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 founded in 1910 and known from 1920 as the Bristol Aeroplane Company was famed.
One of the more unusual looking Bristol Aircraft produced, but nevertheless
remarkably effective, was the "Bristol Freighter". Developed
originally as a Military Equipment Transporter, it too found new use. This
is the only remaining example kept in flying condition and now earns its
keep in its home territory, Canada.
As with other Aero Engineering and Manufacturing Industries which 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 to this end the rights had been acquired in respect of the BMW Pre-War car models and engines as war reparation. Thus in a remarkably short space of time, by developing from existing designs 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 Saloon, 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 as respectable slice of the quality car market, and this despite being further constrained initially that in order to qualify for vital raw material resources 50% of the production was destined to be exported.
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 much later and post World War 2, the shotgun wedding took place to form the British Aircraft Corporation, which shortly thereafter saw the end of the Armstrong Siddeley car production, 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. A hybrid was also constructed on this chassis the Type 404/X or Arnolt Bristol was commissioned by S.H."Wacky" Arnolt in 1953.
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 into two versions of the second series the American export model being called the 412 USA and later the series 3 version of the UK car being called the Bristol Beaufighter in its series 3 version. Yet another variation given another famous Aeroplane name and one which is now equally rare is the Bristol Beaufort based on the Beaufighter internals but fitted with an Electric Roof, no Roll cage and many detail alterations in the coachwork, too numerous to describe here.
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 to be evocative of the aircraft that had formerly been made by the Bristol Aeroplane Company.
Thus we have seen the Type 603 s2 evolve into the Bristol Britannia a beautifully proportioned saloon, and its more powerful partner the Bristol Brigand similar in appearance but fitted with a turbocharged engine. In 1994 the Type 603 s4 or Bristol Blenheim appeared and was to be continued in production until late 1997. On January 14th. 1998 the Bristol Blenheim 2 was announced, being the latest derivation of the Type 603 s4 and wholly in line with customer requirements. No longer Rotomaster Turbo Charged, but fitted instead with a computerised direct fuel injection system to its, specially developed, Chrysler 5.9 litres Vee 8 engine, which is also software upgradeable, to produce an even more powerful performance, should it be so required.
Thus the story continues to be told, as one of the last remaining 'wholly British' owned motor car manufacturing companies, continues to supply its niche customer market, and looks forward to doing so proudly into the next millenium.
So much for the standard production models. It is often forgotten however that there was also produced by this company the Type 450 road race car. These completed as Factory Team Cars in the successive years of 1953, 1954, 1955 at Le Mans in the 24 hour race and also at Rheims in the 12 hour road 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 in 1953, the package of the the car and the engine developed into a design 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 the 2 litre Team prize, 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 both engine and chassis development.
At that period in time Bristol engines and gearboxes continued to be fitted as standard and also used and raced 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 specialized track events.
Whether it be a 2 litre or a 2.2 litre Bristol, or one of the Chrysler engined models, Bristol cars are renowned for their quality and performance. There is a steady demand from experienced motorists who prefer to buy a good example, even if the earlier models are now "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.
Please send comments, additions, & errors noted, to the BOC Webmaster
Contents are copyright © 1998 Charlton