|Founded||1945Bristol, United Kingdomin|
Brabazon, Filton, Bristol,
|Parent||Bristol Manufacturing Limited|
Bristol Cars was a manufacturer of hand-built luxury cars headquartered in Bristol, England. After being placed in receivership and being taken over in 2011, it entered liquidation in February 2020. In 2021, it was announced that the rights and IP have been newly registered by Bristol Manufacturing Limited, owned by Jason Wharton.
It was always a low-volume manufacturer; the most recent published official production figures were for 1982, which stated that 104 cars were produced in that year.
The company suspended manufacturing in March 2011, when administrators were appointed, 22 staff were made redundant at the factory in Filton, Bristol and subsequently the company was dissolved. In April 2011, a new company was formed by the administrator to sell the original assets to Kamkorp. Since 2011, the company has been restoring and selling all models of the marque while a new model was being developed. The company had revealed a desire to return to automotive production in 2018 with an all-new model, called the "Bullet", initially dubbed "Project Pinnacle". The car was first revealed to the public on 26 July 2016, and homologation was set to have begun some time in 2018.
The British aircraft industry suffered a dramatic loss of orders and great financial difficulties following the Armistice of 1918. To provide immediate employment for its considerable workforce, the Bristol Aeroplane Company undertook the manufacture of a light car (the single-seat Bristol Monocar, powered by a motorcycle engine), the construction of car bodies for Armstrong Siddeley and bus bodies for their sister company, Bristol Tramways.
On the outbreak of World War II, Sir George Stanley White, managing director of the Bristol Aeroplane Company from 1911 to 1954, was determined not to suffer the same difficulties a second time. The company now employed 70,000 and he knew he must plan for the time when the voracious wartime demand for Bristol aircraft and aircraft engines would suddenly end. The company began working with AFN Ltd, makers of Frazer Nash cars and British importer of BMWs before the war, on plans for a joint venture in automotive manufacture.
As early as 1941, a number of papers were written or commissioned by George S. M. White, Sir Stanley's son, proposing a post-war car manufacturing division. It was decided to purchase an existing manufacturer for this purpose. Alvis, Aston Martin, Lagonda, ERA and Lea-Francis were considered.
A chance discussion took place in May 1945, between D. A. Aldington, a director of Frazer Nash then serving as an inspector for the wartime Ministry of Aircraft Production (MAP), and Eric Storey, an assistant of George White at the Bristol Aeroplane Company. It led to the immediate take-over of Frazer Nash by the Aeroplane Company.
Aldington and his two brothers had marketed the Frazer Nash BMW before the war, and proposed to build an updated version after demobilisation. This seemed the perfect match for the aeroplane company's own ambitions to manufacture a high quality sports car. With the support of the War Reparations Board, H. J. Aldington travelled to Munich and purchased the rights to manufacture three BMW models and the 328 engine.
George White and Reginald Verdon-Smith of the Aeroplane Company joined the new Frazer Nash Board, but in January 1947, soon after the first cars had been produced, differences between the Aldingtons and Bristol led to the resale of Frazer Nash. The Bristol Car Division became an independent entity.
The car division originally merged with Bristol Siddeley Engines, and was marked for closure, but was bought in September 1960 by George S.M. White the chairman and effective founder. White retained the direction of the company, but sold a forty per cent shareholding to Tony Crook, a leading Bristol agent. Crook became sole distributor.
In September 1969, only a month before the unveiling of the new Bristol 411 at the Earl's Court Motor Show, Sir George White (as he had become) suffered a serious accident in his Bristol 410. The car was only superficially damaged, but he suffered severe trauma.
As time passed it became clear that he would never regain his health sufficiently to return to full-time work. To safeguard the future of his workforce, he decided in 1973 to sell his majority shareholding to Crook. As the ties with the White family were severed, British Aerospace (successors to the Bristol Aeroplane Company) requested the company to move its factory from Filton Aerodrome and it found new premises in nearby Patchway. The showroom on Kensington High Street became the head office, with Crook shuttling between the two in Bristol's light aircraft.
Under Crook's direction the company produced at least six types, the names of which were largely borrowed from Bristol's distinguished aeronautical past: the Beaufighter, Blenheim, Britannia and Brigand.
In February 1997, Crook, then aged 77, sold a fifty per cent holding in Bristol Cars to Toby Silverton, with an option to take full control within four years. Silverton, then son-in-law of Joe Lewis of the Tavistock Group and son of Arthur Silverton of Overfinch, joined the board with his father.
Crook and Toby Silverton produced the Speedster, Bullet, Blenheim and 411 Series 6, though 2002 saw the transfer of Bristol Cars fully into the ownership of Silverton and the Tavistock Group, with Silverton in the chair and Crook remaining as managing director. Together they developed a V10 engined two-seater named after the first Sir George White's world-famous First World War two-seater aircraft, the Bristol Fighter.
Crook finally relinquished his connection with Bristol Cars in August 2007. In March 2011, it was announced that Bristol Cars Limited had been placed into administration; it was that company that was renamed and subsequently dissolved by the administrator.
HJ Aldington, a director of the Bristol Aeroplane Company affiliated AFN (BMW's pre-war concessionaire in the UK), used his British Army connections to visit the bombed BMW factory in Munich several times post-war. In 1945 he took plans for BMW cars back to Britain, and BMW chief engineer, Dr. Fritz Fiedler was also employed. Its first car was the Bristol 400, prototyped in 1946 and introduced at the 1947 Geneva Motor Show. Derived from immediately pre-WW2 BMW products (thanks to a connection to BMW through Frazer Nash), the chassis was based on the BMW 326, the engine on the 328, and the body on the 327. Even a variation on the famous double-kidney BMW grille was retained. Bristol, however, did a thorough examination of the car's handling and ended up with performance "only matched by outright purpose-built competition cars". Seven hundred of the Bristol 400 were built, 17 of which received "handsome" drophead bodywork from Pininfarina.
In 1949, the 400 was joined by the five-place 401. Bodied by Touring, it was aerodynamically sleeker, accelerated better, and had higher top speed. It was joined by the drophead 402, of which just 24 examples were built.
The 403 followed in 1953, which featured improved brakes, gearbox, dampers, heater, and engine (a detuned racing motor, in fact). Bristol would use this same engine in the 450, entered at Le Mans in 1953; it broke its experimental crankshaft, but despite being less than aerodynamically ideal proved fully five seconds a lap quicker than the competition. Bristol withdrew from racing two years later.
Along with the 403 was the 404, on a shorter wheelbase, with a more powerful engine and styling reminiscent of the 450. The 404 introduced a concealed front wing-mounted spare wheel and battery. It was built to extremely exacting standards, and the price reflected it; this, plus newly introduced "punitive taxation", meant only 40 were produced.
The 405, which entered production in 1954, was much more successful, not least for being Bristol's only four-door. It remained in production until 1958, with 297 saloons and 43 drophead coupés produced in all.
Bristol debuted the 406 in 1958, and it remained in production until 1961.
It was followed in 1963 by the 408, with drastic restyling as well as improved suspension. This was succeeded by the 409. Many buyers preferred the crisp steering and gearbox of the earlier six-cylinder cars.
The 410, introduced in 1966, was a return to the high-performance touring tradition, offering the same top speed as the 409, and superior acceleration, with the same powerplant. It also saw Bristol become a private company and marked a return to quality to the exclusion of output: no more than three cars a week were to be made.
Until 1961 all Bristol cars used Bristol-built derivatives of the BMW M328 2-litre six-cylinder engine. These engines also powered a number of sports and racing cars, including all post-war Frazer Nashes (apart from a few prototypes), some ACs, some Lotus and Cooper racing cars, and several others.
In 1961, with the launch of the Bristol 407, the company switched to larger Chrysler V8 engines, which were more powerful than Bristol's own, BMW derived 2.25-litre 6 cylinder engine. The Chrysler V8s could be bought off the shelf from Canadian Chrysler without the startup costs of Bristol's own 3.65-litre all alloy 6 then in development. All post-1961 Bristols, including the later Blenheim and Fighter models, used Chrysler engines.
On 3 March 2011 it was announced that Bristol Cars had gone into administration, with the loss of 22 jobs when the factory at Filton, Bristol was shut down. On 21 April 2011 another new company was formed to sell the assets of the former dissolved company; that company was purchased by Kamkorp, which also owns Frazer-Nash Research, a technology manufacturer of electric power systems.
In 2015 Bristol Cars announced the development of a new model codenamed "Project Pinnacle". Initial reports indicated it would be a petrol-electric hybrid with a petrol engine from BMW. However a later media report and a May 2015 press release, indicated that the car would have non-hybrid V8 power.
The car, a two-seater roadster, made its first public appearance, slightly camouflaged, at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in June 2016. In July, the car was shown undisguised, technical details were announced, and its name given as Bristol Bullet. However, since that date there has been no further news about the car's homologation, and many members of the sales and marketing team have recently[when?] left the company. It is said to be powered by a normally aspirated 370 bhp (280 kW; 380 PS) 4.8-litre BMW N62 V8 engine (sharing the same drivetrain and chassis as the most recent Morgan Aero 8) driving the rear wheels, has a body of carbon fibre, weighs 1130 kg, and will cost £95,000. The planned production run is said to be limited to 70 cars to commemorate the marque's 70th anniversary.
On 5 March 2020 it was reported that Bristol cars had been officially wound up in order to pay creditors, with court-ordered liquidation under way. The Bristol Owners Club working together with the Bristol Owners and Drivers Association and the Bristol Owners Heritage Trust is reported to be actively engaged in order to preserve the heritage and associated spares for the marque.
In January 2021, it was reported in AutoWeek and AutoCar that Bristol Manufacturing Limited, owned by Jason Wharton, had newly registered the intellectual property rights necessary to begin the revival of the marque, and an initial product plan to coach build 21st Century versions of the Bristol Fighter two-seater and the four-seater Bristol 411 are in place.
As coach built cars, they will be 21st Century hand-built cars with new powertrains, new electrical architecture, and a thorough updating of their original designs - for example gone will be the old 411's live rear axle, replaced with modern independent rear suspension. Looking further ahead, plans for a new battery electric vehicle model, already named the Bristol Buccaneer, are in place for a launch date to accord with the 80th anniversary of the founding of the marque.
Power and tradition
Further linking to the heritage, the powertrain of the new coach built models is planned to be a Chrysler 6.4 litre Hemi V8, mated to the ZF 8-speed automatic transmission continuing a long-running partnership between Bristol Cars and the US OEM FCA, now called Stellantis. It has also been reported that the new owner plans to establish an "atelier-style" division to sell, service and restore classic Bristols.
Jason was a property developer and chartered surveyor in a career spanning more than 25 years. He is passionate and committed to continuing the low-volume production ethos of the original company, and plans to release just eight hand-built models of the Bristol Fighter and the Bristol 411 Series 8.
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