If Abbott couldn't make Costello understand who's on first, imagine the problem he'd have trying to explain who owns Bentley and Rolls-Royce.

To simplify, Rolls-Royce and Bentley were one until 1998 when Vickers PLC, the owner of both, opted to sell.

BMW made an offer, but Volkswagen trumped it and won Rolls-Royce and Bentley--almost. VW neglected to purchase the rights to the Rolls-Royce name, which BMW acquired, along with the rights to display the Rolls "Flying Lady" hood ornament.


He's on second!

So, when the clock strikes Jan. 1, 2003, VW sells Bentleys, BMW sells Rolls-Royces.

To celebrate, VW/Bentley will unveil the Continental GT, the first vehicle to be offered since acquiring Bentley, and BMW/Rolls-Royce will unveil its first offering since acquiring the Rolls-Royce name and hood ornament at the Detroit Auto Show in January.

Bentley spokesman John Crawford insists the guiding principle behind each marque will be maintained under the new owners, that "Bentley is meant to be driven, Rolls to be driven in."

To check out the boast, we accepted his offer to test drive a Bentley Arnage R, the 2003 companion to the T. Arnage was conceived before the Rolls/Bentley split, and shares the same body shell as the Rolls-Royce Silver Seraph.

The R is the high-performance, 400-horsepower Arnage, the T the higher-performance 450-h.p. Arnage. The 6.7-liter, 400-h.p. V-8 launches the R like a missile. But such potent takeoffs require propellant. The R is rated at 10 m.p.g. city/15 m.p.g. highway, which carries a $5,400 federal gas-guzzler penalty. Owners of huge sport-utility vehicles should send Bentley owners thank-you notes for taking the heat off of them.

Crawford insists the 10/15 rating isn't as bad as it looks because, "while it's not an economy car, those who own a Bentley also own six or seven other motorcars. The Bentley isn't driven enough to force the owner to worry about how fast the fuel needle goes down."

Feel better already, don't you?

While those who count gallons of fuel consumed will scream foul, those who count the number of trees consumed to decorate this motorcar have even more cause for concern. The cabin is covered with veneered wood trim.

Wood veneer picnic table tops even fold from the backs of the front seats should occupants feel the need to chow down while motoring. And, yes, there are cupholders to ensure you have a beverage to wash the grub down.

Those tables are a $2,067 option, so if you settle for holding a sandwich in your lap, you can use the savings for other purposes, such as to buy fuel.

Another noteworthy feature is a pair of umbrellas in the trunk. The pair will set you back $222. But, if you have $199,990 to buy a car, you obviously have $222 hidden away for a rainy day and the umbrellas.

While a prestige nameplate, little is special when it comes to ride and handling other than the V-8's snap-your-neck-back-power. A Cadillac Seville is much more of a pleasure to tool around in, for example.

You buy one for the name and image and the fact only about 500 other people will acquire a copy of the machine each year.

If you wonder whether you qualify as one of those 500, Crawford said the typical Bentley buyer is an entrepreneur, 90 percent are males, 40 percent are celebrities and the typical buyer is 42 to 55 years of age.

Oh, and the buyers' average net worth is $14 million.

As noted, the R starts at $199,990 plus the guzzler tax. Standard equipment includes every item that starts with the word power, plus such things as four-wheel anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control, front/side air bags and front/rear-seat side air curtains, automatic climate control, front/rear park distance control (buzzer sounds if too close to object front or rear when parking or backing from the drive), leather upholstery, premium audio system with si -disc CD changer and DVD-based navigation system.

Among the assorted options on the test vehicle, two were a tad high, the $1,896 power sunroof and the $1,111 lumbar support/heated rear seats.

But wait until next year to buy because beginning Jan. 1, the federal luxury tax on vehicle purchases is abolished. Before then you'll have to hand over 3 percent of the transaction price exceeding $40,000 in tax.

You can use the money saved for the umbrellas!