Experimental and modelling studies on the high‐temperature oxidation of benzene have been done to study the effect of argon dilution on its pre‐ignition thermochemical kinetics. The ignition delay times of stoichiometric C6H6/O2 mixtures are measured behind reflected shock waves at a total pressure of 4 bar with varying argon dilution (0–95%) for a wide range of temperatures (650–2200 K). A kinetic scheme with 60 elementary reactions among 23 reacting species is proposed which is able to predict the experimental results obtained in this as well as earlier studies. The model was subjected to a sensitivity analysis to identify the significant reactions. The effects of diluent concentration on the reaction rates and energy release history in the vicinity of the induction times are reported. Correlations are deduced to predict the ignition delay times. The thermal and kinetic effects of argon concentration on the ignition activation energy and induction times are examined. Copyright © 1991 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.