Currently reading: Used buying guide: Bentley Arnage
This old devil is hard to please but can reward you handsomely

Generally speaking, large, luxurious and very expensive four-door saloons, larded thick with avoirdupois, don’t grab driving enthusiasts by the lapels and slap them around the face with desirability. Yet there’s something almost universally appealing about the Bentley Arnage.

Initially conceived under Vickers ownership but launched in 1998, when Bentley was under the Volkswagen Group umbrella, the Arnage had a heart originally from a BMW: the 4.4-litre V8 in turbocharged 344bhp form. To avoid the obvious embarrassment after its takeover, Volkswagen in 1999 added the old 6.75-litre V8 from the Bentley Turbo R, taking the opportunity to stiffen the Arnage’s bodyshell in the process, and then a year later dropped the more efficient BMW unit. A little tweaking of the nomenclature to distinguish between the two resulted in the BMW-engined cars being called Green Label and the Volkswagen-engined cars Red Label.

In 2001, you could even buy an extended version of the Arnage, called the RL, with an extra 25cm of wheelbase and its engine upgraded and made suitable for future emissions legislation by the addition of two turbochargers and fuel injection.

A year later, it was all change again, as the Red Label became the Arnage R. A few months later, that was joined by the Arnage T, with the engine sufficiently souped up to produce a wholesome 453bhp and 645lb ft of torque. Finally, in 2007, it was upped again to 493bhp and a whopping 738lb ft.

If for some reason you’re not instantly attracted to this prime rump of butch British steak, let’s start with the obvious fact that this imperious Arnage has oldschool appeal by the bucketload. Considerable reserves of power, too, with almost any of those engine options.

Go for the more numerous 6.75-litre models and underneath that elegant bonnet that hushed monster produces colossal torque – strong enough in the Arnage T to waft from 0-60mph in just 5.5sec. And that’s not all: it will carry on accelerating, locomotive-like, all the way up to 170mph. In fact, thinking about it, this is possibly your only chance to buy a road-going version of the Class A4 Mallard.

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Quite surprisingly, considering its bulk, the Arnage corners pretty well, too. And yes, if you have the requisite skills, you can even set it up in a nice, long, somewhat alarming-to-behold drift. You see, I told you that it would grab you by the lapels.

Inside is a surprisingly intimate cocoon of leathery opulence with all the usual wood trimmings. It’s not hugely spacious, but it is opulent. Bits might fall off it here and there, but that’s all part of the old-school Bentley charm.

Yes, an Arnage will cost you a fortune to run and, no, it doesn’t handle like a Lotus Elise, but what you have here is an opportunity to protect a wonderful threatened species.

The Continental Flying Spur and later Mulsanne saloons that replaced the Arnage are all very well in their own ways, but there’s a definite whiff of the Rhine about them.

What we said then

1 September 2006: “It’s 48 years since the pushrod V8 engine was first used in the Bentley S2, but there’s nothing antique about the way the Arnage reaches 60mph in 5.2sec or hits 179mph flat out. The big Bentley is a fluid and faithful handler whose 2500kg weight proves to be an advantage. It tracks dead straight, which means you can place it with great accuracy, shaving hedges and apexes without a hint of putting a foot wrong. You can also see what’s coming from the Arnage’s lofty driving position in its glorious interior.”

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An expert’s view

Nigel Sandell, Bentley specialist: “The main problem with the Arnage is that the factory didn’t have enough money when they started making it. All its DNA is BMW, basically. It’s so different from older Bentleys and Rolls-Royces that we had to throw out the rule book. Changing the head gasket on the BMW V8 is an engine-out job and the twin turbos in some engines are really inaccessible.

“Maintenance can be very expensive and problematic, because we can’t always get the right parts now. We’ve had to have many bespoke parts made. Buy one that has already had money spent on it, else it could cost a fortune. It’s like a house: always get a survey by an expert before buying.”

Buyer beware

Engine: Arnages like a regular oil change, and later cars have a one-year or 10,000-mile service interval. There’s a counter on the dashboard to warn you. Early twin-turbo examples can suffer camshaft failure and parts are difficult to get. The head gasket can fail in Red Label cars, although this is rare. New bushes for wastegates on BMW engines have to be fabricated. The secondary air-injection system’s pipework at the engine’s rear can leak and requires gearbox removal to fix it. Brake pumps and air-ram pipes in the engine’s vee are often neglected.

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Chassis and wheels: The front-lower wishbone bushes wear after around 60,000 miles. Check the condition of the discs and pads regularly, because they do a lot of work. Make sure you get the right size and type of tyre. The 18in tyres are hard to get now and cost about £400 each. The 19in tyres are more plentiful and cheaper, not to mention better for the ride and handling.

Electrics: Having the wrong batteries has caused a number of reported issues. It should have a Type 100 service battery and a Type 75 starter battery

Body: Rust forms around the wishbones, door handles, locks and window frames. Check the condition of the inner wings, which can rot.

Interior: Ensure the heater fan-blower motor works on all of the speed settings. The window regulators are weak spots, as is the indicator stalk. The airbag pressure sensor on the passenger seat can go wrong. If the air-con goes Performance from the V8 can blow your socks off. Apart from BMW switchgear, it’s all trad British in here.

Also worth knowing

Costs can be lowered a tad if you use an independent Bentley specialist, but enthusiasts warn against using specialists in other VW Group brands.

Electrical gremlins can emerge in pre-2006 cars, but keeping the larger battery charged by driving or trickle-charging helps to keep them at bay.

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The Arnage can cost anything from £700 to £3000 to service, depending on what’s needed. Sandell has seen bills as high as £9000 for work on the air injection and brakes. It’s vital not to skimp, though, and it’s critical to get a car with a full service history.

MPG figures in the mid-teens can be expected, although Sandell says the BMW engine can get up to 34. VED for cars registered before 23 March 2006 is capped at £295.

How much to spend

£15,000 - £19,999: Early 4.4s with big miles but in solid condition and the first of the 6.75s.

£20,000 - £24,999: Red Labels with an average mileage. Higher-mileage Ts from 2000-2004. The nicest 4.4s make up to £22,000.

£25,000 - £29,999: Rs and Ts from 2000-2005 with 30,000-60,000 miles.

£30,000 - £34,999: Post-2001 Rs and Ts with very few miles and in immaculate condition. Later models with higher mileages.

£35,000 and above: Facelifted Rs and Ts (from 2005). Mostly good, clean cars up to 2008.

One we found

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Bentley Arnage T, 2006, 64,000 miles, £26,990: Stunning in grey with an immaculate and lovely black leather interior and look-enhancing split-rim alloys. It also has picnic tables, lamb’s wool mats, all the original books and a full service history. It comes with a 12-month warranty from the selling specialist dealer, too, so it’s a bit of a bargain.

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Scribbler 21 March 2022

I have always had a high regard for the Arnage, however, there is no getting away from the fact that running costs will be high even if you buy a good one. Even if you are an able DIY mechanic, parts prices would still be an issue - this also affects many other UK luxury and performance brands.