- Best model: Late Arnage Red Label
- Worst model: Anything neglected
- Budget buy: Arnage Green Label
- OK for unleaded?: You’ll have to use it
- Will it fit in the garage? (mm): 5390x1930mm
- Spares situation: No problem – at a price
- DIY ease?: Surprisingly so, but not everything
- Club support: Very good
- Appreciating asset?: Increasingly so
- Good buy or good-bye?: The fastest drawing room on the road
Subscribe to Classic Motoring Magazine and save over 20%Subscribe NOW
Available at all good newsagents including WHSmith
Landmark saloon between two of the most famous badges in the world, divorced after company was carved up between VW and BMW, represent great value for money. Now differing in character, you need to decide whether you want comfort or sportiness but all make more fine alternative than similar-priced Continental GT
Rolls-Royce always used to sell its products using the slogan ‘the best cars in the world’. The motoring press rarely agreed with that sentiment but while objectively there are more capable luxury saloons out there, nothing can quite match the sense of occasion that you get when driving a Crewe classic.
When new, Bentleys and Rolls- Royces have always (and continue to) cost far more than their rivals from marques such as Mercedes and Jaguar. But as with all cars, these products of Crewe have become far more accessible over time and that’s just the case with the Arnage and Silver Seraph – although it’s all relative of course.
There’s little sign of either model becoming as cheap as Silver Shadows once were or Silver Spirits continue to be, while running costs will never be bargain basement either.
The last cars to be built in Crewe before Bentley and Rolls-Royce were separated, the Silver Seraph was produced for less than four years and came with a BMW-built V12, while the Bentley was offered with either a BMW-sourced 4.4-litre V8 (in the Arnage Green Label) or the company’s classic 6.75-litre V8 (in the Arnage Red Label).
As a result there are three quite different variations on the theme and they’re all very different to drive.
While it’s the Arnage Red Label that gets all the plaudits thanks to its hugely torquey V8, don’t be too quick to dismiss the cars powered by BMW powerplants. They may not have quite the allure or cachet of their 6.75-litre sibling, but there are still few cars that are so huge yet offer such an effortless driving experience.
1998 The Arnage débuts in June, with a twin-turbo BMW 4.4-litre V8. This early edition is something of a disappointment as although the BMW powerplant is powerful and efficient, it doesn’t offer the character – or effortless torque – of Crewe’s legendary 6.75-litre V8. But soon after the Arnage’s introduction the Volkswagen Group would buy Bentley and quickly respond to complaints from potential buyers that a more muscular engine is required. Meanwhile, the Rolls-Royce Silver Seraph is also introduced in 1998, fitted with BMW’s 5.4-litre V12 engine and identical to the Arnage apart from the radiator grille, badges and wheels.
1999 The Arnage Red Label appears in September, with the classic 400bhp 6.75-litre pushrod V8 and at a stroke the Arnage goes from being a good car to a great one. If sceptics had doubted Volkswagen’s commitment to the true values of the Bentley brand, they are soon silenced. From this point on, the BMW-engined Arnage is known as the Green Label. With its £4000 premium over a Green Label Arnage, the Red Label proves an instant hit. At this level, such a small premium is a tiny price to pay for such effortless cruising; capable of generating a massive 619lb ft of torque, there’s a hefty 58% more twist action available, so it’s no wonder the BMW-engined option is disregarded by buyers from this point on.
2000 For two years, the Red and Green Label Arnages are offered alongside each other, but in 2000 the BMW-engined model is quietly dropped and nobody notices. In this year there’s also a raft of welcome changes, including improved rear seat space, the fitment of standard sat-nav, speed-sensitive power steering, clear indicator lenses plus bigger (18-inch) wheels (although the ride suffers).
2001 There’s now a long-wheelbase Seraph, for those who want even more rear seat space. The car is stretched by 250mm (10 inches) and called the Park Ward. Production lasts for just a year, with 127 being made. Also, Rolls-Royce gears up for the end of Silver Seraph production with the Last of Line. Priced at £169,000 (£10k more than the regular car), 170 examples are made, each with a two-tone paint scheme inspired by the Silver Cloud I – the first car to be built in Crewe following the company’s relocation there in 1946.
Meanwhile, Bentley cashes in on its Le Mans heritage with a special edition of that name. Launched to celebrate the company’s return to the legendary 24-hour race, 154 examples of the Arnage Le Mans are built. Each features quad exhaust pipes, cooling vents in the front wings, flared wheelarches and beefier bumpers, plus red brake callipers. Inside there’s unique instrumentation and a raft of details that incorporate the winged ‘B’.
2002 A long-wheelbase version of the Red Label is now offered, and despite the Red Label’s massive performance – it’s limited to 155mph and can do 0-60 in just 5.9 seconds – there’s still plenty of scope for more. First comes the Arnage T (in January), then in March the Arnage R is launched, an updated Red Label. The Arnage T is a serious Q car – if you can ever think of a Bentley as being understated in the true sense.
With 450bhp, the Arnage T is capable of 168mph, making it the fastest model ever to wear a Bentley badge.
While the Arnage continues to go from strength to strength, the Silver Seraph is killed off as Rolls-Royce splits from Bentley, moves factory and prepares to launch its own luxury limousine. Since Silver Seraph production got underway, just 1570 examples rolled out of the Crewe factory.
2003 For those who find the standard Arnage just a tad too cramped, that March, Bentley responds with a car even more enormous: the Arnage RL met a need which few would have thought existed as the awesome Arnage, even in ‘standard’ form is one of the most spacious and luxurious limousines available anywhere.
However, for those who need even more space, the RL has a wheelbase stretched by 9.8 inches, with the same twin-turbo 450bhp V8 as the Arnage T; never before had there been such an effortless and luxurious limousine.
2006 The V8 gets an overhaul in November, with its displacement rising to 6761cc and power jumping by a welcome 50bhp.
2008 The run-out Arnages are made. Final Series goes on sale in September. Bentley announces that 150 cars will be built, but just 96 are made, each with a 500bhp Arnage T powertrain.
Driving and press comments
When Car magazine drove the Bentley Arnage upon its launch in 1998, it was pretty clear the boys and girls at Crewe had created something extraordinary: “We’re piling into a hairpin at Le Mans, feeling this colossal galleon begin to take the strain, then nailing the giant bellows of an aluminium accelerator pedal to muster up the big turbocharged thrust. We’re discovering that Bentley’s latest is designed to be toyed with. The rear tyres lose the unequal struggle and begin a heady sidelong drift. It’s easily caught, though, and it feels all-of-a-piece.
“Things have changed at Bentley: the body doesn’t heave and groan; there’s no commotion of lurch or pitch or rock. There’s a precise mechanical linkage from steering wheel to tyres where once you relied on a chain of pixies playing Chinese whispers. This is a proper sports saloon”.
The monthly went on to eulogise over the new arrival, talking about the relatively small 4.4 V8 “working a treat, the low-inertia turbos spooling up the moment you put in a right-foot request. Even at 2000rpm, you’re on the crest of a great torque wave that sweeps all before it”.
Considering how relatively unloved the Arnage Green Label is now, but how highly regarded it was when new, the Red Label that arrived a year later was nothing less than sensational. Founder Harry Metcalfe put the 6.75-litre Arnage through its paces for his Evo magazine, when it arrived late in ’99. Noting that the V8 offered 58 per cent more torque than a 6.0-litre Merc V12, the Red Label had the kind of effortless performance that the Arnage was crying out for.
The Red Label’s driving experience wasn’t the only thing that Metcalfe savoured to the full though; he rather loved the Bentley’s cabin: “Maybe there aren’t the computers and gizmos of some rivals, but you’ll marvel at the workmanship on show a lot longer”. He concluded: “Driving it is a unique pleasure. The Bentley Red Label may not be able to lay claim to the title ‘the best car in the world’ but it’s definitely the finest experience”.
Values and marketplace
Paul Brightman and Patrick Lloyd-Jacob run Surrey-based Royce Service & Engineering (http://www.royceservice.co.uk), which specialises in selling and servicing Rolls-Royce and Bentley. Says Paul: “The Arnage and Silver Seraph need to be treated as two distinct cars because anybody interested in the one probably wouldn’t consider buying the other. Rolls-Royce enthusiasts won’t want the Bentley while the Bentley fan will see the Rolls-Royce as not sporting enough, which is why each derivative appeals to a different type of enthusiast”.
Brightman adds: “We’re always happy to advise on these cars and we usually keep a few in stock as there’s always demand for them. Buying the right one is key, as they’re all different – even down to the model years and variation. For example, the Arnage R is more refined than the Arnage T alternative so it’s better suited to the owner/driver. However, post-2007 Arnage Ts were much less harsh so you get the sporty drive without having to pay any refinement penalty”.
Lloyd-Jacob comments: “The Silver Seraph appeals to Rolls-Royce traditionalists who don’t want to move up to a newer (and much more costly) Phantom, which isn’t as user-friendly. Often, those who are buying a Silver Seraph will have owned an older Rolls- Royce such as a Silver Shadow or Silver Spirit. However, there aren’t that many Silver Seraphs to go round, they don’t come onto the market all that often and when they do, many have done a high mileage. The key problem in terms of availability is that Silver Seraph owners tend to hang onto their cars because there’s nothing else to buy”.
This lack of supply but relatively ready demand has led to a hardening of values in recent years. Even the cheapest highmileage cars still command £30,000 while £40,000 secures a 50,000-mile earlier car. Most buyers want a post-2000 model though as they’re more fully equipped and the redesigned rear seat is much more comfortable. Most Silver Seraphs sell for somewhere between £40,000 and £50,000, although if you’re lucky enough to find a superb Last of Line you could pay over £60,000 for it.
If you’re looking for a cheaper alternative the Bentley Arnage Red Label might be just the ticket. Virtually all of the Arnages available have the pushrod V8 rather than BMW’s powerplant and as a result there’s a wider spread of prices.
You can pick up a Red Label that’s done 80,000 miles, for a little under £20,000 – whereas a Green Label will fetch a few thousand more. These models tend to have covered fewer miles which is why values tend to be a bit higher – expect to pay around £22,000 for a car that’s covered little more than 50,000 miles.
There aren’t many Green Labels to choose from at any one time in contrast to the more popular Red Labels. Beware of paying over the odds though, and don’t assume that whatever you buy is a cast-iron investment. Brightman adds: “The later models are likely to prove the most collectible in the long term but these are also the ones that are still depreciating.
The Arnage T is the one that many buyers want but for a truly superb one of those you can pay more than £60,000. Also worth seeking out are the Le Mans and Final Series, but their rarity means these editions don’t come up for sale very often”.
The idea of upgrading a Bentley or Rolls- Royce should seem rather pointless – and in most respects it is. You won’t need any extra power while the brakes are strong and the suspension is pretty well set up as long as you accept that the focus is on comfort rather than handling – there’s only so much you can do to tame well over two tons at high speed.
With the most luxurious cabin in the world when it was new, interior upgrades are also unnecessary, but the original factory-fit sat-nav is now hopelessly antiquated so it’s worth modernising that.
Your best bet here is to talk to RR&B Garages (http://www.rrbgarages.com), which has devised a way of installing a modern TomTom or Garmin system into the original navigation slot on top of the dash.
Some owners also like to indulge in a few cosmetic tweaks, such as bigger wheels and vents in the front wings. The latter were standard on the Le Mans, but with just 50 of these built, and with them being among the most desirable of the breed, you’ll have to dig deep to buy one.
Or you could just add some wing vents to a more prosaic model.
What To Look For
Body and chassis
- That bluff front easily gets damaged by flying debris, so check for paint chips. If the radiator grille has suffered from any damage, it could easily cost £2000+ to put things right.
- Corrosion shouldn’t be an issue, although some earlier cars can suffer from rust in the wheelarches and sills. It shouldn’t have spread though; if it has, assume that the car has been neglected or badly repaired after a shunt and walk away.
- Early Arnages didn’t have a very stiff structure, so on the move they can creak and groan more than you’d expect. Later cars are much stiffer though; these shouldn’t make any untoward noises.
- Check who has serviced the car; independent specialists are fine – but it needs to be somebody with a decent reputation. Don’t buy a car that doesn’t come with a decent wad of service history.
- These cars are big and heavy, so parts costs tend to be steep. A set of front brake pads costs £300 is a prime example.
- Be wary of wacky colour schemes specified by first owners with more money than taste. Buyers like subdued shades, with dark exterior colours and light interiors the preferred option. The wrong colour scheme can knock thousands off an Arnage’s value.
- Bentley made a raft of changes in 2002 to improve the chassis, the result being a big improvement in roadholding. Earlier cars can be (expensively) upgraded, but these later cars are the ones to go for.
- Interiors don’t necessarily age well; look for sagging leather, delaminating wood and tatty carpets. Unsurprisingly, if any retrimming or refurbishment is needed it’ll cost plenty to put right.
- The differences between the Arnage and Seraph aren’t restricted to the outside; the Bentley features more dials than the Roller and the gear selector sits between the seats in the Arnage. In the Seraph it’s on the dash.
- With so many variations to choose between, each of the various models is different to drive. Even the various iterations of the Red Label are different to drive thanks to an array of suspension settings, power outputs, engine set-ups and wheelbases/ weight distribution.
- Alloy wheels don’t age well, with peeling lacquer par for the course. Many cars aren’t sitting on their original rims any more; refurbishing what’s fitted needn’t be costly, but fitting new wheels could easily cost in excess of £2000. Be wary of split-rim wheels as they’re easily damaged and very costly to overhaul.
- The suspension and brakes have to work hard; check they’re not tired, as they often are. Cars that are used only sparingly might be suffering from corroded brake discs – and increasingly, these cars are used only on an occasional basis.
- The Bentley V8 is a fundamentally strong unit, which will swallow 250,000+ miles without murmur, although it’ll be happier if the right anti-freeze concentration has been maintained. Internal corrosion is unlikely, but engines can overheat through broken fan belts or leaking hoses. The pistons will knock on an engine that’s been allowed to overheat, so listen for these.
- Some early Arnage Red Labels, now with the old Rolls V8 could suffer from head gasket failure. It was thought to be a reaction between the anti-freeze and the silicone in the gasket. Most such cars have been dealt with by now and once the work has been done you can expect the engine to just keep working.
Three Of A Kind
BMW 750IL (E38)The last of the elegant 7-Series models before Chris Bangle got involved and spoiled it all, the E38 came in standard or long-wheelbase forms. You need to buy the latter – ideally loaded with lots of costly options – if you want the ultimate, but don’t get carried away if you’re going to be doing the driving. The shorter car is more wieldy but both versions have starship performance. Can be exceptional value, too.
Jaguar XJ12 (X300)As the last ever Jaguar with V12 power, the X300 will always be collectible – although the XJR is likely to prove even more so in the long term, with its supercharged 4.0-litre straight-six which offers even more performance than Jaguar’s glorious V12. As with all of the cars here, the Jag offers sublime refinement and eye-watering performance, but finding a really good example is always difficult.
Mercedes S600 (W220)As with all of the cars here, the big Merc offers a massive amount of car for the money. But while the value is incredible, running costs can be eye-watering because of high parts costs. This is, after all, a 150+mph luxury saloon. Beautifully built and appointed, the S-Class is a work of art but you’ll never enjoy the same sense of occasion driving one of these as you would with one of the Crewe cars.
Two similar looking saloons but now with very different characters, compared with what they cost new, both represent relative bargains in today’s market and, dare we suggest, nicer and more cultured buys to the ‘WAGs’ Bentley GT? However, you must first decide whether you prefer the sportiness of a Bentley to the comfort of a Rolls-Royce – so best try both. There’s a raft of independent specialists out there who can keep this Crewe classic in fine fettle and at containable prices. But if you skimp when buying or running one, that bargain will turn out to be anything but…
This review has 0 comments - Be the first!
Leave a comment
Keep it polite and on topic. Your email address will not be published. Please do not advertise products, all posts of this nature will be removed. We do not stock or supply any of these products, we independently review these products.