Want to know what life would be like daily driving a 6 3/4 litre Bentley Arnage Red Label? Simon Howarth introduces his rather wonderful flying B to the Fast Club fleet. Images by Jake Thomas.
One of Rush Magazine’s mission statements is “no hyper cars or 'unobtainium'” and until very recently the car I will mainly be writing about was, for me, extremely unobtainable. So, let me tell you a little about my journey into ownership of a quintessentially British luxury automobile. Some of us may be lucky enough to have the money spare to consider a second car, something sporty maybe, or elegant. Something that will turn heads or be quite quirky. Indeed, some of us may have a dream car that we would like to own, one day.
This is what it was for me. I have lots of dream cars, haven’t we all? However, one car stood out from the rest, the quintessentially British luxury and sporty car, the Bentley. But which one, and how much? How much would it cost to run? What would it be like to live with? So many questions and so much information out there meant that I spent several months just reading up. I joined online groups to read about the exploits of others which proved incredibly useful and to some extent scary enough that wetting my pants was a real possibility as I committed to buy.
I had a budget to buy a vehicle of up to around £16,000. This meant that of the Bentley’s I liked, the affordable ones were the 1990s Mulsanne and Turbo Rs, Continental Rs up to the early 2000s Arnage model.
The 1990s cars seemed to be many and varied, in that prices were all over the place, between £6,000 through to £30K plus for barely used examples. With the advantage of fewer electronic gizmos to go wrong, there were one or two very tempting cars that I let slip away because I wouldn’t commit. I was also coming to the conclusion that a slightly newer Arnage would be a better bet for practicality and I just preferred the shape. To give you an idea of how seriously I was taking this, my searching and researching took me from July 2019 through to March 2020 – let’s not talk about what happened then. Although the pandemic did make me take the plunge sooner than I might have.
Searching online one day, I came across an advertisement for a 2000 Bentley Arnage Red Label. I had been keeping my eye out for a Green Label (1998 to 2000) but this one jumped at me. Tempest Silver with a lovely, as it turned out, Barley coloured hide. This would make a good wedding car, and it occurred to be that there might be a way to help the car pay for herself – by doing some weddings. Well, that’s not worked out too well in 2020 and early 2021 has it? D’oh!
My search for a Green Label Arnage was based on the fact that the Green Labels were the first Arnage models, although they were only called Green Label after the Red Label was introduced. The Green Label name refers quite literally to the fact that the badges of these cars were green. They were also powered by the 4.4 litre V8 BMW engine which powered various BMW models across their range. I was reckoning on the reliability of the 4.4 litre unit as a potentially cheaper to maintain piece of kit.
The Red Label Arnage by contrast was introduced shortly after VW bought Bentley from Vickers. Coupled with the change in ownership and BMW buying some rights to the Rolls-Royce name, there were questions on how the engine supply might pan out longer term. This led to VW bringing back the old Bentley V8, now being built by Cosworth under license. The change from green badges to red badges was the subtle way that Bentley indicated a change of power unit back to the old Bentley L series V8, first introduced in 1959 and which has only ceased production completely, in 2020.
The Bentley V8 at 6.75 Litres dwarfed the 4.4 in terms of engine capacity and weight and the single Garrett T4 turbo took the Arnage from 354bhp to 400bhp and loads of torque to boot, in fact 615 lb. ft at 2,000 rpm making the Red Label the highest torque four door car in the world, at the time. However, it wasn’t just an engine swap, there were uprated brakes and other bits to cope with the extra engine weight including, I think, a change of gearbox from a GM to a ZF unit.
The ownership of Rolls-Royce by Vickers, then VW and the purchase of Rolls-Royce (parts of it) by BMW is a curious tale which you may like to read more about. It certainly was an interesting time for these two cars back in the late 90s and early 2000s.
The Arnage I was interested in was advertised for £16,000 by a very reputable specialist in Kent. After several conversations it turned out to be a car that they had sold previously and the owner had passed away and now it was being sold by the owner’s widow via the specialist. How many times have you heard a garage say “Selling on behalf of someone, mate. No warranty”. Fortunately, this dealer has a reputation to uphold and it was made clear that a warranty would be provided along with new MOT and any faults rectified. SOLD! And that was it. In April 2020 I bought a Bentley Arnage Red Label although it would be May before I took delivery with the pandemic lockdown and the dealer ensuring that various little issues were properly sorted.
Delivery day arrived, yes you heard right, I bought this car unseen breaking every rule in the book for buying a car. However, I figured that after all my hard work researching and understanding these cars, and with a warranty to boot, it was worth the small risk. As it turned out, I got away with it but I would never recommend someone to do what I did. If you do, make sure you’ve done your research and are not giving your money to a crook, ask people, check online, get feedback on the seller, if you can. Otherwise, you may as well send it to that Prince that emails you occasionally and hope that he really does have a squillion dollars to drop into your bank account.
An interesting aside on this vehicle is that the car is fitted with engine number L67500001. Some further research confirmed that this engine was the first of the revised 6.75 litre engines that were to replace the 4.4 BMW units.
It appears that when VW decided that the L Series V8 would be used in the Arnage, the engineers had a job to do. The Arnage was designed around the BMW engine and so some work was needed to fit the 6.75 litre unit satisfactorily. The engines needed modifying, fitting and testing due to the extra weight and more power.
I believe that possibly six such engines were designated. You see, all 6.75 litre engines have the number L410xxxxxx, 410 being close to the cubic inch measurement of the earlier engines. However, a small number, for the purposes of Arnage fitting only, were designated L675. Once the engine had been modified and accepted, the engine numbers reverted to L410 for production units, but the L675 number engines were put back into production with the same numbers. My Arnage is the 89th built of the L Series engines, but with engine number 1. I am not sure if this is a good thing or not. Certainly, it’s not been that much of a problem so far and to be fair, buying a twenty-year old car, the teething problems will have been ironed out by now to be replaced with wear and tear. One can only hope and pray. I also hope that one day, when I come to sell her, someone will pay a premium for this engine. Perhaps not.
On receiving the car, I obviously set about checking everything and going out for a spin. For a car that is two decades old she drove exceptionally well. Plush and comfortable in ride and driving position, the car feels huge at low speeds and the steering perhaps a little remote. Once underway the remoteness gives way to a feeling of solid feedback, not like a sports car but more what you would expect a luxury automobile to feel like. Pressing the accelerator, a little gives a lazy response which is fine for this type of vehicle, it will be docile when you want it to be. However, pressing down harder and you feel the car come to life, a smooth lurch if that’s not too much of an oxymoron is followed by rapid acceleration. When new the Red Label was listed with a 0-60mph time of 5.9 seconds. I suspect that age will be responsible for worsening this rather good time. Even so, she is still more rapid than a speedy pizza delivery driver.
On the face of it, I appeared on the first drive to have bought a genuinely nice motor car. In subsequent articles, I’ll go further into Bentley Arnage Red Label running costs and the ownership highs and lows of a car that has some incredible features (including eyewatering spares prices).