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Bristols Published: 23rd Dec 2015 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

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Hardly a snazzy name, Bristols offer everything you could want from a cultured sports classic but with typical British reserve


Bristol Cars is perhaps the world’s most famous obscure specialist carmaker, although its admirers would probably prefer it described more as ‘mysterious.’ They can be as potent and hairy-chested as an Aston and are as crafted as any Rolls-Royce – yet can be bought for the price of a top notch Triumph TR6 or Stag.



1947 The Bristol and Colonial Aeroplane Company can trace its roots back to 1910. The first (handbuilt) car was badged the 400 using a BMW 2-litre six-cylinder engine. 1949 401 addresses most of the 400’s faults plus better styling is penned that was wind-tunnel tested; car now boasted a healthier 85bhp, too.

1953 403 was essentially same car but now with 100bhp engine. The 404 was a bit of a hybrid using a short wheelbase ‘Arnolt’ chassis topped by a coupé body with 105bhp but only 52 were made.

1954 405 was basically a longer four-door 403 – it ran until 1956.

1958 406 was last car to use the liked BMW engine, now stretched to 2.2-litres, and now stopped by disc brakes all round.

1961 The 1960s were catered for by the 407-410 Series, all using a 5.2-litre Chrysler V8 tied to automatic transmission.

1969 411 is an uprated 410 with 6.3-litres (a similar engine to Jensen Interceptor unit) for 335bhp.

1975 Bristol goes all hip with square cut drophead 412, care of Zagato, and there’s now a lustier 6.5-litre V8 and a modified 411 chassis.

1976 Two-door coupé 603/Britannia using 412 chassis. Beaufighter (1980) with a turbocharger for 400+bhp is essentially a modified 412.



Some aficionados reckon that the 400 is slightly better to drive than the 401, with sweeter handling. 402/403 feel a tad under powered. 404/405 are lithe, attractive things and features like overdrive and front disc brakes make these cars surprisingly usable, on today’s roads, too.

The 410 and 411 series cars have more contemporary transmission units and power steering. Final series 411s are the most wanted V8s due to their Aston-like pace.

The square-cut targa-roofed, Zagatostyled 412 shares most of the 411’s strengths and weaknesses. Many reckon the 603 improved on the 411’s dynamics.

Common to all are a sense of pure engineering first and foremost with styling and fashion taking a firm back seat. These are sophisticated cars for the purist.



It’s difficult to pin one down as they appeal to different types of buyers. But the later the car the more usable it is on modern roads although the V8’s thirst can be crippling. It really may well depend on which model you like the look of most.



With such a broad range of models covered over decades we can only generalise here, but common to most is remarkable value still although the fact that the company’s founder Tony Crook passed away not too long ago will surely firm up Bristol values right across the board over the years.

The older the car the more they are valued and the BMW-powered machines cost around £38,000 upwards in top form and around £20000 for good examples – exceptions being the 400 and 404 which are considerably dearer.

The V8 strain are slightly cheaper and most hover around the £33,000 mark for a car in Bristol fashion, half again for decent examples. Projects can start from less than £5000 but beware as parts and restorations are incredibly expensive although parts supply is exceedingly good.



Are old Bristols the best kept secret in the classic car world? Well, when you take into account that you can buy a hand-built sports car that’s as rich in quality, and prestige as a Rolls-Royce or Bentley, with Aston Martin and Jensen pace, but exudes even more class than most – and all for the price of a TR6 or MGB – then they are bargains!



1. KNOWLEDGE These are specialist, hand-built, cars so know what you are buying and examine as many as you can plus seek expert advice

2. CONDITION Alloy body but wings and chassis are steel, and rot where they join the alloy panel work. The 400 is the most complex Bristol to restore; some have timber window surrounds, for examples

3. ENGINE You don’t want to find signs of overheating, or poor oil pressure as they can cost thousands to put right

4. Rust Can be a major worry to chassis – earliest 401-403s have stouter frames

5. PARTS Came from many places; Bedford lights later replaced by Vauxhall Senator ones, for example


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