29 Nov 2012

"Desperately Seeking Shadow " - Sharon Endacotte Column

Sharon Endacotte remembers her Grandfather's 1966 Rolls Royce Shadow and wonders if it would be possible to track down the old car now.

“When I was a little girl,” begins River Deep, Mountain High, “I had a rag doll.”

Now, I was never really one for dolls, but if I had to pick out that something that brings my childhood screaming back into focus, there is nevertheless one thing that does it above all others. It’s rather larger than Tina Turner’s doll, and not a plaything - at least, not a child’s plaything - but my most complete sensory memories are tied up in it.

Presumably, it will not surprise you to know that it’s a car.

More precisely, my grandfather’s car, a 1966 Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow, a Mk I in a dark metallic grey (none of that two tone nonsense) with deep red leather seats, thick, soft, red carpets and polished walnut inside, and I loved it just the way Tina loved that rag doll. I was utterly obsessed with it. To a little girl more used to travelling in her dad’s Datsun, going anywhere in the Silver Shadow was an event. It was like being cocooned in luxury, and when people used to stop and stare when the car purred past, it let me imagine I was royalty. Sod Werther’s Original, that’s how to make your grandkid feel like someone very special.

It wasn’t just the way it felt though. I loved the deep, throaty rumble of the 6.2 litre V8 and the ride so smooth it made the roughest Somerset country lane feel like virgin blacktop. But more than that, I loved it when my grandfather got home from a drive and shut the car away in its car port.

The thing is, back in the late 60s when our house was built, family cars tended to be a lot smaller than they are now. Looking out at my drive right now, my 1967 Triumph Herald is absolutely dwarfed by the Ford Mondeo sitting next to it. My Herald would have fitted perfectly into the garage attached to the side of the house, but the Rolls-Royce didn’t stand a chance. So my grandfather had a carport built which had gates behind which he could safely lock the Shadow away - but there were gaps in the door around the handle which were at exactly the right height for a small child to press its face into. And I did, as soon as my grandfather had put the car away.

I would stand there for what seemed like hours, listening to the pings and ticks of metal cooling and contracting, and breathing in the heady scent of hot oil and the last clinging remnants of exhaust. Some little girls dream of ponies, but my dreams only ever featured the other type of horsepower.

As I grew older, I dreamed of the day I could drive the Silver Shadow for myself, but sadly, the passage of time stole my grandfather’s ability to do just that before I ever had the chance. I vividly remember the last time he drove it: he misjudged the angle turning into the drive and hit a low stone pillar, stoving in the door and doing hundreds of pounds - at 1980s prices - of damage to the paintwork. As he dragged the door over the unyielding stone, it sounded to me like the poor car was screaming. Unfortunately, this was just the beginning of his deterioration, and although the damage was repaired and he handed the keys over to a driver, within a few short years he was housebound with burgeoning dementia. With a heavy heart, he said goodbye to his car.

Little girls grow up, and although I mourned for a while, I soon had my own transport in the form of a Honda Melody. It wasn’t a Rolls-Royce, but it didn’t matter because it was mine. I probably wouldn’t have given the old car too much thought, except that a while ago, I was doing some work around car control interfaces and I walked into a Rolls-Royce showroom - and was suddenly six years old all over again. The smell of the showroom was exactly - exactly - how I remembered my grandfather’s car, all polished wood and leather and something uniquely Rolls-Royce, and in a ‘madeleine moment’ that made Proust’s A La Recherche du Temps Perdu look like the work of a rank amateur, I was six years old once again. They’d not long driven one of the cars into the showroom, and in my head all I could see was the view through that gap in the car port gate, my younger self standing firm in defiance of her mother’s calls as she insisted on staying until the cooling car fell silent. It was a bit overwhelming, and there may have been tissues involved.

And at that moment, I vowed that I would find my grandfather’s car and claim it for myself. Of course, I can’t afford it, and I have nowhere to keep it, but that’s not the point. If the car was still out there, I would find it, and at the very least, I was determined that I would see it again. Once I’d wrapped up my research on interface design, I turned my attention to locating Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow SHW 48G.

Initial signs were positive - it did not appear to have been destroyed. However, my plans hit a bit of a wall when I discovered (without interrogating the insurance database, which is of course Not Allowed) that my grandfather’s car had gone overseas.


So the trail has gone cold for now, but I’m not ready to give up just yet. Once I figure out my next move, I shall be out there like an automotive Fox Mulder, looking for the answers that will lead me to my quarry. The truth is out there - and so, I hope, is my grandfather’s car