Twenty grand. That's all that's required to have this Bentley Arnage sitting on your driveway. And no, it's not a Green Label, with a 4.4-litre BMW engine wheezing away under the bonnet. It's a Red Label, which means it has the engine you want: Crewe's 6.75-litre big-turbo masterpiece. That means 400hp from those eight, tub-thumping cylinders and, more to the point - and where BMW's V8 fell short with its mustering of 'just' 420lb ft - a whacking great 616lb ft of torque at 12rpm. Well, okay, not 12rpm, but a lot of it was available from just 1,000rpm and it was all flowing by 2,100rpm. That was enough to hitch up the skirt of this 2.4-tonne behemoth and carry it off to sixty in under six seconds.
Except it really was all about that torque rather than the Red Label's ultimate speed. This is a car that genuinely can claim to waft with nothing but a light touch on the throttle pedal. And okay, the L-Series was never a soundless thing, but its lazy V8 background rumble was all part of the Bentley experience. Moreover, I always found these earlier Red Labels quieter than the later twin-turbo models that came along later, including the Arnage R and T.
Of course, the Arnage was never meant to have the 6.75-litre because it had been put out to grass when the SZ saloons were retired in 1997. In the background, Vickers had been hunting around for a modern replacement for the long-lived V8, so that it could meet the present and upcoming emissions regulations that it felt the L Series would struggle with. After looking at Mercedes' engines, it was finally decided to develop a technical partnership with BMW, which would supply the M62 V8 engine for Arnage, with Cosworth-designed heads, and the (rather lovelier, it has to be said) M73 V12 for the Rolls-Royce Seraph. This tie-up would also see other BMW parts used, including the HVAC system and switchgear.
However, then something happened few at the time expected. The power struggle to end all power struggles, as BMW and Volkswagen locked horns for control of the two most famous marques in luxury motoring. BMW threatened to withdraw technical support (which it never followed through on) but by the time the dust had settled - and BMW had gained the rights to use the Rolls-Royce name, while Volkswagen assumed full control of Bentley - the idea of relying on BMW for its source of engines was politically unviable.
So that was when the L Series was pulled out the cupboard, so to speak, and much of the Arnage was reengineered in the process. This included answering criticisms about the lack of space in the back. But rather than add an expensive LWB version, the solution was to lower and push back the position of the rear seats. It did the job. At the same time the body shell was stiffened up and the brakes, which struggled to deal with the extra weight and performance of the L Series, were beefed up.
Now, some people will tell you that the BMW-engined cars are better. They are not. The later cars, which were badges Green Label and carried the same modifications as the Red Labels, were okay. But they still don't have the character that you get with the old 6.75-litre installed. If you must have BMW power, then I'd definitely go looking for the V12 Seraph instead. Otherwise, the Red Label is a fabulous Bentley, in terms of looks and drive. Sure, it'll be potentially expensive to run, but when it's just £19,995 to buy, you can keep the savings to cover the servicing. Enjoy.
Specification | Bentley Arnage Red Label
Engine: 6,750cc, V8, turbocharged
Transmission: 4-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 400hp @ 4,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 616 @ 2,100rpm
Recorded mileage: 80,000
Year registered: 2001
Price new: £140,000
Yours for: £19,995
1 / 5