THE day started at a motel at Baldock, north of Stevenage.
Our journey headed west along the A507 towards Milton Keynes, then took the A5 northwest towards Towcester.
Our first port of call was to be the headquarters of the Rolls-Royce Enthusiasts’ Club at Paulerspury.
The weather was quite unpredictable for most of the day. Consequently, some of the shots came out looking rather moody.
From Paulerspury, we headed back southeast along the A5, otherwise known as the London road, towards Milton Keynes again. For most of its length, the A5 runs as straight as an arrow. Like many similar roads in the UK, this is because it follows the course of an old Roman road.
The next stop was for lunch, at a Little Chef on the A5, just off the Old Stratford roundabout.
After lunch, we continued southeast along the A5, towards Milton Keynes.
We rejoined the A5 for just long enough for us to skirt around Bletchley, home to Bletchley Park, the famous headquarters of the UK’s decryption facility during the Second World War.
After driving along the A421 for a short hike, we rejoined the A507 we had last travelled that morning in the opposite direction. We were heading east, back towards the motel, and the day was drawing to a close.
However, we still had time for one more stop, at The Black Horse, a lovely little pub at Ireland, near Shefford.
It was a perfect setting.
The late afternoon breeze that rustled through the wheat provided a fitting ending to a jolly fine day.
By Gunnar Heinrich
LOOKING at this car, you can almost sense the weight bearing down on those four Michellins.
Nearly 6,000 pounds all told.
The majestic beast you’re beholding; overstuffed, laden with chrome, and piled high with Wilton carpeting and Connolly hides is none other than the 1991 Rolls-Royce Corniche convertible, generation no. III.
Based on the Silver Shadow but built in the era of the Silver Spur, the Corniche remains probably one of the most iconic symbols of wealth and status on wheels. It’s also, as its detractors would have us believe, not much of a car.
It wasn’t particularly silent – a Lexus LS400 would’ve been quieter down the highway. It wasn’t fast, a Ford Taurus could’ve rivaled it for accelerative surge.
Nor was this drop top Roller thrifty, practical, or efficient. Heck, it even has a plastic rear window slotted in the Mohair top.
But as we’ve come to know, that’s not the point. The Corniche is rolling art. And you either get its idiosyncratic nature or you get in your terribly practical Honda and stew in your own reverse snobbery.
The Rolls is a 2+2 statement that equals over-the-top grand touring elegance. And because it’s a generation III, it’s got ABS and SRS and an aftermarket CD player that hides beneath a veneer of burled walnut. Not that you’d hope to use the former two features in what should be a fair weather ride.
There’s 24,500+ miles on the San Diego based black on grey Corniche with a Buy-It-Now price of $85,000. That’s about $20K over most other Corniches of similar age. Still, a fine looking specimen. Auction ends in a little more than three days.
Twenty percent of new Rolls-Royce customers used to own a Crewe-built “Royce”. Since BMW bought Rolls-Royce and moved operations to Goodwood, many of the old guard have switched to Bentleys which are still hand made in Crewe. Automobiles De Luxe asked Bentley owners for their take on the new Rolls-Royce.
“EVERYTHING is attitude in life,” Frank G. Masek, affable, 73, explains with his light hearted New-Yawker accent. Frank recites what seems to be his own life’s maxim with a knowing glint in his astonished eye.
Seeming somewhat stunned, his focus turns to take in the interior of the 2009 Rolls-Royce Phantom Coupe, an exotic that feels a generation removed from the classic curves of his 2004 silver–over–grey Bentley Arnage.
“My Gawd, this is like a ship!” he nods to the massive arc of Zebrano paneling that seems wide enough to encompass the width of his Bentley.
It couldn’t, of course, but appearances speak volumes. His fingers lightly register the leather wrapped confidence of the large helm’s thin rim. To him, the two-suicide-door Phantom is so impressive – and – so different.
From your innocent bystander’s standpoint, it might seem odd how a Bentley owner could be so in awe of a Rolls.
For half of the last century, Bentleys and Rolls-Royces were essentially the same cars with different badges. Today, both are still stupid expensive and ultra exclusive.
Both say, “I’ve got mine!”
In a strict sense, these observations are true.
But in the same vein, describing both the Chrysler Building and the Freedom Tower as two, really tall skyscrapers defines neither structure adequately. Each represents the culmination of human effort; achieved in different times with unique objectives. What unites both is that both teams endeavored to produce the best.
An idea strikes Frank and he invites me into his house to show me a new car he saw in the latest copy of the Flying Lady.
He thumbs past articles of the 200EX concept and the Continental Supersports to a story about a custom retro Bentley S3 redone slightly ghetto by the “Bentley Boys” out of San Antonio, TX. It’s the same car that appeared online earlier this year; a low slung, tall-rimmed, Bentley-badged, Silver Cloud-clone with aero mods and tinted windows.
Frank studies the shots for a second and looks up at me uncertainly.
“I don’t know about this. I like a little low key,” he says. “More low key than the Rolls.”
“Isn’t this the most beautiful car?” Mrs. “A” asks. Her hand softly caresses the Phantom Coupe’s brushed stainless hood.
Mrs. A has a certain wry wit about her and she cuts a shapely forty-something figure. The successful Mr. “A” owns a late generation Bentley Azure convertible which rests beneath a heavy tan cover inside the garage a hundred feet from where we stand.
“But I couldn’t drive this, Gunnar,” she tells me, smiling resignedly at the Rolls. “I’d be ostracized! Could you imagine me driving this car in [small New England town]? I think in London this would work.”
I suggest that her husband’s two and half ton Azure is a pretty bold statement, in and of itself. “Not like this,” she says, the Rolls filling her view.
“This is another level.”
“UGLY CAR” | “WRONG PRICE”
Mr. “J”, seventy-something, owned a ’76 Silver Shadow II until it died one night six years ago in a downpour on the side of I-95. He now rolls in a silver-on-grey Bentley Continental GTC. I ask him he’d care to drive the Phantom Coupe to see how it contrasts with his Audi-influenced Bentley.
“I’d never drive an ugly car,” he tells me summarily over the phone.
Waiting a silent moment, he then allows, “I understand that the new Phantoms drive beautifully.” But the new Rolls-Royce aesthetics are just too abrasive for his taste.
“I thought my Silver Shadow was a beautiful car. Of course it leaked oil and had technical problems. But it had some years on it.”
He passes on meeting the next day.
But I do meet with my friend Max, 80, who owns a Crewe-built ’88 Silver Spur; black Everflex roof with banker’s grey paint over black Connolly trimmed interior. Max let me showcase his Royce two years ago in two Automobiles De Luxe videos. He’s game about Rolls-Royce’s exuberant esprit de corps and welcomes the Phantom Coupe.
“The best feature on this car is the disappearing, reappearing hood ornament,” he says after a quick walk around. On reflection, he’s not keen about the new, inset grille, though.
Max drives a 2005 Mercedes-Benz S500 4-Matic as his every day car and uses his “Roller” for special occasions. Over the years, like the Queen with her prime ministers, his ceremonial Silver Spur has seen more than a few Sonderklassen come and go as the “every day car”.
Two decades ago, he bought the Silver Spur after the local Benz dealer tried to sell him another S-Class for more than $100,000.
“I told the guy,” Max stiffens his posture in a dramatic replay of himself formerly agitated, “if I’m gonna pay more than a hundred grand for a car, it’s gonna be a Rolls-Royce.” Down bangs the invisible phone.
He made good on his word.
Undaunted, Max gets behind the Phantom Coupe’s wheel for a quick spin. The coupe is a half a foot longer than his old four-door and much taller. Leaving iDrive alone, he adapts to the BMW sourced “intuitive” stalk controls without too much fuss and slowly finds parallels with his Roller; namely, the lofty ride height, air cushioned ride, and sense of occasion about it all.
“The steering’s more positive on this car,” he observes, dialing the coupe swiftly into a mild corner.
Max half-jokingly hints he’d be willing to trade in his car for the new Coupe if the price was right.
“What is it? A buck sixty?” He asks.
Four-hundred forty one thousand dollars, I say.
“Like I said, if the price was right.”
“THE POOR SISTER”
Back in Frank’s kitchen, we’re seated next to a three by four print of the Rolling Stones logo, Frank tells me that he used to drive a ’94 Brooklands and a 1960-something Silver Shadow before that. He owned the Brooklands until Miller Motorcars wanted $17,000 for a valve job and another $40,000 for a routine service.
“At that price… “ he shakes his head, “I figured I should get another car. I drive my cars like I drive any of my trucks.” Frank was in the shipping business for decades.
Hence, the ‘04 Arnage, which he bought from Manhattan Motor Cars.
“I felt a little guilty in this economy. But I bought the Arnage because I’m 73, I’ve had two heart attacks and I’m going in for an operation, so I figured what the hell.”
Frank notes that it’s harder to get in and out of the Arnage than it was the Brooklands –or – the Phantom Coupe which waits for us outside.
“It’s less pretentious. And I feel like Bentley was always the poor sister to the Rolls,” the Red Sox fan from NYC tells me. Frank seems to have a soft spot for underdogs.
I invite him to join me for a photo shoot. He’s game.
“ONCE IN A LIFETIME”
We drive a few blocks to the town dock to take a few shots. A dock worker from a few hundred yards away comments, “Oh, nice! That’s a Rolls-Royce!”
Onlookers seem to appear from nowhere to view the grand display of a Rolls-Royce Phantom Coupe and a Bentley Arnage. A jogger pauses to stare at the Rolls.
“It’s beautiful!” She announces between deep breaths. “That should be my car!”
She briefly acknowledges the Arnage and goes on her way.
A group of Texan tourists armed with mega-watt smiles and cameras besiege the Rolls next.
“I think that’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,” one lady sighs in mild Texan. She looks toward the Bentley for a moment then returns to open mouthed gawking at the Phantom Coupe.
I see that one of the group is wearing a beaded baseball cap that’s shimmering in the sunshine which gives me cue to show off the Phantom Coupe’s LED starlit headliner.
They explode into delighted guffaws and gasps.
I squeeze in a few more pictures when a couple of guys, who work at a local restaurant pull up in a Volvo S70 and offer me free dinner if they can have their pictures taken next to Rolls. I decline the free din-din, but offer the photo op.
They get out of their Swedish sedan and stare. One of them looks to Frank and asks if that’s his Bentley. Frank’s been good humored all this time. The looming Rolls has been getting all the attention, including his own.
“Your Bentley’s beautiful,” The man assures Frank in an effort to comfort a possibly bruised ego, “but the Rolls…”
Eyes wide, he looks back at the Phantom Coupe…
“That’s once in a lifetime!”
Not as hot as the 900 was in the 80s. But a fly ride, nonetheless.
“B” for “‘Bout Right”
Saab Turbo X
I was much more enthusiastic about the Turbo X in May than I was in October. There’s something about getting into an old Opel platform that’s cramped and noisy after just driving a fresh Holden design (Pontiac G8 GT) that has you second guessing.
So, following time at G8′s helm, I can say that the Turbo X isn’t near powerful enough, which means it isn’t fast enough. It isn’t near fuel efficient enough. And even with “XWD” (Haldex’s sophisticated all-wheel drive setup) providing a rear wheel drive feel, the Turbo X still understeers when you go hard into a sharp corner.
I imagine that if Trollhattan’s people could, they’d put all their eggs in the 9-1 basket and let it roll instead of trying to design a performance sedan on a zero dollar budget. A lean, high-tech hatch is what’s needed. That’s Saab’s true strength. That’s their distinct platform in a sour, crowded marketplace. But Saab can’t because they’re at the end of the receiving line and I digress…
On its own merits, the Turbo X is an accomplishment. It drives better than any Saab in history. By a long stretch. So much better, in fact, that it threatens the justification for buying front wheel driven Saabs; which along with the turbocharger is Saab’s schtick, last time I checked.
The Turbo X with LED sparkle and jet black finish is a handsome Swede. With a manual transmission, it is happy in its work. These two charming characteristics alone – in true Saab form – save the day.
So, If you’re a loyal Saabist and don’t mind trading in tradition for driving pleasure, it’s worth swapping out the old 9-5 Aero or even 9000 for a used Turbo X. For Viggen owners on the other hand… it’s your call.
Bentley Continental GTC
Like the Cadillac CTS, it’s difficult to put down a car that looks so very, very right. The Continental GTC, for all of its Volkswagen Phaeton underpinnings, is one gorgeous droptop. Visually, the Bentley marks the perfect aesthetic balance; modern luxury classically defined.
And yet there remains too much VW behind the Flying B here. It’s a sticking point, I fear. Whereas the Continental GTC is likely best appreciated (and bought) by people who don’t know the difference, old school Rolls-Royce and Bentley people can tell. My friend who was kind enough to let me have a go behind the helm of his new GTC, traded in his old Arnage for this refined décapotable.
Despite the praise he’s received from friends, neighbors, and bystanders for his new set of wheels, I couldn’t help but detect a slight bit of remorse over the fall of the ancien regime.
Trouble is, the car doesn’t feel like a Bentley even if it so sweetly carries off the look. Much of the interior’s functional bits and details are to blame for being entirely Audi/VW sourced; right down to the purple and red backlighting. The leather, while soft, doesn’t feel Connolly grade. There’s no seductive aroma. No true tactile delight. Just a good standard of luxury.
Where the GTC does carry on ye olde Crewe tradition is that the car maintains a tall profile. The driver sits high over the road – the position lies somewhere between a Toyota Highlander and a Subaru Forester. Plus, the 2+2 proceeds serenely, even when you burry the go pedal. And because its rag-top is so well insulated, it manages to rival the boxy Arnage in cabin quietness.
The W12 dials high numbers on the speedo swiftly and with zero drama. Paradoxically, this rapid rate of progress feels like it’s happening in slow motion. And perhaps that’s the point for this kind of car. A gentle, but capable cruiser. But then again, if that truly is the point then it’s a little too boring. Perhaps, some of us are just more accustomed to the Wagnerian drama of an American or German big bloc V8.
Ultimately, the GTC stands as a prime addition to anyone’s collection. But if you have the choice, opt for tradition and take the (Arnage based) Azure T, instead. In the Azure you get tradition with all the modern comforts and none of the VW pretense.
By Gunnar Heinrich
COULD the Arnage’s final bow be a curtain call for traditional Bentley?
The Motor Report reported that Crewe will discontinue the Arnage and that a “Final Series” of just 150 units will be built – all of which will likely have been spoken for by the time you read this.
While the Arnage’s replacement was due, its replacement will come at a time when the marque’s heritage has been diluted by VW sourced design. The next flagship will set the course of one of the most storied of British marques into the next decade.
So, it’s worth taking note of the soon-to-be-discontinued flagship of grand British motoring.
The 212″ long by 76″ wide four door saloon shares its platform with the old Rolls-Royce Silver Seraph, initially appearing in 1998. The first line of Arnages came fitted the V12 BMW used in the e38 7-Series.
But traditional Bentley owners – a fierce lot when prodded in the face Teutonic heresy – demanded the return of the old push-rod V8 that had powered Bentleys and Royces since time immemorial ( Bentley S2, circa A.D. 1959).
That same, ironclad 6.75 liter engine (initially 6.2 l.) is what powers the Arnage line today, albeit tuned-up and electriconically guided to new torque wrenching heights – the Arnage T boasts 500 horsepower and enough pulling force to uproot the Amazon – 738 lb-ft of torque.
The Arnage Final Series yawns to 60 in five seconds and streches to 100 in 12 before waking up to a final speed of damn near 180 mph. Considering that the Final Series weighs in at an uncommly 5,700 lbs (curb), and has an aerodynamic slip ratio similar to a Japanese box truck’s, that’s a feat of Britannic proportion.
But alas the might-makes-right, gun-boat diplomacy days are setting in the automotive world and the Arnage is a vestage of a class of car the likes of which may never be built again.
The Continental Flying Spur – Bentley’s new Euro-trash saloon that’s really a Volkswagen Phaeton with flying B badging – is not up to filling the grand Arnage’s LWB footprint. It’s true that in the face of the Phantom menace, Bentley had to discontinue the 10 year old sedan to make room for a new car more capable of matching the new Rolls’ technological prowess and clean-sheet design.
Trouble is that judging by the common nature of the Continental series, Bentley will run the risk of devaluing its sterling status by replacing the Arnage with anything less than a sedan that’s stands as upright. Understatement wasn’t the Arnage’s strong suit nor should it be in its replacement going forward.
Alas, enthusiasts will wait with baited breath. And that may be a curtain call we hear.
By Gunnar Heinrich
BENTLEY and Rolls-Royce have long shared an uneasy history.
The deal by which Rolls-Royce acquired W.O. Bentley’s namesake marque in 1931 was surreptitious at best; under the guise of a cover corporation called “British Central Equitable Trust,” Rolls took full ownership and then demoted Bentley’s head to the status of mere contracted employee.
When W.O.’s own contract came up for renewal, he hopped in his Blower and made for Lagonda.
Decades on, Bentley’s distinctiveness had eroded to building cars that were Rolls-Royces redressed with softer chrome grilles and Flying B badges. Supporting point: the current Arnage line is based on the Rolls-Royce Silver Seraph.
BADGES? WE DON’T NEED YOUR STINKING BADGES!
It was by some divine fate that in 1998 Volkswagen won only part of its bid for Rolls-Royce by taking the Bentley marque. The separation of church and state has proven fruitful to Bentley and Rolls; neither company has ever been more successful.
Now rivaling subsidiaries of competing Teuton parent corporations, Bentley and Rolls are challenging each other for the same customers. And as some kind of coup over Rolls, it would appear that Bentley is claiming a stake to Rolls-Royce history.
In an appeal on their website for owners to use genuine Bentley parts (and pay genuine Bentley prices) when servicing their late model chariots, Bentley has welcomed custom from Rolls-Royce owners.
“We are proud to support all cars produced at Crewe from 1955 to present day,” the site read.
“The pride our technicians take in ensuring that every single Bentley and Crewe-built Rolls-Royce continues to deliver to the exacting performance standards that went into the original design… “
“all cars produced at our Crewe facility, including the many fine Rolls-Royce vehicles, can therefore take advantage of our continuing commitment to stock and supply Bentley and Crewe Genuine Parts.”
Rolls-Royce which builds cars from a new plant in Goodwood, England, makes no such offer on its website to service Bentleys – or old Rollers, for that matter. Both are (and were) products of the Crewe plant.
Granted, many dealers (particulary Stateside) have both Rolls-Royce and Bentley franchises and the service departments work on both marques.
But the fact that Bentley’s own company website welcomes Rolls’ customers as their own is a unique play that is without precedent in the auto industry.
Has Bentley successfully claimed Rolls’ own past by promising to service it?
Eight months on, nine phone calls, two days of shooting, and the best crew any producer could ask for …
I will now fulfill my end of the bargain to you, dear reader.
There’s something so magnificent about a modern classic; a car that embodies the blessed trappings of decadent yesteryear with the conveniences of today. The Bentley Arnage Red Label is the diamond in the post 2000 lineup of the super luxurious automotive conveyances. Short of the Rolls-Royce Phantom, there is no other motorcar currently offered that impresses one with grand tradition of triumph and majesty.
This French descriptor, which has no direct English translation, is the perfect fit for the Arnage. It is an amalgamation of the words “presence” and “prestige” that when conjoined are the apogean précis of what words are able to express when describing what has clearly been crafted to impress.
Man has the ability to create such beauty. And the Arnage is most assuredly rolling sculpture; a post-war classic that embodies the artful emotion of the masters, without coming off as contrived or forced. There’s beauty to behold in every detail. Like the best works of art, the Arnage’s curves are best studied, felt, reflected upon, and mentally embraced. A true objet d’art.
Watching the Bentley Arnage arrive to a standstill is as if to observe a large sandbag representing grandeur being placed against the crude tides of modernization. The Arnage, alone, cannot stop the subjugation of automotordom to the technological pragmatists, but it does make one hell of a stand.
And stand this rolling sculpture does. On wheels that are 19 inches high, the car is 59.7 inches tall. The hood line is quite lofty; a veritable barricade that acts as the knight’s shield. The car’s brilliant chrome matrix grille is some six feet from the driver. This stature allows for some of the grandest of automotive entrances.
Embracing the Sport.
This Bentley is not entirely about elegant wafting or grand entrances. What has made the Arnage so popular since the model’s 1998 start is the stab Bentley engineers made at capturing the racing heritage of the LeMans past. Indeed, in recent years, Bentley reclaimed a LeMans victory and the Red Label version of the Arnage seems to be a celebration of success renewed.
This 2003 model, seems to hark the start of a new era of Bentley individualism. Though based on the short lived Rolls-Royce Silver Seraph, the Arnage line quickly took center stage, especially in Britain, where in London the first choice of the chauffeured quickly became (and remains) the sporting, more understated Arnage.
Yes. The Bentley for all its imposing dimensions, its chrome, and tall expression, does not match the ostentation of Rolls-Royce; particularly the imposing Phantom. It’s much less cleaved and controversial than the in-your-face Phantom, which suggests an understated grace of the older Bentley. Also, the Arnage manages the appearance of visual strength, while the Phantom looks outright armored (but isn’t).
Take the chrome handle of the driver’s door and with thumb push the integrated button that unlatches the last car door in contemporary times to emulate a bank vault. With smooth weight, the door pulls ajar, which affords an appreciative side view of just how thick the port really is.
Casting one’s gaze downward at the door sill completes the stout image of steel layers melded into a single, solid block. Covered with paint and chrome, it’s the embodiment of solid, beautiful excess.
The cabin, once more, is a reassuring haven of luxury. As with Rolls-Royces, the Bentley’s interior carries on the proud tradition of insulation and promulgation of absolute class. This particular Connolly swathed interior is singularly nautical – a rich blue juxtaposed with omnipresent blonde wood veneers. In yachting terms, there is a delightful sensation of Hatteras about it all.
Looking out over the hood is the vast grey sea (grey has been the highly marketed color of the Arnage T). With few exceptions, I have rarely observed paint so richly beautiful as to transform from mere grey in the shade, to light champagne in the sun. The visual sensation of what’s tactile about the car must be the principal selling point.
Twist, Lift, and Go
The Arnage’s key is interesting detail in and of itself. Modeled somewhat on Volkswagen’s switchblade setup (which is a copy of 1990s Mercedes-Benz keys) the green leather bound fob which houses the skinny metallic key – highly reminiscent of old Rolls-Royce keys – is spring loaded only in the extent that it quietly pushes the metal out of its enclosure.
Absent is the loud plastic “clack” sound of VW keys. Where the Bentley key also differs is that it folds softly back into the enclosure without having to be locked in place – again – unlike the VW which sounds another “clack” when secured home and will pop back out if not fully snapped back in place.
There was significant thought given to this key.
Insert into the ignition and simply twist and let go. The classic iron-clad engine – modernized from its 1950’s design only by the newfangled engine management systems – fires to life with the audible force that its 6,751 cubic centimeters promise.
The many gauges that line the driver’s eyesight come quickly to life. There’s an airplane element here. Whether or not the many gauges come to full use is doubtful, but they serve the driver (and passengers) with information simultaneously and in classic form. They trump scrolling through a trip computer’s menu any day, which, by the way, the Arnage also has.
Pull the leather bound gear shifter vertically upwards to release the curious locking mechanism, and then pull backwards to drive. You’re ready to move.
Excess succeeds by its own virtues.
Mae West in her own sultry way suggested that, “too much of a good thing is always wonderful.” I happen to agree and as I press down on the Arnage’s go pedal its delightfully clear that Bentley’s engineers do too.
Starting off, hauling all the mass of a car that weighs 5,699 pounds, casts shade the length of 212.2 inches of roadway, and sit atop a wheelbase that is 122.7 inches long, is the 6.75 Liter, 400 horsepower, 616 ft-lb of torque, V-8 powerplant that drains premium at the road-going rate that the QEII must when casting off from its pier in Southampton.
The Queen Elizabeth II reference is, in fact, fitting as the Arnage is second largest road-going (non-stretched) sedan on the market. The longest would be the Queen Mary II of contemporary luxury cars – the Phantom.
There’s a big-block roar from the engine at low speed that suggests you’re maneuvering a truck; Ettore Bugatti’s slight of the Bentley Boys’ motorcars still remains quite true. Bentleys are, in a certain sense, “fast trucks” in the way they behave.
I have driven bigger cars (and trucks) than this Bentley, but the saloon’s vastness is always palpable. That said, the force needed to control the movement of this physics challenge is quite minimal.
Steering at low speed is finger touch light. As is the gas pedal toe touch easy. The brake pedal, providing pressure to some sizeable stoppers, is actually quite vague and disconcertingly long in its travel. I anticipated a performance feel.
Still, this car moves forward in what in Victorian British foreign policy terms could be rightly claimed as “splendid isolation”. The cabin is so blessedly quiet once under way that it is easy to be at peace with the world and feel a disconnect from the fact that you are driving.
But the Bentley stops you from entering the realm of Rolls-Royce wafting thanks to the sport-tuned suspension that while quick to react to steering input, does not feel totally at home with itself. There’s a slight wobble and resonance as the car traverses over bumps in the road. It’s almost squirrely.
Despite the light effort, there is plenty of information that is fed to the driver through the steering wheel which gives a sense that there is a connection to the road. This provides reassurance when the cornering gets tough.
Onto the open road.
If there is a serious contender to the Mercedes-Benz S-Class as the world’s best car to roll through long distances in secure comfort, it is the Bentley Arnage. Powering onto the freeway, I felt like I am sitting atop a large bull that is charging into a herd of dairy cows. There’s the under the bonnet roar – that seems so loud at standstill – and now is strangely removed. Where is the fire and brimstone?
The speedometer is a very suspect messenger, indeed, for 90 mph arrives and it seems like a leisurely 55 mph. At cruise, there’s little sense that the four speed automatic transmission is putting forth any effort in pushing the Bentley forward. It feels Honda Accord easy.
Master of the Asphalt Seas.
This nautical Arnage moves with the air of confidence whose bounds are the depths of the ocean. It’s a car that seems to put its occupants on another plane from most traffic and at eye level with the suddenly meek lady in the Chevy Suburban to your left.
The Arnage causes quite the stir, though, again not so much of a stir as a Rolls-Royce creates. The older and more reserved Silver Spur that I drove turned more heads and parted traffic faster. There remains in this MTV age a strange anonymity to Bentleys with segments of the populous.
Paradoxical how the Arnage is at once the clear message of excess and next the quiet message of understated elegance.
Parting is such sweet sorrow. My voyage with this Bentley may have been too brief to satisfy a lifetime’s worth of yearning, but not so brief that I did not come away with a strong understanding of mechanics behind the legend.
For me, the Arnage Red Label is the most beautiful of contemporary luxury sedans; a most enchanting chariot that simultaneously protects and entertains while conveying the driver, as every car must, from a to b.
The wondrous sense of occasion that this car espouses coupled with the classical beauty it projects defeats the realities that make this saloon less than practical and assures to be nothing less than eminently desirable.
And I lost my brain
White on silver, it seemed to glide where other cars merely drove. This was the new Rolls-Royce Silver Seraph.
There was much hype around the time of the car’s introduction. Empowered by a new BMW V-12 engine (the same powerplant from the fleet and fabulous 750iL) and entirely redesigned stem to stern; this was the first totally new Rolls-Royce in decades. The Silver Seraph would replace the stately (but dated) Silver Spur and reintroduced some very classic lines to the Rolls-Royce line.
Fast forward to the Summer of 2005, I saw yet another Silver Seraph in New York- this one much less loved; dirty, rained on, and parked next to a rubbish bin on Greenwich Avenue in the Village. I could not help but feel a little sad for this fine car. It was as though it were a worn 1970s Silver Shadow on its umpteenth owner.
The current Bentley Arnage is based on the Silver Seraph. The Arnage has enjoyed much greater success than its Rolls sibling. On the Red Label’s debut, the Arnage was significantly faster, braked in shorter distances, and handled more adeptly than the land yacht Rolls while having all the same comforts. Critics of the Silver Seraph noted the smaller, more rounded grille, with a smaller Spirit of Ecstasy.
To the point: the Arnage was the better car and it justly stole the Silver Seraph’s thunder. This is not to take away from the Silver Seraph’s benefits, however. The car remains sublime to behold and hugely comfortable. Its classic lines are easier on the eye than those of the imposing Phantom – though the Phantom is the superior car in most every other respect.
I cannot help but think of the Eugene O’Neill play, A Moon for the Misbegotten and as car nut associate that story with the quiet tenure of the Silver Seraph. By the time the car had rolled onto the streets, BMW was already on to bigger and better things for Rolls, and the VW was doing the same for Bentley. Both companies had … well … parted company.