Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Bristol, the Last True British Made

Bristol Cars has manufactured hand built luxury automobiles in Filton, near Bristol, England since 1947. They have no distributors or dealers; you must call the company direct to order one of the few cars they build each week. They claim to be the last wholly British owned luxury car builder, but their beginnings were found in the bombed out remains of Germany.
It was 1945 and the end of World War II. Bristol Aeroplane Company was looking for new means of revenue, since orders for aircraft engines were drying up, and decided to make automobiles. The company initially developed a prototype sports coupe, but due to the car’s highly dangerous handling problems, it literally destroyed itself during testing on the company’s airfield.
Bristol then decided to manufacture an existing car design. Various accountings of how Bristol got an existing car design are a little fuzzy, so let’s say somehow, they got blueprints for and several examples of late 1930s BMW cars out of Germany and into England. Then the Bristol Aeroplane Company secured the release of a former BMW designer, Fritz Fiedler, from military detention, and the Bristol was born.

The Bristol 400 of 1947 was basically a variety of prewar BMW components and design, including the engine, a 2.0-liter inline six from BMW’s 328 sports car, and the twin kidney grille. The 400 set a pattern for future Bristols, and the chassis didn’t change significantly for over forty years. It had a sturdy, advanced box-section structure based on the BMW 326 design, and it used steel floor members for extra torsion rigidity on a 114 inch wheelbase.
The Bristol 401, 402, and 403 models that followed between 1948 and 1955 offered little changes and later models added styling and technical changes that buyers found attractive. It was the 407 of 1961 that finally cast off the BMW- derived inline six for a Hemi V-8 supplied by America’s Chrysler - built to Bristol specifications.
The Bristol 407 was reviewed as a superbly built, fully equipped four seat touring coupe that was genuinely exciting to drive, a "gentleman’s sports car". But that didn’t change the Bristol Aeroplane Company’s decision to abandon the car making business and sold the company to former race car driver Tony Crook and Sir George White.
For over sixty years the Bristol has been hand making about three cars a week that aren’t entirely attractive and usually cost more than any other luxury car, but still manage to stay in business. We find that amazing.
Today the company is owned by Toby Silverman who has been making some radical design changes, namely the Bristol Fighter. The Fighter has been reviewed as the most unusual 200 mph+ supercar in the world with a price tag of $500K. For the die hard traditional Bristol fan, you can still get the "nicely understated" Blenheim for about $300K.

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