Bentley’s 2005 Arnage T is a lovely leftover, a mechanical souvenir from distant days when Rolls-Royce was its builder and any thought of an ownership change was just a gleam in the eye of Volkswagen. This big, blocky car is still very much a 1999 Bentley Red Label—without the red label, but with identical lines to the naked and neophyte eye. The heft (almost 3 tons), 4-speed transmission, and Garrett-turbocharged, pushrod, 6.75-liter V-8 are the same as those of the pre-VW Continental coupes and Azure convertibles. Dig deeper and you will discover that this monster engine first growled in the Bentley S2 of 1959.
Yet the Arnage T is no relic. Its lineage stands as testimony to a carmaker that has smoothed the parts without dinging perfection. Consider this truly luxurious automobile a modern antique that offers the thrill of being at the wheel of a city block with 450 hp under one’s right toe to propel all that bulk in an instant with a swoosh and a whisper—and at 168 mph, should the mood strike.
Throughout its 85-year history, Bentley has insisted on interiors that could serve as staterooms, and it makes no exception for the Arnage T. As always, the cabin is inordinately rich with the obligatory woods and leathers, purged of plastic, quilted and Savoy comfortable, and exhibiting a flawless fit and finish that suggests there could have been 10 years between first tuck and last stitch. Little has been altered from the last Arnage or from the past century. Present are the ample comforts of broad seating made in-house and the chromium portholes with their push-pull stops for heating and cooling.
However, for those who do want small reminders of the present, the Arnage T has been given a splendid new center console and dashboard, where essential knobs, buttons, and displays (for controlling the satellite navigation system, seat positions, and sound system) are hidden beneath sliding wood panels. Wheels are 19-inch alloys shod by Pirelli, and all the modern advantages of traction and suspension controls are in place.
Still, Bentley’s bias for antiquity clearly remains, and to some of our judges, all this ermine elegance and obsession with heritage is what makes a car a Bentley. It is a salvation, they noted, an escape to a social softness before we all go bonkers. To others it is suffocation, an anachronism, and a hopeless denial of change and progression, iPods, plasma screens, stem cell adventures, and scramjets. They said they felt as if they were driving an old car, or that overnight they had aged by 20 years.
But at the end of the day, we all had gone back in time and driven the Bentley at pace, but mostly at peace, along leafy back roads among the faux châteaux and grand wineries of Napa Valley. The Bentley was a perfect complement, no more out of place here than an old wine among young vines.
Engine 6.75-liter V-8, twin turbocharged
Power 450 hp at 4,100 rpm
Torque 645 ft lbs at 3,250 rpm
Zero-to-60 time 5.5 seconds
Top speed 168 mph
Transmission 4-speed automatic
Wheelbase 122.8 inches
Curb weight 5,700 pounds
Base price $234,000