1994 Bentley Brooklands
Such was our experience when, after test-driving the 1994 Suzuki Swift sedan and Suzuki Sidekick sport-utility vehicle, we moved immediately into the 1994 Bentley Brooklands and Rolls-Royce Silver Spur III.It should be noted that the tax on either the Brooklands or Silver Spur III would be sufficient to purchase both the Swift and Sidekick and have enough left over to dine on chateaubriand-providing you hold the potato. Officials from Rolls-Royce, maker of the Bentley and Spur III, pulled into town to show off their new models. They called to ask whether we would like to drive Britain's national treasure. We, of course, responded that we'd be willing to motor Princess Di anywhere she'd like to go. We took the raised eyebrows as a form of European chuckle. The typical buyer of a Rolls makes $3.5 million a year, owns four other cars and at least one plane, collects art produced by folks long deceased, and pays by cash, check, bank draft, but not money order or stamps. Still, they let us behind the wheel. First up was the Brooklands, which was at one of Chicago's fashionable hotels. A parking lot attendant wearing a three-piece suit delivered the goods. "Ahem," we beckoned the attendant as he strolled back to work. "How do you get this thing out of park?" "Simple, sirrrrrrr," he replied. "Pull the lever upppppp and then backkkkkk." Hmm. Hope he lost the quarter we gave him in the vending machine. The Brooklands basically is a boat without sails. To weigh it, you'd have to take a trip on the interstate and pull onto the truck scales. To manage the bulk, a 6.75-liter, V-8 (Rolls refuses to discuss horsepower) is under the hood. The mileage rating is 10 miles per gallon city/15 m.p.g. highway, which earns a $5,400 gas-guzzler tax that's included in the $147,100 asking price. At $147,100, Brooklands is the lowest-priced vehicle in the Rolls stable. If it were a Chevy, you'd call it an entry-level car. Driving a Brooklands can have its drawbacks. It's not that a hand-built Bentley is akin to a Yugo, though the seats are so stiff and the suspension so firm that mounting a block of granite probably would have provided relief. It's just that fellow hoi polloi along the highways and byways treat the machine with little respect. Merge onto the Kennedy in a Swift or Sidekick, and eventually someone will ease off the throttle and let you enter. Try the same move in a Bentley, and fellow motorists go out of their way to form a bumper-to-bumper conga line to bar the foreigner from their pathway. The only friendly greeting we got during our travels with the Brooklands was from the owner of the local filling station. But then, you visit someone often enough and class barriers begin to break down. There are a few disappointments with the Brooklands. For example, the driver- and passenger-side windows don't motor down al l the way; they stop at about the level of the power door lock button. Rest your arm along the door frame and you end up with a door glass indentation in your bicep. If you are allergic to leather, you'll have to take a pass on the Brooklands. The aroma so permeates the passenger cabin that it nearly knocks your designer socks off. And for a $147,100 machine, we find it odd that the Bentley logo (an orange B nestled between flying wings) that decorates the dash looks strikingly similar to the Harley-Davidson logo at a casual glance. The Brooklands is built on a 120.5-inch wheelbase and is 207.4 inches long-or roughly the size of a mobile home. Power is supplied by the 6.75-liter V-8. Every convenience known to man is standard, including a cellular phone that's new for '94-except, for some reason, in our test car. Next came the Silver Spur, a definite move up in class. While the Bentley relies on a pair of metal wings lying flat against theb nnet to serve notice as to brand name, the Spur displays a Flying Lady standing proud and tall about six inches high on the bonnet. The thin Cadillac circular crest hood ornament has been a favorite of youth hellbent on obtaining an unusual belt buckle or necklace. If attached to a belt, the much larger flying lady could render the wearer a soprano. If attached to a neck chain, the lady could break a rib. The cost to replace one should it be snared by a vandal is $850. The Silver Spur starts at $189,900, which includes the $5,400 guzzler tax. It gets about 10 m.p.g. in the city and 15 m.p.g. on the highway. Since you must pay almost $43,000 more for a Spur than for a Brooklands, the pull upppp and backkkk floor-mounted shift lever is replaced by a more traditional one in the column. Another difference is that while Brooklands is stiff, the Silver Spur III is soft and cushy. You ride on the proverbial cloud and feel as though you could do it forever-or until the petrol runs out, which definitely will come first. While very comfortable, you feel the weight in the wheel and, when making a turn, you need to use both arms. Like the Brooklands, the windows don't power all the way down. And like the Brooklands, the burled walnut wood trim is so finely grained and polished and shellacked that it looks like plastic. While a most pleasant experience for those who don't mind serving as a motoring billboard, the Silver Spur had an annoyance. The front-end design with built-in creases in the hood allowed rain water to spray against the windshield. Unlike the less costly Brooklands, the Silver Spur III had its phone hidden in the passenger armrest. And unlike the Brooklands, the rear-seat occupants can snack by folding down burled walnut tray tables in the front seat backs. For1994, the only option-for $3,000-open to Rolls owners is to put a TV set in the back of the driver's seat headrest.If the standard bill of fare on the tube is unsatisfactory, the option includes a video player in the trunk so you can watch favorite films instead. Perhaps that's why the phone is in the armrest, so you can call Blockbuster. Any owner of a 1982 or newer Rolls can have the TV/VCR retrofitted in his or her car. Contact your dealer for details. However, you can't get a TV in the Bentley; the headrest is too small. Both Bentley and Rolls models for 1994 offer not only four-wheel anti-lock brakes as standard, but also driver- and, for the first time, passenger-side air bags. The holdup wasn't money, Rolls insists, but the burled walnut trim along the dash. A single strip of wood from the same tree decorates that dash. Rolls had to find a way to put a bag in the panel without disrupting the natural flow of the walnut grain. To do so, Rolls installed a door to the air bag compartment finished in burled walnut that matches the rest of the dash. The door slides open when the bag deploys. Should the bag have to be used, chances are the burled walnut door would be damaged or destroyed, so Rolls has coded the walnut in each car and has each code on file so the same grain from the same piece of wood from the same tree is used. After all, you'd hardly want to pick up your $189,900 Silver Spur from the body shop after the bag was replaced and have your spouse go: "Eek, Harvey, the trees don't match!" For 1994, Rolls raised prices by an average of 6.5 percent, or $8,600 to $18,000, depending on the model. The Brooklands went up by $8,600, to $147,100, the Silver Spur by $11,700, to $189,900, yet neither offers a cupholder. The additions of a standard phone and a second air bag account for a portion of the increase. Also, for the first time, Rolls is providing free scheduled maintenance for three years/unlimited mileage to all 1994 model buyers. That means for the first 36 months of ownership,th buyer pays only for gas and oil. In purchasing a car of this stature, you must prepare to pay the federal luxury tax of 10 percent on the amount of the transaction exceeding $30,000. With the Brooklands, that could mean a tax on $117,100, or $11,710; on the Silver Spur that could mean a tax on $159,900, or $15,990. Considering that people who earn $3.5 million a year usually employ people to find ways to avoid paying any more tax than they have to, the luxury tithe is considered counter cultural.
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