. For the press launch, Rolls-Royce decided to give the scruffy scribblers a taste of the lifestyle routinely enjoyed by R-R customers.
The launch event was in the grounds of a classic Scottish castle. Much locally-blasted game was scoffed and many rare malts quaffed. There was a wonderfully graceful ballet performance and the rather less graceful sight of journalists wearing handed-out kilts for dinner.
Anyone who was present will remember it. Unfortunately, they will most likely also remember that, through the alcoholic haze, the Silver Seraph wasn’t as impressive as the company hoped they would find it.
The first problem was the engine. In the BMW 7 Series, the Seraph’s 5.4 litre V12 was a smooth and refined unit, but R-R customers were used to the easy torque of the venerable but still gutsy old home-grown V8. That – plus the addition of BMW-designed switchgear – caused a few sideways glances on the launch, and some less than charitable words in the early reviews.
The harsh economic reality was that Rolls-Royce didn’t have the resources to develop new engines. Instead of relaxed pull from very few revs, the V12 needed to be spinning at a decidedly unrelaxed 3900rpm. This was not what Rolls-Royce owners expected or desired.
Nor did they rate the amount of room in the back. There was no problem for those in the front, but their comfort was partly achieved at the expense of rear passengers’ legroom. Even Rolls unintentionally pointed up this shortcoming by using non-Rolls vehicles to take the journos from their homes to the airport. Those who were collected in Ford Scorpios were struck by its superb rear legroom and generously upholstered seats. Its cabin wood may not have been as posh as the Seraph’s poplar slabs, but the Ford was simply comfier than the Rolls.
It was a pity as Rolls-Royce had put a lot of effort into both the Seraph and its Bentley Arnage sister. The stiffness of the bodies (made in Crewe for quality reasons) had increased by 65 percent, and the technology behind the anti-lock brakes, traction control, intelligent gearbox and adaptive suspension damping was up with the best. It was built for comfort rather than speed, but that at least was a welcome part of the traditional R-R proposition.
Just 1570 were built between 1998 and 2002, The Phantom that replaced it (early – Seraph production was intended to go on beyond 2002) was a much better all-round car, but the Seraph’s elegant styling has aged well, and the fact that only 1570 were built in its four-year production cycle means that the choice on the used market is limited. You’ll struggle to find anything worth having for under £30k, and some are going for more than twice that amount.