4/09!

We’ve had planes and a car this month. Which next? Why, a car built by a plane maker of course. No, not a Saab.

Meet the Bristol 409. Power was by a Chrysler V8 attached to a Chrysler automatic box, Bristol having decided some models before that their own BMW based sixes were no longer enough. Power steering was offered for the first time on a Bristol and it was the last model to feature a push button gearchange (the buttons to the right of the wheel in the second picture).

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The American engine and gearbox made the very British Bristol more American than the contemporaneous Ford GT40.

Want to buy one? They rarely come up but you’ll probably need £40,000 or more.

Illustration for article titled 4/09!
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Illustration for article titled 4/09!

Bristol had an interesting background and went on to become downright peculiar.

They made planes (yes, in Bristol, SW England) and prospered mightily during WW2, at one time employing 70,000. They were conscious that this was going to come to a shuddering stop with the outbreak of peace and so decided to come up with a Plan B, which involved the manufacture of motor cars. They bought Frazer Nash and acquired, by some scheme involving war reparations, the rights to produce pre war BMW designs. They even kept the double kidney grille. Frazer Nash were quickly sold due to disagreements and Bristol cars continued as part of the Bristol aircraft company until 1960 when it was sold to a George White who had hitherto been with the aircraft division. White then suffered a personal setback (by crashing a Bristol as it happened) and sold out to Tony Crook who ran the company in a distinctly individual, not to say eccentric, fashion. He maintained a showroom in Kensington, a posh part of London, and if you called to him there and he sufficiently liked the cut of your jib he might agree to purvey a motor car to you. One of his eccentricities was arranging that the spare wheel live just behind the wheelarch in otherwise unused space (you can see the shutline in the picture) so that the gentleman owner would have the maximum luggage space for his travels.

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Life continued for Bristol in a gently declining way (nothing so vulgar as production numbers were divulged) until 1997 when Mr Crook sold out half his shares to new owners, followed by the remaining half in 2002. He stayed on as managing director until 2007 when he was 87. The company went into receivership in 2011 having suffered the unusual ignominy of having the tooling for making its body panels stolen and was bought by the new owners of Frazer Nash. They’ve got plans for a new model but watch this space.

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