Bristol
Motor Cars

A brief history of the Bristol car

The Bristol has always had a splendid reputation as a car that was superbly designed and made of top quality materials, regardless of cost. This philosophy originated in the manufacture of aircraft and aero engines for which the original company the Bristol Aeroplane Company was famed.

During two World Wars the firm produced large numbers of successful aircraft including the "Brisfit" (short for Bristol Fighter), the Blenheim and the Beaufighter. On the aero engine side the company took over the Feddon designed Jupiter radial engine when it acquired Cosmos Engineering in 1921, and from it produced a series of brilliant engines including the Pegasus, Mercury, and the mighty Centaurus. A later development the Olympus designed originally for the Vulcan Bomber was later fitted with re-heat and is used to great effect, powering Concorde at multi sonic speeds.

Faced at the end of WW2 with a huge surplus of skilled labour and a need to find some alternative products until a new aeroplane market emerged, a move into the quality car market was agreed, and rights acquired regarding the BMW models and engines. In a remarkably short space of time, the newly formed Car Division were ready for series production, and by the Autumn of 1946, motoring journals carried road tests of the Type 400 a 2 litre engined Bristol. This set new standards for performance, economy and comfort, and soon gained a formidable reputation in international motoring events as well.

Organizational changes took place, first in 1956 when the Car Division became a wholly owned subsidiary of the parent company, and later in 1961 when it was saved from oblivion by the late Sir George White. His family had founded the British and Colonial Aeroplane Company in 1910 (the change to Bristol Aeroplane Company occurred in 1920) and when the shotgun wedding took place to form the British Aircraft Corporation, which saw the end of the Armstrong Siddeley car, he determined that the same fate would not befall the much smaller Bristol Cars Limited.

Sir George White and Mr T.A.D. Crook formed a new Company and the manufacture of Bristol cars continued, still then within the Filton complex near Bristol. When Sir George White retired in 1973, Mr Crook became the sole proprietor, as he remains today.

Turning now to individual models ;
the Type 400 - 2 litre saloon was soon joined by the 401 from which in turn was derived the 402 Drophead Coupé and the 403 saloon. Of these the 400 was a 4 seat saloon, the 401 and 403 were 5 seat saloons.
In 1953 the smaller short chassied 2+2 seat Type 404 broke fresh ground with a body from which all trace of BMW origins had disappeared.
In 1955 the Type 405 saloon and 405 Drophead appeared. The 405 saloon was the only Bristol bodied 4 door car. The 405 Drophead was a two door convertible with a body fitted by Abbott of Farnham.
The final model with a Filton designed and built engine was the Type 406 with the original 2 litre engine design "stretched" to 2.2 litres. Production included 6 special bodied saloons and one coupe which were fitted with bodies by Zagato the Italian coachbuilder.

All later production Bristols were to be fitted with the Chrysler V8 engines of various capacities from 5,130cc upwards, together with the Torqueflite automatic gearbox. Over the past half of a century production has not been huge. Yet small as it is the company has survived because it fills a niche for those connoisseurs who value a superb car above mere price.

The Chrysler engined models commenced with the Type 407 in 1961, which apart from the engine and gearbox looks to be very similar to the 406.
In 1964 this was succeeded by the Type 408, itself followed two years later by the Type 409, and in 1967 by the Type 410.
Then in 1970 came the Type 411, which that very experienced motoring journalist John Bolster called 'the fastest true four-seater touring car'. With an engine of 6,277cc capacity, and a maximum speed of 130mph, this set new standards for those seeking the ultimate in speed with comfort. Unusually for a Bristol this model was to continue through four further series, not being replaced by the Type 412 until 1975.
This was another "watershed" so far as outward appearance was concerned for its convertible body style was to be developed and later called the Beaufighter in its series 3 version.

A frequent query is `why was the Bristol model that succeeded the Type 412 called the Type 603 ?,` - the answer given is that it was introduced in the 603rd year after the City of Bristol had been granted its Royal charter, which gave it the unique distinction of being "a County unto itself". No doubt superstition played a small part in preventing the release of a Type 413!

The Type 603 made its appearance in 1976, and was rather more in the earlier tradition - a magnificent five seater, fulfilling the Bristol criterion for a car that can carry four six footers, with sufficient luggage to last a fortnight!
It is perhaps typical of the company that just as other manufacturers were dropping names for numbers Bristol Cars Ltd. chose to drop the latter in favour of titles; all evocative of the aircraft that had been made by the Bristol Aeroplane Company. Thus we have the Britannia a beautifully proportioned saloon, the Brigand similar in appearance but fitted with a turbocharged engine, produced now in its latest guise from 1994 as the Bristol Blenheim.

So much for the standard models, but it is often forgotten that there was also produced the Type 450 road race car. These completed as factory ream cars in the successive years of 1953, 1954, 1955 at Le Mans in th 24 hour race and also at Rheims in the 12 hour race. The body style was a closed coupe in 1953/54 and an open two seater in 1955. With a chassis based on the "G" type E.R.A. and after a poor beginning, the car soon proved to be fast and very reliable. It won its class in the 1954 Le Mans and the team prize; won its class the following year and also did well at Rheims in 1953/54. After the terrible Le Vegh crash at the 55 Le Mans, the company withdrew from racing, having gained much valuable experience in engine and chassis development.

Bristol engines and gearboxes continued to be used however by such makes as; AC, Cooper, Frazer-Nash, Kieft, Lister, Lotus, Tojeiro and Warrior. Many successes were gained in road racing by the Frazer-Nash cars and by Cooper, Lister and Lotus in the more specialised track events.

Whether it be a 2 litre or a 2.2 litre Bristol, or one of the Chrysler engined models, Bristols are renowned for their quality and performance. There is a steady demand from experienced motorists who prefer to buy a good example even if "ancient" by contemporary standards. They know they will have many years of satisfactory motoring, with moderate running costs and the satisfaction of owning a real thoroughbred.


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