Words: Mike Ryan
For most enthusiasts of elite custom cars, the Ringbrothers need no introduction. Wisconsin-based siblings, Jim and Mike Ring, have been in the game of building and modifying cars for decades, but their work has only gained broader attention more recently. At SEMA 2023, Ringbrothers presented a trio of recent builds, including a stunning Rolls-Royce.
The Rolls, a 1961 Silver Cloud II saloon, is a departure for Ringbrothers in more ways than one. Firstly, it’s a non-American car. Early Mustangs, Camaros and other classic American muscle cars are the usual subjects for their creations. Secondly, the exterior is virtually untouched. Most Ringbrothers creations, especially the more recent ones, have featured comprehensive reworkings of the bodywork. In some cases, none of the factory panels remain, even though the base vehicle can still be clearly identified in the end product.
Ringbrothers isn’t just a custom car builder, though. A conventional smash repair shop is the bread and butter for the business, which Jim founded in 1989 and Mike joined in 1994. Offering custom builds didn’t come until later, even though the pair had been tearing down and rebuilding cars since they were kids. A more recent addition to the business is the design and manufacture of billet, carbon fibre and fibreglass parts.
The Back Catalogue
It’s fair to say the capabilities of Jim, Mike and their team at Ringbrothers in Wisconsin were first noticed thanks to the ‘Reactor’ 1967 Mustang fastback that won the Mother’s Choice Award for best build at SEMA in 2006. The ‘Razor’ ’69 Camaro followed in 2008 (and was another Mother’s Choice winner), with other notable creations including the ‘Adrnln’ ’71 Pantera and ‘Blizzard’ ’65 Mustang (both built in 2013), the ‘Madam V’ ’48 Cadillac from 2016, ‘Defiant’ ’72 AMC Javelin and ‘Caged’ ’64 ½ Mustang convertible, to name a few. In the past few years, Ringbrothers have built several custom Chevy K5 Blazer 4x4s, while the ‘Enyo,’ a 1948 Chev Loadmaster that looks like a cross between a pickup truck and IndyCar racer, won the Battle of the Builders at SEMA 2022.
Jim and Mike only build two or three cars each year, so the appearance of three of their latest creations at SEMA 2023 was something special. Along with the Rolls-Royce, there was a 1969 Dodge Charger and 1965 Mustang convertible. All three were customer builds, displayed at different booths during SEMA. In the case of the Rolls, it was on show in the BASF booth, as BASF Glasurit paint was used for the project.
The story of the Silver Cloud goes back to the early years after World War II. In 1945, production moved from Derby to Rolls-Royce’s more modern factory at Crewe, where the famous Merlin V12 aircraft engines had been built. While the Silver Wraith was the first Rolls-Royce model produced after the war, that was still in the tradition of sending a rolling chassis to a coachbuilder. The Silver Dawn of 1949 marked the first ever production Rolls-Royce with a factory-fitted body.
Aimed more at the owner-driver, the Silver Dawn was also aimed at export markets, with units not available in the UK until four years after launch. By this stage, Rolls-Royce and Bentley cars were becoming increasingly standardised in terms of styling, spec and features. In the case if the Silver Dawn, it was virtually identical to a Bentley MkVI. Both models had the same 4.3-litre inline six-cylinder engine, the same four-speed manual gearbox, suspension (independent coil front, solid axle leaf spring rear) and drum brakes, as well as using the same body, with only changes to things like the grille and detailing.
In 1951, a 4.6-litre engine was introduced, with the boot area enlarged the following year. Rolls-Royce’s modification of the GM Hydramatic 4-speed auto transmission was also introduced at this time. While optional, adoption of the automatic was almost universal and it had become the standard transmission by the time the Silver Cloud launched in 1955.
While the transmission, the body-on-chassis configuration and most of the other underpinnings carried over from the Silver Dawn, the engine in the Silver Cloud had been enlarged to 4.9 litres. Styling was all new, too. With its smoother, more integrated lines and largely faired-in guards, there was much less of the “pre-War” look to the Silver Cloud. Influences of the coachbuilt cars produced by the likes of HJ Mulliner & Co., James Young and Park Ward were obvious, although the ‘Parthenon’ grille remained, as did the Spirit of Ecstasy mascot - elements that had become Rolls-Royce signatures by this time.
Power steering and air conditioning became optional on the Silver Cloud from 1956, while in 1959, the introduction of a V8 engine was enough to warrant second-generation status, hence the Silver Cloud II. Developed entirely in-house at Rolls-Royce, the 6.2-litre V8 was applied to the Bentley S2 as well. Rolls-Royce famously never quoted performance figures, but the V8 was estimated to produce somewhere in the region of 250hp (186kW), where the six it replaced was in the 200hp (149kW) range. Although it was lighter and more powerful than the six, the V8 wasn’t as refined, according to road testers of the period. However, this criticism was relative in a marque known for its smooth and silent operation.
Power windows became an option during Silver Cloud II production, with some minor interior revisions and the abandonment of the complicated chassis lubrication system the only other notable changes until the Silver Cloud III arrived in 1963. Where the Silver Cloud II had been identical to the I externally, with changes under the skin, it was almost the opposite with the III. A four-headlight front-end (a de rigueur styling feature by this time), along with improved interior space, a slight hike in engine power and reduced weight defined the Silver Cloud III, which would be replaced by the all-new, monocoque Silver Shadow in late 1965.
Premium – for the People
Few Silver Clouds came to Australia, mainly because few people could afford them. At £8,750 in 1961, a new Silver Cloud was almost double the price of the average suburban home and more than seven times the price of a new EK Holden Special (£1,169 in 1961) or XK Falcon Deluxe (£1,204). A Silver Cloud II even made a Jaguar (£3,217 for a MkII 3.8 auto) or Mercedes-Benz (£3,100 for a 220 SE sedan) seem like bargains in ‘61. Only exotica from the likes of Ferrari, Bentley or Aston Martin came close in terms of price.
Regardless of its stratospheric price (at least in Australia), 7,372 Silver Clouds were built (some sources say less) across all three generations and eleven years of production. That total includes the factory saloons and coachbuilt examples, most of which were either fixed or drophead coupes.
In period, celebrity Silver Cloud owners included Frank Sinatra, John Lennon, Elizabeth Taylor, James Mason, Tony Bennett, Sophia Loren, Elvis Presley, Tom Jones and most notably, Peter Sellers, who placed a ‘For Sale’ advertisement worded as if the car was wishing to be rid of its owner, rather than the other way around! Prince Rainier of Monaco and Grace Kelly left for their honeymoon in a Silver Cloud, while Beyonce is a more recent owner, receiving a 1959 Silver Cloud II drophead coupe as a gift for her 25th birthday.
The Silver Shadow, while still a very expensive car, was the model that democratised Rolls-Royce ownership, but it was the Silver Cloud (and to a lesser extent, the Silver Dawn) that opened the door to the marque being considered by more than just the British aristocracy or heads of state.
The early history of the Silver Cloud II featured is unknown, but being left-hand drive, it was presumably delivered new to the USA. It came to the Ringbrothers for some simple restorative work on the chassis and running gear a couple of years ago, but after the owner saw what Ringbrothers were capable of, the project became much more elaborate.
The owner, a fellow Wisconsinite, is a large-scale potato farmer (yes, really!) and clearly a Rolls-Royce enthusiast, with his collection including a new Phantom saloon and Cullinan SUV. He sent the latter to Hennessey Performance in Texas back in 2019 to wind the wick on the 6.7-litre twin-turbo V12 from the factory 563hp (420kW) up to 850+hp (634+kW).
For the Silver Cloud, one of the key changes was replacing the factory V8 with a GM LT4 crate motor of the same type that was factory-fitted to the C7 Corvette Z06. While of the same 6.2-litre capacity as the original Rolls-Royce engine, the LT4 produces significantly more power, thanks to its standard supercharger. With around 650hp (485kW) and 650lb/ft (881Nm), outputs are more than double the original.
Custom valve covers with Rolls-Royce identification were added, while the supercharged V8’s exhaust system came from a modern Cadillac ATS-V sedan. Extensively modified to suit, all the catalytic convertors and mufflers were retained, but with Rolls-Royces being renowned for their quiet operation, the Ringbrothers added cut-outs behind the mufflers instead of ahead of them. This allowed the system to flow freer, but without the noise.
A Bowler Tru-Street 10-speed automatic was fitted in place of the factory 4-speed auto, with a customised QA1 carbon fibre driveshaft sending power to the rear wheels via a Strange Ford 9-inch diff with 3.73:1 gears and 31-spline axles.
Obviously, with more than double the power of its factory spec, the Silver Cloud’s stopping power needed to be doubled, too. Ringbrothers replaced the factory drum brakes with 15-inch discs, gripped by Baer Pro+ six-piston calipers. Upsizing the wheels made fitting the big rotors easier (more on that below).
The beauty of the Silver Cloud II being body-on-chassis construction meant that new, stronger underpinnings were easier to fit, too. In this instance, a Roadster Shop chassis was customised with sturdy, 10-gauge steel boxed frame rails. RideLine Stage 3 front suspension components from the same provider were matched to FOX RS SV coilovers, A-arms of Ringbrothers’ own design, an anti-roll bar and Corvette end links. At the back end, the live axle was replaced with an independent four-link system from Fast Link and another set of FOX RS SVs.
As mentioned earlier, the body on this build is unchanged from factory, but Ringbrothers still went over it with a fine tooth comb, addressing minor imperfections and improving panel gaps as required. What little chrome work and bright metal trim the Silver Cloud II carries beyond its bold grille was replated, with the head and tail lights getting refurbished or replaced, too.
Whether this Silver Cloud II was white originally is unknown, but it was repainted in BASF Glasurit ‘White as Fluff’ for the rebuild, hence its presence in the BASF booth for SEMA.
From the outside, the only pointers to this car being non-factory are the wheels. Replacing the factory 15-inch rims are a set of custom 18-inch units from EVOD Industries – 18x7 front and 18x8 rear. These incorporate gyro hubcaps from a modern Rolls-Royce that ensure the ‘RR’ logo remains upright, regardless of wheel position. The wheels are fitted with Falken Azenis tyres in 235/60R18 front and 255/55 R18 rear - OEM rubber for the Porsche Macan SUV.
"Unlike many of our builds, we chose to retain the original bodywork and lines of the Rolls, so at first glance, there are only hints to what lies beneath," said Jim Ring. "That all changes when the door opens to show the completely custom interior."
The interior Jim references is significantly different from a stock Silver Cloud II, although casual observers may not notice all the changes. Leather trim is still abundant, but in a blood red shade. Beyond the seats and doorcards, this leather also covers the dash top and door cappings that would have been burl walnut timber veneer originally.
A divider between the front and rear seats was removed, with the factory front bench seat replaced with a heavily modified unit from a 1957 Chevrolet. This sits around 8 inches further back, allowing much more room for the driver and front seat passenger without impacting too much on rear seat space. New floorpans improved the interior space, too.
Custom metal doorcard inserts and a new lower dash section were fabricated from aluminium, which along with the instrument binnacle, was finished in a process called hydro dipping. This applies ink in a pre-fabricated pattern to the surface, which is then clear coated for protection. In this instance, the colour and pattern lends a more modern look to the interior.
The gauge cluster combines a period look with Dakota Digital inserts and was produced for Ringbrothers by Classic Instruments. Some quirks include a reverse sweep speedo and moving the ignition into the headlight switch position. New billet switchgear was made, with the factory steering wheel and column replaced. In place of the column shifter for the automatic, push buttons have been added to the lower section of the dash, along with switches for the power windows and Vintage Air air conditioning.
Original Rolls-Royce features, like the front passenger grab rail and fold out picnic tables for the rear seats, have been reproduced, while the rear bench seat's centre armrest hides a compartment fitted with two bottles of Don Julio tequila! The piece de resistance inside is a reproduction of the ‘Starlight’ headliner from a modern Rolls-Royce. To create the night sky effect, 1,000 fibre optic lights are incorporated into the leather headliner, with remotely adjustable brightness controls to change the ambience inside as required.
Normally, Ringbrothers turn to Upholstery Unlimited in Iowa to do all their interior trimming, but Gabe’s Custom Interiors in California were commissioned for this project and it’s fair to say they knocked it out of the park.
What a Drag
By the time of SEMA 2023, this Silver Cloud II had gained the title of ‘Paramount’ (a name inspired by the owner’s potato farm) and was rated highly by those who took the time to give it a closer inspection. With the stock exterior, some people may have passed it by, but a look inside or a chat to Jim or Mike Ring, who were in attendance, would have revealed how much has gone into it.
"Every part of this build is brimming with detail and character," said Mike Ring. "The exterior keeps to the allure of traditional British luxury, while the engine, chassis and interior all embrace a modern luxury sedan.
“This project combines Rolls-Royce's past and present with an American accent. We are grateful to our partners for working with us to further our craft and allowing us to explore an entirely new realm of art form."
While this Silver Cloud was a challenging build, taking 3,400 hours to complete, Jim and Mike described it as a fun one. A little more fun was had after completion, when Paramount was put to the test against the owner’s new Rolls-Royce Phantom in a drag race. In a short video you can find on YouTube, the classic Rolls with its supercharged 6.2 V8 beat the modern, twin turbo 6.7 V12 Phantom comfortably.
When Jim Ring refers to Paramount as the ultimate luxury sleeper, he isn’t kidding!