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Bristol Cars is a manufacturer of hand-built luxury cars, based at Filton, near Bristol, England. Bristol Cars has no distributors nor dealers and deals directly with customers; they have a showroom in Kensington in London. They claim to be the last wholly British-owned luxury car builder. The cars have only ever been made in very small numbers. The most recent published official production figures were for 1982 and stated 104 cars were produced that year: the current production is certainly no greater than that.
Image and company philosophy
Bristol is an oddity because it builds expensive but, in the company's words, "nicely understated" cars. The Bristol values are those of tradition, understated quality, and practicality, rather than ostentation or excitement. Bristols built today are the same in major details as any from the past 30 years or more. Some would call this antiquated, but Bristol believes that no big changes are necessary. The cars are still totally handmade, taking four times the man-hours to complete than other luxury cars.
Bristols do not look expensive to the casual eye. The styling is bland; owners would call it an acquired taste, while some call it ugly. It is more an engineer's creation than a stylist's: effective packaging for the contents and good aerodynamic qualities. The cars are also surprisingly small. Although Bristol saloons provide "dignified express travel for 4 six foot persons and their luggage", efficient packaging means that a Bristol Blenheim is narrower than a Ford Mondeo and shorter than all competing cars. Luggage space is huge; the spare tyre is stowed behind a hinged panel in the front left wing and the battery and fuse box in the right so that they do not take up valuable space.
The cars are designed to be effective daily transportation rather than occasional indulgences. Comfort, driveability and ease of maintenance are paramount. With regular maintenance, the company expects a Bristol to outlast its owner, and Bristol Cars will maintain any car they ever built. The vast majority of parts are in stock, and they will remanufacture or hand-make any other required parts.
With their small production numbers, lack of glamour and no advertising, most even in the UK would not recognise a Bristol. This exclusive obscurity is very appealing to a certain class of buyer.
This obscurity actually makes second-hand and classic Bristols remarkably cheap considering their quality, rarity and cost when new. Only some of the very early models are worth any great sum of money.
The history of Bristol Cars began in 1945. Forecasting a significant excess labour capacity postwar, the Bristol Aeroplane Company (BAC) began working with AFN Ltd, makers of Frazer Nash cars, on plans for a joint venture in automotive manufacture. By July 1945 BAC had created a Car Division and bought a controlling stake in AFN. HJ and DA Aldington remained Directors of AFN and were joined on the Board by Reginald Verdon-Smith and George Middleton White, both sons of BAC Directors. Reginald Verdon-Smith was elected Chairman and HJ Aldington Managing Director.
HJ Aldington, who was still in the British Army, used his military connections to visit the bombed BMW factory in Munich several times in 1945, culminating in a 'duty' trip in October 1945, along with his brother and two Bristol representatives, to gather detailed plans of BMW cars and several development engines which they flew back to Bristol. This was quite a tricky manoeuvre as Munich had been declared part of the American Zone and the American Military had just issued orders for the BMW plant to be dismantled and crated up for shipment to the USA. These plans and engines were subsequently declared to be war reparations. BMW chief engineer Fritz Fiedler was also given employment at AFN where he continued development of the BMW 328 engine.
By mid 1947, the different intentions of the Aldingtons and Bristol were becoming clear and Bristol severed its ties with AFN, returning control of AFN to the Aldington family. Earlier in 1947 BAC had registered the company Bristol Cars Ltd although it continued for several years to market its cars as made by the Bristol Aeroplane Company.
The first car, the 1947 Bristol 400, was heavily based on pre-WW2 BMWs. The body looked very like the BMW 327, while its engine and suspension were clones of BMW designs (engine and front suspension based on those of the BMW 328, rear suspension from the BMW 326). Even the famous double-kidney BMW grille was carried over intact.
Until 1961 all Bristol cars used evolutions of the 6-cylinder BMW-derived engine. This very well regarded engine also powered a number of sports and racing cars, including all post-war Frazer Nash cars (apart from a few prototypes), some ACs, some Lotus and Cooper racing cars, and several others. In 1961, with the launch of the Bristol 407, the company switched to large Chrysler V8 engines, which were more suitable for the increasingly heavy cars. All post-1961 Bristols including the current Blenheim and Fighter models use Chrysler engines.
Since 1960, the company has been owned by former racing driver Tony Crook -- he took over the share of his partner Sir George White in 1973. In 1997, Toby Silverton came on board, which explains the greater level of development in recent years (particularly, the new Bristol Fighter). Crook eventually sold the company to Silverton in 2001.
Some Bristol cars have had light weight Zagato bodies.
- Type 400 2-door saloon: original Bristol, very BMW based
- Type 401 2-door saloon:
- Type 402 2-door drophead coupe: Rare convertible
- Type 403 2-door saloon:
- Type 404 2-door coupe:
- Type 404X Arnolt Bristol: Bertone-bodied cars (all roadsters except for 6 fixed-head coupes) commissioned by American car salesman S H "Wacky" Arnolt.
- Type 405 4-door saloon:
- Type 405D 2-door drophead coupe:
- Type 406 2-door saloon:
- Type 407
- Type 408
- Type 409
- Type 410
- Type 411
- Type 412
- Type 603 (1976 to date)
- Bristol Blenheim Speedster
- British motor industry
- Morgan Motor Company - the only other wholly British car company. Morgan and Bristol have a lot in common; traditional to the point of antiquated companies and vehicles, although Morgan's are sportier and less practical.
- A Bristol 410 is driven in the British TV series The Inspector Lynley Mysteries.
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400 · 401 · 402 · 403 · 404 · 404X Arnolt Bristol · 405 · 405D · 406 · 407 · 408 · 409 · 410 · 411 · 412 · Beaufighter · Beaufort · 603 · Britannia · Brigand · Blenheim · Blenheim 2 · Blenheim 3 · Blenheim 3S · Blenheim 3G · Bristol Blenheim Speedster
|Reginald Verdon-Smith and Sir George Middleton White||Corporate website||independent|
- ↑ Lösch, Annamaria (editor): World Cars 1984, page 402. Herald Books, Pelham, New York (Imprint of Automobile Club of Italy), 1984
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Bristol vehicles|
- Bristol Cars
- Bristol Owners Club (UK)
- Bristols of America including Arnolt-Bristols
- Photos of Bristol 2 Litre - 400 series