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Bentley blower to whet whistle

Bentley Birkin: The Birkin special edition uses the 4.5-litre V8 engine, which produces 260kW and 570Nm of torque between 2500rpm and 4200rpm.

Bentley eases the pain for the wealthy with a more affordable range

24 Jun 2000

BENTLEY has dipped into the mainstream morass of marketing incentives in order to revive sales.

The new 4.5-litre, turbocharged Birkin special edition Arnage costs a slimmed down $435,000 plus on-road costs as Bentley grapples with the economic reality that even the super wealthy can reach a pain threshold.

In Bentley's case, that line is half a million dollars, a barrier beyond which many board members might query the need for the chairman to spend quite so much more than a top of the line Benz or BMW.

Easing the pain by 2003 should be a range of more affordable Bentleys, now under development in Germany and Britain.

The mid-size Bentleys are expected to arrive as a five-metre long sedan followed by a coupe and convertible. The styling is said to be more daring than previous Rolls-Royce-based models.

The cars are to use technology developed by Audi and VW that may include composites and alloy body structures. The interiors will continue to be lavished with hand-crafted wood and leather.

Prices are likely to start about $350,000 and the company hopes to secure about 90 sales a year in Australia. Last year sales of both Rolls-Royce and Bentley slumped to an all-time low of nine cars in the combined territory of Australia and News Zealand. In 2000 the Australian market will absorb about 15 cars.

VW AG, which owns Bentley and operates it under the Audi umbrella, hopes to sell 9000 Bentley cars by 2005, a vast rise from the present level of about 1600 cars a year. Buyers in Asia know little about Bentley's glorious racing heritage, hence the Birkin special edition.

The $435,000 Birkin honours a famous "Bentley Boy", Sir Henry (Tim) Birkin, who raced at Le Mans and Brooklands in the 1920s and 1930s.

The limited edition is available to Asian customers though only Australian buyers will be flown first class to the United Kingdom and taken by train to the factory in Crewe, where they may even view their car in build.

The trip is included in the cost of the car, which is priced similar to that of the late 1990s Bentley Turbo R.

Bentley is keen to ramp up sales in Melbourne, particularly because it closed its Sydney dealership last month.

Bentley is also to start a used car program aimed at holding on to the entire Rolls-Royce and Bentley owner base after the two brands split up in 2003.

In addition to the used car program, parts pricing has been cut by up to 19 per cent on some items, despite the unhelpful exchange rate with the pound sterling.

Bentley has also begun to price cars in Australian dollars, making the purchase price more stable. Previously the price of a car could vary between ordering and delivery by several thousand dollars due to exchange rate fluctuation.

The Birkin special edition uses the BMW supplied, 4.5-litre V8 producing 260kW and 570Nm of torque between 2500rpm and 4200rpm.

The BMW engine shares its cubic capacity with the original supercharged Birkin Bentley, but the multi-valve modern unit uses turbochargers to effect forced induction.

The 2000 model year Birkin reaches 100km/h in 6.5 seconds and has a governed top speed of 240km/h.

Seventeen-inch alloy wheels distinguish the Birkin Arnage from the Green Label version, so decried by enthusiasts that Bentley reverted to the old 6.75-litre V8 in order to assuage the pain of "torque starved" Bentley buyers. According to insiders, the BMW V8 has been massaged to provide more Bentley-style low down thrust.

Only 54 Birkin cars will be produced, matching the number of genuine Blower Bentleys built initially.

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