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Conspicuous Consumption:
Wheels of Fortune

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Wouldn't you really rather own a Bentley? The British carmaker is after 10021 buyers as never before. When its divorce from BMW/Rolls-Royce becomes final in 2003, Bentley aims to up production from about 2,000 cars a year to 10,000 and even introduce a midsize to grab the top of the Mercedes-Lexus market. Hence the new exclusive showroom at 49th and Madison. Which makes one wonder: Can such a sumptuous sedan survive on New York's mean streets?

11 A.M., Eleventh Avenue: Pick up four-door Arnage at Manhattan Motorcars. Pull out onto 28th Street. Note immediately that cabs keep respectful distance; revel in automotive alpha-male-hood. Guy in World Series jacket yells, "What's that run, about a deuce?" Matter of fact, it's $209,900.

12:30 P.M., West Village: At stoplight, two homeless guys become very animated. One, with safety pin through ear, asks, "Yo, what kind is that, a Rolls?" Then, with growing insistence: "How about a ride? I'm just goin' to 23rd Street." Light changes just in time.

1 P.M., Eleventh Avenue: Decide that sedan is too understated; return to dealership, swap for Azure convertible, list price $339,900.

1:50 P.M., Avenue C: "That's a beautiful car! Yo, can I borrow it? Just for two hours, just an hour, just 30 minutes!"

2 P.M., Avenue D: Attempt to parallel-park in front of housing project. Spot is small; car is huge; performance anxiety takes over. Two locals leap to aid -- "This is butter! This is so fly!" One notices illegal hydrant spot across street, gallantly cuts off traffic on Avenue D. Nobody argues.

3:05 P.M., Williamsburg Bridge: All the way across East River, trucker just behind pulls air horn. Turn onto exit ramp; trucker gets in one last pull, yelling, Texas-style, "Yee-haaah! Bent-leee!"

4:15 P.M.: Negotiating double-parked street on return to dealership, ease around Bell Atlantic van. Repair guy says, approvingly, "That is a nice car." Then, as glossy fender approaches van, mutters: "But watch it with my truck."


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