Unlike most thoroughbred cars, the
history of the Bristol began after the Second World War.
The company had previously been famous in the aviation
industry and a move into car production was envisaged to
use redundant manufacturing facilities and labour. 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' was
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 a respectable slice of the
quality car market — and this despite being further
constrained initially by the requirement 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 1960 when it was saved from oblivion by the
late Sir George White and Mr Anthony Crook. Sir George's
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 Aeroplane Company (Car Division) Limited.
Thus in 1960 Sir George White
and Mr Anthony Crook formed a new Company – Bristol Cars
Limited – and thus the manufacture of Bristol cars was to continue, still
then remaining within the Filton complex near Bristol. In 1966 the status
of the Company was changed from that of a limited company to that of a
firm in private partnership. When Sir George White retired in 1973, Mr
Anthony Crook bought over Sir George's share and became the sole
proprietor and Managing Director. At that point he changed the Company
status back to that of a limited company. He remained sole owner into the
mid 1990s. The company now has some new management associates with Mr
Crook still at the controls and it continues producing cars to meet the
orders for the very popular current model.
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, while the 401
and 403 were 5-seaters.
In 1953, the smaller short chassis 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, 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
E.D.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 coupé; these were fitted with bodies by Zagato, the Italian
All later production Bristols were to be
fitted with Chrysler V8 engines of various capacities from 5,130cc
upwards, together with the Torqueflite automatic gearbox. Over the past
half century, production has not been huge. 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 began with
the Type 407 in 1961, which apart from the engine and gearbox, looks 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
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 140mph, 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 supplemented 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 was called the
412 USA and later the series 3 version of the UK car being called the
Bristol Beaufighter. Yet another variation given another famous Aeroplane
name and one which is now equally rare is the Bristol Beaufort. This was
based on the Beaufighter internals, but fitted with an electric roof, no
roll cage and many detail alterations in the coachwork, too numerous to
A frequent query is “why was the Bristol
model that succeeded the Type 411 called the Type 603?” The answer 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 four
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 formerly made by the Bristol
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 14 January 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 litre V8 engine, which is also software upgradeable, to
produce even more power, should it be required. Many changes were made to
the rear of the body shell of the car which was completely redesigned.
In November 1999, the Bristol Blenheim 3
was revealed, advancing further the aerodynamic development of the the car
including a completely new frontal treatment incorporating a cleverly
engineered aerofoil section in the grille aperture. There were many other
changes under the skin, and also new headlight units.
Also in November 1999, news was released
of a new car - the Bristol Project 'Fighter'. This was to be the first
Bristol 2 seater for more than 40 years and built as a totally engineering
inspired design. It promised neutral aerodynamic effect and a top speed
calculated to be in excess of 200 mph – this achieved via either a 5-speed
manual (another first for nigh on 40 years of Bristol production) or
4-speed automatic transmission (never offered before). The engine is an
all new alloy V10 of 8 litres swept volume, uprated by Bristol. Full
race-developed suspension, a combined steel chassis and carbon fibre/alloy
body shell designed to produce a structure into which are fitted gull wing
doors — both to avoid high kerb damage and to produce the much stronger,
stiffer shell structure and platform essential to a vehicle capable of
such high speed performance.
Prior to the official launch of the
Bristol Fighter, another car was announced and launched immediately. It is
based on the 'Bristol Bullet' (a name adopted by the factory), which is
effectively a 405-style drophead body with slightly larger fins on the top
of the rear wings. It is said it was originally used from the late 1950s
as a ‘mule’, or test bed, for the new transmissions and engines then being
considered for the types 406 and 407. It was used to test many variants up
to the 1970s, when it was laid aside for some years, only to be later
tried with the running gear of the Bristol Blenheim and at the dawn of the
development of the 'Bristol Fighter'. In its early days, it had been
considered far too spartan, avant garde and brutish in performance to be
offered to the Company clientele; but as time passed, it came to be viewed
in a more favourable light, as that route had been adopted by a number of
other manufacturers over the preceding years. It was finally decided to
launch a very limited production of this version, renamed officially late
in 2002 as the ‘Blenheim Speedster’. It is indeed spartan, albeit not in
spaciousness, for it is a relatively large two-seat sports car. As usual
for Bristol cars, it boasts well trimmed seats in high grade leather. It
is a very high performance sports car, being fitted with the very latest
Blenheim 3 transmission and ‘Sports’ engine pack along with matching
suspension, wheels and braking system. Fuel capacity has been increased to
30 UK gallons, supplied from two rear wing fuel tanks. It has a low
Thus the Bristol Cars Company story
continues to unfold, as one of the last remaining wholly British-owned
motor car manufacturing companies continues to supply its niche market,
and looks forward to doing so proudly into the third Millennium.
So much for the standard production
models. It is often forgotten however, that this company also produced the
Type 450 road race car. These models competed as Factory Team Cars in the
successive years of 1953, 1954 and 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 coupé
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 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 also the team prize. In
the following year it not only won its class but also the 2 litre Team
prize. It also did well at Rheims in 1953/54. After the terrible Levegh
crash at the 1955 Le Mans, the Company withdrew from racing, having gained
much valuable experience in both engine and chassis development.
At that period, 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 might be considered “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.