By on September 25, 2010

If TTAC were UK based, we’d probably have indulged in a Bristol Appreciation Week instead of Panthers. These remarkable coupes have been built on the same 114″ wheelbase chassis since the first Bristol 400 saw the light of day in 1947. Ok, I haven’t forgotten about Morgan. But the Morgan is a bit more self-conscious in its perpetuality. The Bristol’s styling has evolved a bit, although that seems to have ended in about, say 1978 or so? The NY Times has a nice article pointing out that Bristol sales are up, and never dropped in the current Great Recession. The very affluent who want a “bespoke” coupe hand built in traditional style seem to be able to manage the starting price of 142k pounds sterling. Oh, and there’s a real living breathing dinosaur under the hood too, and it’s American to boot.

Strictly speaking, the Bristol’s underpinnings are even older than 1947 (400 above). Bristol based their entry into the automotive world on pre-war BMWs. The frame came from the 326, and the 2 Litre six from the 328. And the grille gives that away, all too obviously. But fear not, Bristol paid a license to replicate the Bimmers.

But the current Bristol Blenheim can’t hide that obvious thirties configuration: super long hood with almost no front overhang, and rear wheels far forward, as well as a narrow track.

That long front fender hides what used to be carried in the open on classic cars: the spare. Now it’s only on one side; the other has access to the battery and fuse box. Leaves the trunk unencumbered, and with plenty of room for the golf clubs.

Needless to say, the interior is done in the most traditional of English style and taste, with only the finest appointments. And under that long hood: the old Chrysler 5.9 L/360 CID V8, which was replaced by the Hemi years ago hereabouts. Where Bristol gets them new is not disclosed. Maybe they bought a batch of the last ones to be made. At the small rate Bristol builds cars, they might last a while; decades even.

Here’s Robert Farago’s review of a “rebuilt” elderly Blenheim. But if you read it, make sure you also read the comments too, to get a more complete picture of the Blenheim.

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52 Comments on “The Ultimate Living Dinosaur: Bristol Coupes Built On Same Platform Since 1947...”


  • avatar
    OldandSlow

    I’d have to break out the old tweed coat to drive that living heirloom.  It definitely looks set up for the old-money crowd.

    • 0 avatar
      skor

      You can get yourself a proper bespoke tweed suit made in the UK here:
      http://www.tweed-jacket.com/
      I’d order a suit myself, including a pair of matching breeks, except the dollar’s in the toilet now v the Pound Sterling.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Looks like a Jaguar coupe as drawn by me during a really boring high school study hall back in the early 1990s.  It’s an unusual vehicle but please at least tell me that building so few cars for so long at such a low rate that they have very high build quality?  It would be a shame if these rarities are just as trouble prone as British cars are stereotyped to be.

  • avatar
    StevenJJ

    Yes please.

  • avatar
    BuzzDog

    You’ve got to admire the “cottage industry” vehicle makers that still exist in the U.K.
     
    Interestingly, Bristol has no dealers. The customer deals directly with the factory, and his or her motorcar is built to custom order.
     
    It would be nice to see something like this in the U.S., but our safety and emissions standards would likely make such an operation impossible.

  • avatar
    blowfish

    It would be nice to see something like this in the U.S., but our safety and emissions standards would likely make such an operation impossible.

    Our rules & regs were written out by the big tree then, so no any small potato will be in its way.
    The Checker Marathon was not a bad car, did GM stop selling them motors?

    • 0 avatar
      the duke

      Fear not!  You can have your oddly styled at best, hopelessly out of date chassis’d car with an american V-8 here in the good old USA!  Just drop Panoz a line!

    • 0 avatar
      PeriSoft

      Ah, is there anything that can’t be blamed on safety and emissions standards?
      As if the UK is some libertarian motoring free-for-all… I find it difficult to believe that the Brits are really that lax.
      Plus, if the rules were written by the big ‘tree’, then why do they include safety and emissions standards? Your whole post makes no sense to me…

  • avatar
    JimC

    I seem to remember a lot of Jensens having a Mopar 360 under the hood, er, bonnet as well.

  • avatar
    Dr Lemming

    They should have stuck with the original design.  It looks much better than the newest one, which has an awkward, semi-professional kit car look.

  • avatar
    mazder3

    According to the World Encyclopedia of Cars by Martin Buckley and Chris Rees, Bristol first started using Chrysler V8s and pushbutton automatics back in 1961. Why it replaced Bristol’s own aluminum I-6 is not mentioned. The Blenheim’s bodyshell has been around since 1976 starting with the 603. They’ve changed the nose and tail a few times since then. The 603 was interesting in that it offered an economy model, the 603E, which had a 318 instead of the 360. They put a Rotomaster turbo on the 360 in 1980. THAT must have been an interesting creature. Early in the 2000’s Bristol was looking into making an all new car using the Viper’s V-10. I haven’t taken the time to look that up.
    Also, per one of the Brit car mags (Autocar, Autoexpress, TG, don’t recall) Bristol does not allow magazines to test their cars. Bristol is above such things. They aren’t about generating numbers as nothing can be compared to them.
    For the ugliest Zagato designed car ever, look up the Bristol 412. Production started in 1975. It looks as though it were carved from a brick. Using a toothbrush. With a targa top thrown on as an afterthought. Hideous.
    That magazine for new money twats, the Robb Report, did an investment report on Bristols, circa 2003. I couldn’t find the magazine but I remember that it mentioned electrical gremlins and a minor joke: What are two things that can be seen from space? The Great Wall of China and panel gaps on a Bristol.

    • 0 avatar
      Uncle Mellow

      Bristols own straight six was a 2.2 litre stretch of the pre-war pushrod BMW engine and was no longer powerful enough for such an exclusive car. Bristols are as rare as hen’s teeth – I think I’ve only seen one in the last 40 years.
      The V10 Bristol Fighter looks very different , BTW , and sits on a much shorter wheelbase.

    • 0 avatar
      PeriSoft

      Do any rich people actually read the Robb Report? Having been assailed by their sales team relentlessly as they look to move ad space, I’ve found said sales team long on “you’re sure to be successful” and short on “here are detailed metrics, not an ‘average’ income spec that could mean you have 100k subscribers who make 30k a year and one who makes a billion a year”.

  • avatar

    Farago reviewed the Blenheim some years ago.  The comments make an interesting counterpoint.  https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/bristol-blenheim/

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      Wow, after reading that review I know that it would be cheaper and more sane to go buy a old Jaguar.  I don’t think even with a frame-off restoration or a LS-X conversion I could possibly spend as much money on an old Jag as on a Bristol.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      Thanks for the link. I did not know that was in the archives. I’ve added the link to the post above.

  • avatar
    threeer

    Does anybody else see a stretched and enlarged Capri, or is it just me??

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    “But fear not, Bristol paid a license to replicate the Bimmers.”
     
    Did they? IIRC the factory ended up in the British occupation zone and the tooling was packed up, shipped to England, and sold to Bristol.

    • 0 avatar
      mazder3

      Good catch! Bristol did indeed get the BMW designs through reparations for the war.

    • 0 avatar
      th009

      That’s right — it was considered war reparations.  BMW lost whatever was left of the bombed-out Munich factory as reparations, and meanwhile the Eisenach factory ended up in the Soviet zone.  All BMW was able to build for half a dozen years after the end of the war was bicycles.
       
      The Soviets actually built cars in Eisenach, and sold them initially as BMWs, and then later as EMWs.  In the 50s, the plant switched to building Wartburgs.

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      Er, motorcycles, not bicycles.  /2’s to be exact.

  • avatar
    hurls

    The only thing I really know about Bristols (beyond the bespoke/old/chrysler powered thing) is that LJK Setright loved them.  And this article is timely only b/c something tripped my mind about LJK last night and I went on an hours long binge reading old articles of his last evening (Preludes! 4WS! Automatic trannies! left foot braking!).
    Found an interesting article by TTAC’s own Baruth on a rival site (rhymes with tabochnik) about brit auto writers that talked a lot about LJK and was a hoot and a half, btw…

  • avatar
    ajla

    Why the Chrysler 5.9L?

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      Chrysler used to be an engineering leader.  Having the 360V8 and the TorqueFlite was actually a feather in Bristol’s cap.  Just like when Rolls Royce used TH400 transmissions from GM and that was seen as an plus because of GMs then leadership in automatic transmission engineering.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      Long tradition: In the sixties, there were few if any big lazy engines available, so a number luxury coupe makers (Jensen, Iso, Facel, Bauer, etc.) bought them from Detroit. Bristol and Jensen both bought from Chrysler, starting with the old L-block polyspheric 318, then the newer LA 318 and 360. Perfect for the whole image too: lazy torque for wafting along, and who gives a damn about expensive gas? It adds to the cachet that its a gas guzzler.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      Makes some sense.  It’s still no Monteverdi Hai 450 though.
       
      Did Bristol ever use the 440 when it was still available?

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    OK, so I can buy an old Dart Swinger with a 360, have it reupholstered in leather, get my woodworker friend to make some burled walnut door caps, and I’ve got a bespoke luxury car – for a lot less  $.

  • avatar

    I can’t say I ever cared that much for these “modern” Bristols. The early BMW based ones are bit desirable. For a upper crust Brit I’d much prefer a Jensen Interceptor. Even a Reliant Scimitar is more desirable.

  • avatar
    James2

    I imagine this thing must have awesome front legroom, but the rear seats must be planted right atop the wheels.

  • avatar
    Stingray

    I thought Mopar was still selling the 360 as crate engine. I should go out from my rock more often.
     
    They sell a 410… that may be based on that one.

  • avatar
    PeriSoft

    I just read the Farago review. You know, having read a bunch of his other reviews when I first checked out TTAC, I’ve got to wonder why he started a car web site at all – he seems to detest all of them.

  • avatar
    gottacook

    Although Bristol has no dealers, they do have a showroom – on Kensington High Street, London. I visited it in the 1970s and apparently it’s still there.

  • avatar

    What about Bristols new model the ‘Fighter’

  • avatar
    IGB

    What great responses to that original review. A pleasure to read such passion.

  • avatar
    Ingvar

    I love ’em, and I want one, badly.

    Check the official site, especially the used cars section. As it’s basically the same car since the 60’s, you can buy a used one and have it factory restored, almost to any specification. And most likely by the same people that built the car in the first place. They actually have taken up production of the 411 as the series VI. The 411 was last seen in production in the middle 70’s, before it was discontinued in favor of the 603.

    http://www.bristolcars.co.uk/index2.htm

    Review of the Bristol 411 Series VI:

    http://www.classicandperformancecar.com/features/octane_features/235622/bristol_411_buy_it_new.html

  • avatar

    Paul Smith has one, as also does Liam Gallagher. So ultimately, there is not a posher car on the market.
     
    But are they any better than say, a semi-restored Facel Vega? In other words, wheezy, rumbly, creaky, 60s V8 transport in a super-stylish shell that says “old money” because nobody has the heart to ever throw one away?
     
    I think Bristols are like a palace in Venice (Italy). Charming and a guarantee of status, but of no consequence on the market or to anybody living in the here and now. Bristols are old cars inasmuch as they a) let you down and b) are a worse drive than an average Kia.

  • avatar
    bomberpete

    Yes, it does look like a Seventies Capri.
    Hey, for the few hundred people who buy these bespoke things every year, can afford them and enjoy them, bless their hearts.

  • avatar
    Wheeljack

    Call me weird but there’s something about this car that appeals to me. I tend to like “vintage” stuff, so the idea of a brand new bespoke vintage car is just up my alley. Way out of my price range though, so I’ll have to make do with my low-tech Jeeps.  

  • avatar
    Kristjan Ambroz

    Having had a ride in one I cannot completely agree with the sentiment. First of all, the thing is one of few 4 seater coupes, where I could sit comfotably in the back for over an hour. It is narrow (would never fit three across in the back) but for 4 it’s absolutely adequate.
    The handling will not impress on the track I am sure but it is a car for which few adjustments are necessary in terms of driving – it drives like a reasonably modern one (not like a 1946 one). The acceleration figures are probably bettered by a modern Camry and absolute roadholding will fall a bit short of a Camry’s too but it is relatively good fun to drive, you’ll emerge from it feeling relaxed after a 10 hour continental journey and if by any chance it might lead you to Italy, you will be able to navigate all the narrow streets thrown at you (more than you can say of any modern full sized four seater coupe).
    Where RF is absolutely right is the interior – while many of the materials are first rate, the placement and selection (one cannot speak of design, they were all bought from various other car manufacturers) of switches is a bit random.
    If the 3 is not your thing, there is always the Fighter, both in NA and turbocharged versions (Viper V10 engine) with up to a Veyron baiting 1012 hp (but with a much lower Cw and a miniscule frontal area in comparison). They have a bright orange one sitting in the Kensington showroom and it is quite an interesting sight, and according to Evo Magazine, who got their hands on a normally aspirated one on two occassions, quite a drive as well.
    Forgetting the design for a moment there are some things that more car manufacturers should strive towards – all heavy items are within the wheelbase and the car is a front mid engined design (hence the location of the spare wheel and battery – both of which can be accessed very easily, the battery being even on a tray that slides out). The boot is quite big, in fact the whole car is miraculously spacious for its exterior dimensions. The visibility is excellent, there is no lift at either the front or rear axles (and even on the Fighter, no downforce, either, as the engineers, aeronautical ones every single one of them, find downforce a concept not to be used on road cars).
    And the car is simple enough to be repaired or maintained by someone even mildly mechanically inclined. I’d say it might not have the same obvious appeal as an old Jaguar but it is a nice addition to the automotive world nevertheless.

  • avatar
    porschespeed

    Ahh yes,
     
    The jealousy and hubris of the poor…
     
    If you could afford one, you’d buy one.
     
    This is so much a fuzzy xerox of lambo/fezza world as to not merit a byline.

  • avatar
    Bristol411

    Your web link appeared on the Bristol Owners Club forum, so I could not refrain from giving my 2 cents worth.
    I own a Bristol V8. I’ve owned a number of them over the past several decades. At one time I owned a then new 1986 Mercedes 300E, the car MB took ten years of designing before offering to the market, and an older 1971 Bristol 411. I found the performance, handling and comfort of the two cars to be strikingly similar, although the Bristol had a distinctly silky feel to it that I preferred. The Bristol was faster off the line, and on the track it performed delightfully, although the club room seats could have used higher bolsters when pushing the curves hard. The engine, a 383, was about all the rear end could handle. A 440 would have been absurd overkill, and this was confirmed by then company owner, Tony Crook, who said they tried a 440 and found it too powerful for what they were trying to achieve.
    The dinosaur headline is misleading, as it implies something that fails to adapt to the modern environment.
    The separate chassis builds a stronger car. Car makers went to monocoque construction not because it was better, but because it makes higher profits using mass production methods. Monocoque cars are disposable. When they crash or rust, their structural integrity is compromised. In contrast, Bristol cars tend to last for many decades, in part because of the “dinosaur” chassis; indeed the manufacturer still stocks parts for all models. Bristol Cars also will recondition any Bristol made in any year, either back to its original state, or will upgrade the car to contemporary standards. Rather remarkably, in many cases the man in the factory who built the car in the first place, will do the refurbishment.
    Comments about look or ride that come from people who look at photographs or read recycled ignorance miss the mark when it comes to the Bristol cars. They are not beautiful, like the Jaguar, but they are better built. They do not compare to mass produced cars, and comparing them to a Chrysler or a Jap car is somewhat useless.
    The journo’s often-repeated crack about wide panel gaps seems to have originated from a review of a trashed car which, had it been a normal car would have long been in the junk yard. Under Tony Crook’s rein, journalists were shunned. He did not need them, and he was a singular character who made it clear he would run his company his way, not the way journalists wanted him to run it. This tended to bend the nose of journalists with big egos, who engaged in bad journalism in revenge… not that Crook cared.
    Now, with the new owner, Toby Silverton, the press is more warmly received. Also, with the introduction of the Fighter, no one can say that Bristol is lost somewhere in the mid 20th century. His market remains one of mostly gentleman with a generous discretionary income or assets sufficient to not care about the price. For that, he sells a car in which form follows function. He sells a car that is easy to repair anywhere in the world, and for the most part with simple tools and no repair manual. If a driver in Australia needs a part, it is dispatched via courier to Heathrow, down the road, where the primary delay, if any, is that of the courier.
    Once the cars become vintage, their market broadens. Because so few people know about them, they can be purchased at lower prices than better known, if engineering inferior vintage cars. Have a look at http://www.carandclassic.co.uk/car/C133472/ for the prices asked in the UK. Here is a US example of a nice car and a high price ($25,000). http://greyintheusa.blogspot.com/2010/01/happy-new-year-1967-bristol-409.html.
    Bottom line: To responsibly evaluate a vintage or new Bristol, you really have to see it, sit in it, and then drive it. To do this in the USA, join the Bristol forum (www.boc.net) and ask. The club is an amiable group, and if you are sincere and pleasant, you may find a generous invitation to take a spin.
    There are between 50 and 100 Bristols in the USA at any one time (they do tend to cross the Atlantic a lot as soon as they are 25 years or older). The other day, I was in Starbucks in Greenwich CT, and right outside was parked a beautiful 409 in dark green paint with a Connecticut plate on it. The windows were down, and looking inside, it was clear this was not a trailer queen but a regularly used and loved car. It would have been about 44 years old.
    If you want to drive a new Bristol, it’s entirely up to the discretion of one man, Toby Silverton, as it’s his company. Hop a flight to Heathrow, and take a cab to the showroom. You certainly will be able to see the cars, and perhaps sit in one. As for the drive, either in the driver or passenger seat, you will need to make a good case…
    To learn more about the cars, join the BOC forum, or its two parallel forums.

    • 0 avatar
      porschespeed

      Thanks Bristol411 for the validation.
      Though i don’t own one, I have friends who do. While not the ultimate speedwagon they posess a je ne se quoi that one just has to experience to appreciate.
      Yeah, it looks a bit like a Capri II. It drives like the one you dream about.

  • avatar

    i rented an education on netflix recently. i had never heard of a bristol before but i was smitten by the beautiful bristol 405 featured in the film.

    http://karakullake.blogspot.com/2009/12/car-bristol-405-in-movie-education.html

    the comments to robert’s original review were awesome. someone actually went to the trouble of registering as ladyagatha in order to defend the reputation of her bristol which compared favorably to all her cars with the exception of her bentley. i imagine her at home on a chintz sofa with fresh flowers and beautifully groomed spaniels.

    but seriously, i have to respect the iconoclastic nature of a british bespoke car builder who has survived until the 21st century. i only hope that the brand retains some of it’s authenticity when it recovers from it’s current financial situation.

  • avatar
    Johnbok

    The engine is not U.S. made, but Canadian. Tony Crook was not looking for the normal petrol engine characteristics, but wanted plenty of torque through all gears. To obtain this advantage, he chose the commercial (truck) version of Chrysler’s engine that is made in Canada. I read that owners had trouble obtaining some parts, thinking they were the “normal” car engine when trying to source parts. When I win the lottery, a Bristol will be the first car I buy (followed by Alvis, Jenson and a few more!)

  • avatar
    Mike C

    Had a 360 and 318 MOPAR truck and car engines in several cars in the 70sthey were similar but not the same. Truck motors had 4 bolt mians, forged cranks that were (in some cases) chemical hardened (a bath of cyanide salts) that incresed surface hardness for bearing life BUT reduced the detrimental effects on toughness and therefore logevity.
    THe truck 318 was aboused in a 3/4 ton pick up for 390K mile the 360 truck motor in a power wagen for over 450 k miles.
    Loved them

    The 318 car engine gutted itselfpassing a truck on the I 10 outside Cucamonga. THAT was exciting. I was doing 70 when the parts started to come through the hood. The 360 made it tio about 170K miles in a charger. then the flywheel disintigrated.
    The truck motors were far superior.

    The jensen used the 440 for most of thier life.

  • avatar
    Bristol411SanFran

    I have a Bristol 411 Series 3 for sale in San Francisco if anyone is interested. Contact me at [email protected]

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