Bristol automobiles and especially the Bristol 400 model were interesting amalgams and what some might say even mongrels of cars. Bristol being a British name – yet the cars themselves to be modeled and patterned after successful pre Second World War era BMW models. Post war high-end British cars that were stylish yet mechanically complex and to maintain, set and keep in tune yet with the outstanding looks and styling of highly popular and desirable BMW pre-war models.
The Bristol Aeroplane Company, aided and abetted by the Aldington family (who actually had the U.K. license and franchise to import BMW automobiles in the late 1930’s) took over the obsolete designs of the BMW concern after war ended and had won by the allies, amalgamated the basis of the 326 chassis frames, the high performance 328 engine and lastly the styling of the BMW 327 body set. Both amazingly and inexpertly, almost by serendipity, they came up with an amazing integration of parts, components and styling to produce the unique Bristol 400 design.
Yet from that day onwards, Bristol continued producing these cars at the same plant, be it in small quantities. In total somewhat in the area of just under 700 units were produced. They were both well crafted, high desirable and very costly and expensive to purchase as well as to maintain and keep in good tune.
The BMW-inspired engine was not superseded until 1961, when the 407 model adopted an American origin Chrysler V8 power plant, and the chassis, or rather repeated modifications of it, were produced for a long time after that. The 400 itself, of which about 700 were made during a 3 year production period was an attractive if none-too-rapid Grand Touring car in it and was only ever available in two door coupe/ saloon guise. Later the 401 saloon, the 402 convertible, the 403 which evolved the 404/405 and 406 replacements all followed on logically in numerical sequence onwards from the original 400 setup model of the line and range. In sequence and numbering they were upgrades on an original yet they all retained the basic traditions and underpinnings of the line – yet each also pushed up performance model number by model number. The engine was also used by AC, and by the highly respected and classic British sports car maker Frazer Nash, and proved to be surprisingly tunable overall for both sports car racing and Formula Two.
A last case in point- the early Bristol autos as would be expected from an aircraft company which had produced such speedy classics as the Bristol Beaufort and eventually much of the design work that led to the supersonic Concorde that their automobile products would be aerodynamically highly efficient if not “slippery”. Alas though towards the end of the line when the company closed down its automobile production around 1960 they had become less slippery and more like high-priced flagships.
Jerry B. Tibor
Over 50 years experience helping people in the auto industry in the Winnipeg Manitoba regions