By on November 28, 2009

Bristol 405

Ever since the first Panamera spy shots appeared, I had this nagging feeling that I’d seen this car before. Repeated memory bank searches came up empty, but I knew it was out there somewhere. Last night we went to see the very excellent film “An Education”, and there it was, coming around a curve on a London street circa 1961: 

Eureka! A Bristol 405! Bristol is a truly remarkable outfit, comparable in some ways to Morgan, in that they just keep doing the same thing that they’ve been doing since 1945: building expensive coach-built (“bespoke”) coupes in very limited numbers. Their first car, the 1947 Model 400, was heavily based on pre-WW2 BMWs. Styling was almost a dead ringer for BMW’s 327, and its engine and suspension were BMW clones as well. The 2 liter six and front suspension were based the BMW’s 328 and the rear suspension from the 326. Bristol even used BMW’s  famous double-kidney BMW grille intact.

After 1961, Bristol switched over to Chrysler V8 engines. Two door coupes carrying the number designations from 400 through 412 were built through 1994, with only very gradual and and subtle changes. The distinctive long nose on all these cars was the result of a compartment inside the front fender just behind the front wheel to store the spare “tyre”.  The Bristol 603 is still made to this day in a number of variants, and is about as exclusive as it gets in a new car. It’s truly a living relic of the authentic classic British upper-crust-mobile. PBS Mystery’s “Inspector Lynley” drives a classic maroon 409.

The 405 is unique, because it was the only four-door in the line. Built between 1955 and 1958, it had one of the last of the 2 liter sixes, producing 125 horsepower. Wikipedia has a pretty good write-up of the brand, and links. And you can order a new one, or peruse used ones at Bristol’s home page.


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32 Comments on “Porsche Panamera Design Inspiration Discovered...”

  • avatar

    Amazing, the Panamera looks like a modern version of the Bristol. The proportions and overall style are virtually identical.  Thanks for digging up this interesting info.

  • avatar

    IMHO the Panamera wouldn’t be so ugly if it had the Bristol’s tiny little tailfins.  BTW it’s good to know that everything old is new again.  ;)

  • avatar

    The Bristol is actually not bad, ’cause it seems they weren’t heavy-handedly trying to inject the “DNA” into the styling. A few more inches of height might improve the looks of the Panamera, at least proportionately, but a wrecking ball can fix it much better.

  • avatar

    According to the Bristol site, the Fighter coupe with 525 hp has a top speed of 210 mph. The twin turbo version puts out 1,036 hp. That’s the same as a front line fighter plane early in World War II.
    Several of the model names come from Bristol’s military aviation side. The Blenheim was a twin-engine light bomber that was also used as a night fighter early in WW2. It’s successors were the Beaufort and Beaufighter. The former was a bomber and the latter a night fighter. Bristol made their own engines, which were radials, rather than buy Merlin V12s from Rolls Royce.

  • avatar

    The fins on the Bristol  very much resemble those on the P1800.   Like the Porsche, the drophead version of the Bristol is far prettier and balanced.

  • avatar


    This is why I come to TTAC… to find design resolution on a Panamera.

    Now if they could only tell me why they have those awful advertisements.. with some of the best cars.. porsche ever made.. along side this.. bastardization. Yes, Id like to know their thinking in the ad.

    Talk about a messed up thanksgiving get-together.

  • avatar

    I wish Porsche would get a decent stylist. That panamera looks like it’s going all Pontiac. I’m going to guess the Porsche designers did not have the Bristol in mind, despite the strong resemblance, or else they were being incredibly lazy and incompetent at the same time.
    Anyway, deliberate or not, it’s very interesting seeing the far more attractive antecedent.

  • avatar

    I wish Porsche would get a decent stylist. That panamera looks like it’s going all Pontiac. I’m going to guess the Porsche designers did not have the Bristol in mind, despite the strong resemblance, or else they were being incredibly lazy and incompetent at the same time.
    Anyway, deliberate or not, it’s very interesting seeing the far more attractive antecedent. I’m glad you liked the movie.

  • avatar

    i think Porsche just rehashed the VW Concept D1 and stuck a Panamera badge on it

  • avatar

    Though I would not argue the resemblence to the Bristol, I see more 989 proto, and a mis-moshing of some of several of the 928 4door concepts (of which there were more than you might think).

    But yeah, at a glance, hard to argue against the Bristol. 

  • avatar

    The Bristol engine was actually a BMW engine that was taken/”given” to Bristol at the end of WW2; a few of BMW engineers came along as part of the deal. Bristol up to that point was mainly an airplane manufacturer but after war enter the car business with the BMW now “Birstol” engine in tow.

  • avatar

    You’d think Britain’s flagship car company could afford a better website, which is very 1995.

    • 0 avatar

      On the other hand, if you ever visit their ONLY showroom, in Kensington, London, you will be serviced by the sales-rep/owner of the company. And if he doesn’t like you personally, or believe you can handle the car, he just won’t sell it to you. Bristols are not for everybody…

    • 0 avatar

      I would be most obliged if Forty2 would explain to us why the Bristol Cars Ltd. website, in his opinion, needs more expenditure to bring it up to date. How will bringing it into line with today’s fashion automatically improve it for the user ? Does ‘new’ always mean ‘better’? I would respectfully recommend that Forty2 reads a new book, published this month, the title of which is Bristol Cars – A very British story. The author is Mr. Christopher Balfour and the ISBN No. is 978 1 84425 407 1. The book is available from Amazon. In the book Forty2 can learn the philosophy of Bristol Cars from the very beginning – a philosophy still adhered to today. Unlike virtually every other motor manafacturer, change is never made for the sake of change or in an attempt to create or keep up with fashion. Updates to existing models are only considered if they will improve the driver experience and never in an attempt to increase sales. Bristol Cars never advertise and don’t need to. Many owners still drive the cars that they purchased from new decades ago. There is almost nil staff turnover at the factory in Bristol and at the workshop in London. If I take my 1953 Bristol to the workshop it is quite likely to be attended to by the gentleman who built it. The foreman in charge of the factory is 90 years old and has worked there since 1947. Perhaps Forty2 may now begin to understand why the BCL website is, in his eyes, old fashioned. Many of your readers will probably dismiss all the above as sentimental nonsense and will follow like lemmings to eulogise over the latest motor cars and change their perfectly good car for the latest model. The manafacturers must be laughing up their sleeves. Those of such a disposition would be well advised never to attempt to own a Bristol car. They will derive no pleasure from it.

    • 0 avatar

      Hey DD, how about a little disclosure of your involvement with Bristol?
      I’ve been to the Bristol website before.  Sorry to say, but it didn’t look professional at all.  Hopefully their sole bricks-and-mortar showroom is more attractive than their virtual one.  I had to browse over to the Bristol Owners Club website ( to find out the history of the marque and info and pictures of historic models.  Obviously Bristol is a proud company with a lot of  heritage, which should be reflected in its website IMO.

    • 0 avatar

      Thanks for your comments, Mark. I have no involvement with Bristol Motors other than as a very satisfied customer. I agree that the website is ( in most peoples’ eyes ) non professional – even ‘1995’ as Forty2 has noted. Does that matter ? It has been doing the job adequately for many years so why change it in order to keep up with fashion. As with the cars, the company does not make changes for the sake of change. One of the pleasures of Bristol car ownership is that Bristol Cars Ltd. are the complete antithesis of probably any other manafacturer anywhere. Owners are positively discouraged by the manafacturer from changing their cars for newer models and encouraged to keep their old cars on the road. If an upgrade on the current models has been introduced, the owners are able to book their cars into the factory or workshop and have the upgrade added to their own car. For instance, my own 1953 car went in to have the front drum brakes exchanged for discs in 1959 when discs were introduced on the models of that year. The factory is, in fact, continuously buying in tired Bristols of all ages ( 1947 onwards ) and fully reconditioning and upgrading them. These cars are then sold with a factory guarantee. A friend has just had a car built by the factory to his own engine and body style specifications, based on the latest Blenheim. It is unique – the only one in the world and the Company was happy to build it for him. The factory still manafactures parts for all models back to 1947. I have called in to the workshop in London twice in the past year. First visit was to purchase a radiator cap – I was offered a choice of new or used ! The second visit was to collect a set of rocker box gaskets – still being made. ( The receipts were hand written ! ). You mentioned the showroom. You may well be disappointed if you visited. It is the opposite of every other main dealer’s show room. It is small, with room for about 5 cars and one desk. Lights are not bright and prices are shown on low – tech pinboards of about 1960 vintage. In fact, until the previous MD retired about a decade ago in his 80’s, all invoicing and servicing documentation was bashed out in the back office on a typewriter. I believe that they now have a computer. The factory still has paper records of all the cars made and serviced there stored in dusty old boxes on creaking shelves. If this link works on this blog you can see a small web album showing my burgundy Bristol 403 and a group of friends’ cars ( the green one is 1948 and the others all 1950’s ). Finally the Owners Club is a joy. There are no polished ‘ trailer queens ‘. All the cars are driven as they should be. There is no pecking order amongst the members and everyone helps each other. I hope that all this gives you a flavour of Bristol car ownership ( no doubt far from your liking! ). Regards, DD.

    • 0 avatar

      DD, it’s Mike not Mark.  People such as yourself can appreciate a car that doesn’t need to change to be “fashionable”, as a statement that you don’t have to prove yourself to anybody.  I get that.  If I ever visit London, I’ll definitely have to visit the Bristol showroom and see it for myself, and I would probably get along quite well with the proprietors.  As a collector of 1966 Chryslers, I can certainly appreciate the camaraderie that you and your fellow Bristol owners share.  I drive my Chryslers whe n the weather is nice, and I often travel with or meet-up with other fullsize Chrysler owners at car shows.  Similar to yourself, I have upgraded one of my cars with disc brakes from a 1973 Chrysler.  Fullsize Chryslers are the underdog of Mopars, so we don’t even get a lot of respect from the Cuda and Charger crowd or parts suppliers.  It would certainly be a dream if the manufacturer of my car of choice supported enthusiasts as Bristol obviously does for you.
      My criticism is directed solely to Bristol’s website.  The BOC website is far better than the Bristol corporate site.  Websites aren’t like cars; no one really appreciates a website with the “retro-90s”  look.  Furthermore, not only am I criticizing the presentation of the site but the overall lack of content.  Defending the Bristol website with “It’s not broke so no need to fix it” is a pretty weak retort.  Keeping with your comparison to fashion, it’s like trying to defend someone that has arrived for a business meeting unprepared and wearing an old, wrinkled suit.  It doesn’t reflect well on the long history of the marque, nor inspire confidence that Bristol cars are built with great care.

    • 0 avatar

      Mike, apologies for the mistake with your name. I could put it down to a ‘senior moment’ but I’m afraid it was just carelessness. Thanks for your views on the BCL website.  I hadn’t looked at it like that – point taken. In fact I am seeing the owner/ MD of Bristol Cars Ltd. tonight at a Bristol Owners Club dinner in London ( yes, the owner of the company comes to our events ! ). He will probably arrive in his 1036 BHP/ 275 mph Fighter, having crawled there in 15mph London traffic. I’ll sound him out on the subject of the company website. I may well find out that he does plan to refresh it when time allows. I suppose that there is no sense of urgency as he can sell all the cars that he can supply. The club has a large number of Chrysler V8 powered Bristol owners ( all models from about 1959 onwards  except the Fighter). They don’t seem to have much trouble sourcing parts from Bristol Motors. I wish you many enjoyable miles in your Chryslers and good luck !

  • avatar

    You’re right!  Now figure this one out – The Bristol 405 looks fantastic and the Panamera, well, like dog sh*t.


  • avatar

    …well, like dog sh*t.

    Have you seen one in the flesh? I’m still on the fence, but I swear it has to be one of the most unphotogenic cars in recent history.
    Really does look different in person.

  • avatar

    They may be lacking a couple doors but I’ve always though the Panamera looks very Jensen-esque.

  • avatar

    Couple earlier examples:
    Sorry for the double post but the edit function doesn’t work for me.

  • avatar

    Well you can count me as the odd duck in this crowd. I actually like the looks of the Panamera. In my estimation, most Porsches are FLCs (Funny Looking Car). If it weren’t for their extraordinary road manners, they would have gone by the wayside years ago.

  • avatar

    I really like the looks of the Panamera. Different. Eye-catching. Nice proportions. Like that fastback rearend. Usable utility. At this stage of my life I have to have a backseat.

    TOO much cookie cutter vehicles out there so I appreciate when BMW comes out with their X-5 or Porsche comes out with this car or Toyota/Hyundai/Nissan/Honda comes out with a square box (I prefer the Element).

  • avatar

    While I am so happy that THERE IS ACTUALLY some design influence of this haphazard Porsche.. and they just didnt pull it out of their proverbial ass…

    I cant be positive about this vehicle.
    Its just another one.. that competes with the 5 series GT (in name only.)
    It also competes with the Aston Martin Rapide as well as the Lambo 4dr (Esotoque).

    There is no rational reason for producing this..
    Except for the CEO who wanted it.. devised it as a vehicle that he could sit in the backseat in, which happens to be the lamest excuse of a ego… Ive ever heard. Ya force a company that builds coupes.. to build a SEDAN that you will never sit in the back of..

    That not just stupid.. thats asinaine!

    But this is the same asshole who decided to have Porsche mortgage everything.. (so bad, that the Arabs have had to loan Porsche MONEY) on a buyout of Volkswagon (to avoid BANKRUPTCY)!!! Im sorry.. there is no credibility for this vehicle, and the very fact Porsche is BEING BOUGHT OUT to become a total brand of VW.. it is Wendelin Wiedeking total fault.. for having such a POS hit the road.

    And the straw that broke PORSCHE…


  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    I very much liked the idea of owning a Bristol, due to everything Setright had written about them, until I read Robert Farago’s piece. On this very website.

  • avatar

    I’ve seen the film, and the Bristol, in color and in motion, is gorgeous.  However, given the nature of the character who drives it, I don’t think that either Bristol or Porsche would be flattered by the connection.

    I don’t care about the Bristol website not having lots of gee-whiz graphics and flash, but the statement “we have no distributors or dealers at all” sure does come across as off-putting.  Seems like they could make the same statement positively, e.g. “We only sell our cars direct from the factory.  Our one showroom and sales centre is located . . . .”

    Nevertheless, Bristol must be doing something right, as they are just about the only  British car company left that hasn’t been absorbed by some other manufacturer.   It’s too bad that we didn’t find a way to continue Packard in limited production this way. 

  • avatar

    Very often the slogan with visually challenged cars is ‘It looks a lot better in reality’. Not the case with the Panamera. It looks worse in reallity. In all the pictures I have seen the Panamera has a low hunkered-down stance.  In reality it’s high and its wheel fenders are even higher, 19″ premium wheels look like 15″ out of a scrap yard. The worst thing is I can’t even imagine what after-market parts would make it look better; the wheels are already 19″ size, what does it need 22″?

  • avatar

    (Pre-takeover)  If you said snobbery, I woulda said Rolls-Royce.

    Dedication and tradition? I would, and still will, say Bristol.

    Love the cars or hate them, I think one would have a hard time finding a more dedicated factory, or a more loyal group of owners.   

    “We have no dealers or distributors”  might be a little snooty, but hey, it’s just sign that says we keep out the riff-raff.  We actually have control over your experience, and we take pride in that.

    As to the Panamera killing Porsche,  the 911 has been doing that since the late 70s.

  • avatar
    Kristjan Ambroz

    I agree that the Panamera actually looks more, rather than less challenging live. The rear and side profiles are particularly ungainly and those rear lights are not really pretty no matter how you look at it. On the other hand it is the first Porsche since the 993, where the interior does not look to be on the cheaper side for the times, and is more in line with what the thing actually costs. According to Evo, you’ll have more fun in a Cayenne GTS, which must be quite a damning statement but not having driven one, I guess I’ll reserve judgement on that for now.
    I guess one of the few advantages of owning one, is that in some places like London, you will not automatically be mistaken for a chauffeur for driving one, like you would with the S class, 7 series, A8, LS, XJ, etc.

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