Limited dash, huge flash – and not much cash
By Mike Duff / Saturday, January 23, 2021 / Loading comments
Brands that like to play heavily on heritage and tradition always run the risk of being accused of betraying their past or selling out. For Bentley that moment most obviously came – for the brand's redder-faced and whiter-whiskered adherents – when the company allowed itself to be sold to the Germans. Yet for the greener-blooded Ultras of that period the indignity of the Volkswagen takeover was just the point at which the MOT tester's hammer went through the sill – the rot went deeper than that.
Because a fair percentage of Bentley's customer base regarded the 1998 Arnage as being a betrayal of the brand's core values and close to vulgar in its quest for modernity. The Arnage's most egregious crime against Bentley-ness was the turbocharged BMW V8 engine it was launched with – one that was soon corrected by a return to the unarguably proper 6.75-litre pushrod in the Red Label – but the modest curves that had been integrated into its design and showy details like the glass headlamp covers it was launched with also seemed trendy and try-hard to the die-hards. For these loyalists the car the Arnage replaced would remain the epitome of the brand's imperious, square-rigged styling.
More than two decades later and this week's Brave Pill – a fine looking 1995 Brooklands – raises the distinct possibility that the contemporary doubters actually had a good point. There's no doubting the Arnage's credentials when it comes to performance or presence, but its design has definitely aged and it now manages to somehow look older than the car it replaced. The Brooklands, and visually near identical Turbo R, date from the earlier time when Bentleys were never intended to be fashionable, and in consequence their bluff lines are well on the way to making the tricky transition to true timelessness.
Not that Brooklands customers were ever going to experience the sort of acceleration that buyers or more recent Bentleys have enjoyed as a right. This was an era when the company was still officially coy about declaring its cars' power outputs – largely to spare their blushes – with the Brooklands' 6.75-litre L-Series OHV V8 was only making around 241hp, and delivering that at a modest 4,000rpm. Torque was brawnier – 369lb ft at just 1,900rpm – but with 2,430kg sitting on the other side of the balance (even in short-wheelbase form) the Brooklands was barely able to haul itself past 60mph from rest in under ten seconds, and it would take a very long straight to validate its claimed 130mph top speed.
But going fast was never the point. Anyone looking for G&T spilling performance could save up for slightly longer for the extra muscle of the Turbo R, which combined forced induction with the same bodyshell. The Brooklands was for those more interested in effortless progress, although without any significant benefits over the R in terms of fuel consumption. Even under gentle use the Brooklands would struggle to get close to its official 15.4mpg fuel economy figure. At least a vast 108-litre fuel tank meant that these wallet-wilting trips to filling stations could still be more than 300 miles apart.
Most Bentley buyers of the period opted for the R, although the power disparity was reduced after a couple of years when the Brooklands was upgraded to a low-pressure turbocharged engine. (Our Pill is the earlier, naturally aspirated version.) Like its Bentley Eight predecessor the Brooklands is therefore often overlooked these days, and yet it had fans in high places.
I used to regularly plan journeys around central London so I could walk along a road behind Belgravia Square, one where a magnificent street-parked Brooklands lived for many years. It was an early car and wore the patina of a long life in the capital, with dulling green paintwork and the battle scars that came from the combination of a 5.2-metre length and the lack of any parking sensors. Living on one of the UK's most expensive streets proved that its owner had pockets deep enough to replace it with something newer, its continued presence was proof that they didn't feel any urge to. The Brooklands always looked effortlessly classy, much more at home than the nouveau Range Rovers and diplomatic plated Mercs that surrounded it, despite being worth much less. I was sad when it disappeared a few years ago.
Our Pill looks much fresher, indeed close to immaculate in the images with gleaming Peacock Blue metallic outside and barely worn sandstone hide within. A driver's airbag and a period radio-cassette are pretty much the only concessions to modernity in the cabin, although Bentley's decision to relocate the gear selector from the steering column to the centre console was regarded as a bit racy when the Brooklands first came out. Unusually this car doesn't have the rear fold-up picnic tables, normally the first box ticked by those specifying Bentley or Rolls-Royce saloons. Meaning less chance of getting crumbs in the purple carpet.
This car is being sold by Duke of London in Brentford and although the registration is obscured by the dealer's plates in the images, Enzo the PH hamster has been persuaded out of hibernation to retrieve the number from the dustiest recesses of the corporate memory banks. This has produced what seems to be the cleanest MOT history since Brave Pill began: our Brooklands' last seven tickets have all come without a single advisory. They have also been separated, on average, by just 750 miles each year (it has done a thousand since the last pass in August; possibly a fond farewell by its last owner.) The last time red sullied the record was back in 2014, with a fail for the heinous crimes of misaligned headlights and a non-functioning rear bulb. Given the intensity of maintenance required to keep a Bentley from this period in fettle, that's a testament to significant amounts of both love and spending.
The advert doesn't detail all of this financial outflow, but promises both a bulging history file and that the most recent service was carried out as recently as August, accompanied by an air-con regas and anti-corrosion treatment. Plenty of elbow grease has doubtless been expended to get it scrubbed up for the pictures, but there seems little doubt of the solidity of the car underneath. There are Brooklands out there for less than the £14,995 being asked for this one – less loved examples still sometimes drop into four figures – but cheaper cars are likely to quickly offset savings on their purchase price with chunky repair bills.
Running any Bentley of this era requires both deep pockets and a sense of humour capable of withstanding the cost of even apparently simple repairs. For an idea of the size of financial gonads necessary to consider ownership, here's a comment from PHer and former owner Balmoral when we Pill'd a Turbo R back in May 2019: "whilst I miss the car I don't miss the bills. In my last year of ownership it cost me £9K. I didn't mind £3K here and £4K there year in and year out, with the odd respite of a sub-£2K year. But that last year was the 'it's got to go' moment."
Or, in short, if you're planning to own a car like this for more than a couple of years, you're likely to be spending more than the purchase price keeping it on the road. But what did you expect for a car named after a such a famous bit of banking?
See the original advert here
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