Rolls Royce is one of those companies which never compromised its core values. Regardless of the time period, industry standards, or economic climate, Rolls Royce was always considered the absolute pinnacle of automotive engineering, luxury, design, and prestige. However, there was immense effort and relentless quest for perfection behind all those legendary cars that are still passed on to subsequent generations, like precious watches or artwork. In the early days of Rolls Royce, their marketing slogan was “The Best Car In The World,” and for any other company, this could be a lofty claim, but for RR, it was the plain truth. Amongst the “Greatest Hits” produced under this name, there is one model that deserves better recognition and helped the company survive harsh post-war years. This car is called Silver Dawn and is an essential piece of the Rolls Royce legacy and heritage.
Like any other company in the world, Rolls Royce was in a very difficult position after WWII. The years of concentrating on aircraft engine production and lack of automotive development took their toll, and the customers had changed. However, the reputation of engineering excellence and luxury has remained, so Rolls decided that restart the production immediately after the hostilities ended. The first post-war model was called Silver Wrath, and it was practically based on pre-war technology but with an upgraded chassis, engine, and interior. The Silver Wrath was a large limousine with a high price tag. The company realized that there was a market for slightly smaller and more affordable models but with recognizable Rolls Royce style, quality, and design. The Bentley example had shown the way – a driver’s Rolls Royce to contrast the models only driven by a chauffeur. Also, immediately after the war, Rolls realized that they needed to concentrate on exporting abroad instead then selling on the domestic market if they wanted to succeed in the grim post-war economic reality.
Before the Silver Dawn, Rolls Royce offered numerous body styles to their clients produced by various coachbuilding companies. This might be a more prestigious concept that allowed clients to be different from each other but was also very time-consuming and expensive. Seeing that such a philosophy would not work in post-war times, Rolls decided that all (most) bodies would be standardized in formal sedan body style and produced by a single subsidiary for the new model. Rolls then contacted the Pressed Steel, which would be a supplier of the bodies for the Silver Dawn.
Finding a good chassis proved to be easy. Silver Dawn used Bentley Mark VI basis and components, which allowed the company to reduce the costs, and development times and ensured that the new product arrived on the market very quickly. The bodies were basically the same as the Bentleys but with a unique Rolls Royce grille, Spirit of Ecstasy figurine, and badges.
That moment came in 1949 when Rolls Royce introduced the Silver Dawn to the world. Interestingly, the car was first shown outside the UK, and the presentation took place in Toronto, Canada. It was a very symbolic way of showing that Silver Dawn is the car for export markets. The first versions were all left-hand-drive models with a manual transmission, and the RHD version came later in the production cycle.
The mechanical layout was very straightforward, with well-proven engines and drivetrain. Under the hood was a massive but well-balanced six-cylinder engine with 4.2-liters of displacement. In typical Rolls Royce fashion, the power output wasn’t advertised, but we now know that this engine produced 128 hp and could top 94 mph. Since the car was deliberately intended for the export market, the UK version was added only later, in 1953/4, and only when the company realized that they would not sell as many as they originally planned.
The initial interest from the clients was satisfactory, and the company managed to do what it indented – to sell a number of cars abroad, save money on development using the parts and components already available, and provide financial gains. However, since it was based on Bentley Mark VI when Bentley introduced an upgraded version called Type R, Rolls followed with an upgrade on Silver Dawn. Starting from 1951, Silver Dawn got a slightly different body with a bigger trunk, few interior improvements, and marginally bigger engine, now displacing 4.6-liters. Of course, the power wasn’t advertised either, but this unit produced 135 hp and slightly improved the performance. With a bit more torque, the Silver Dawn was capable of effortless cruising and quiet running, which wealthy customers appreciated greatly. Also, in 1952, an automatic transmission was introduced as an option. In those days, automatic transmissions were very rare and mostly limited to two or three-speed designs. The Rolls Royce Silver Dawn had a four-speed automatic, which was considered to be very advanced.
The base price of the 1949 Rolls Royce Silver Dawn was just under 4000 pounds which, adjusted for inflation, would be over 100,000 pounds in today’s money. Even though the company specially designed this model to be sold with a standardized steel body, wealthy clients, mainly from America, requested special body styles, which increased the price and improved the car’s design. The overall production of the Silver Dawn lasted from 1949 until 1955, and during that time, precisely 761 vehicles were made. Good enough to keep the company afloat but not as many as Rolls hoped it would sell. Interestingly, exactly 64 cars received unique, coach-built bodies from several well-known names. Some were improvements of the original, four-door limousine form, but some were two-door coupes. Out of the latter, we have to mention a very interesting proposition by the famous Italian house Pininfarina. In 1951, they constructed a rather sporty-looking Silver Dawn with a fastback body style and lower silhouette. Although the Silver Dawn Pininfarina looks fantastic, it was produced in only one example. We can only speculate that this model might have a bit brisker performance due to the potential lower weight of Pininfarina’s body.
Of course, the special place is reserved for Drophead models or convertibles out of all Silver Dawns produced. Legendary Park Ward produced the Drophead, and it is rumored that only six were made and in the left-hand-drive configuration. The Rolls Royce Silver Dawn Drophead Park Ward, as it is its full name, consisted of a total re-body of the existing four-door model with the interior considerably changed to new, convertible specifications. However, the Park Ward fabricated the new body and uniquely designed it with a unique windshield, front and rear fenders, rear end, and other numerous details. The front end has also been improved, but the iconic Rolls Royce grille has been proudly kept in its place. The dashboard design was retained from the standard model, but the Drophead versions were equipped with automatics with the leaver on the steering column.
The Silver Dawn is a unique model in Rolls Royce’s history due to the fact it was designed especially for the export markets and intended as an entry-level car. Rolls was hoping for sales of around 2000 examples, and only 761 were actually built in the end. However, we can hardly call this model a failure; quite contrary. The Rolls Royce Silver Dawn introduced an innovative way of market approach from a very traditional company that followed strict rules. It showed the potential of export markets, and since it was inexpensive to produce and develop, earn enough to keep the company afloat. But the most significant thing is that it spawned one of the most beautiful classic Rolls Royce shapes – the Silver Dawn Drophead. With its sensual lines, elegant interior, and driver’s quality, this convertible was the epitome of the brand’s values and showed precisely why the Rolls Royce is on top of the automotive food chain. Also, with a very limited production run, exclusivity and rareness, it is one of the most valuable classic convertibles you will ever come across.