The Petrolhead Corner

Stumbling Upon prototype Bristol Cars and Other Rare Cars

Exploring the city... and finding hidden gems.

calendar | ic_dehaze_black_24px By Robin Nooy | ic_query_builder_black_24px 6 min read |

Urban exploring, it sounds like somewhat of a contradiction but with ever more abandoned rural areas or buildings as people migrate to different areas for various reasons, it sounds like a fascinating undertaking. A friend of mine once went to a Belgian ghost town called Doel, located near Antwerp, and the images were quite unsettling. A modern town yet completely abandoned sounds and looks quite eerie to stroll around in, to be honest. But when urban exploring results in the discovery of a number of rare cars and prototypes, you can imagine my interest is more than a little sparked! 

YouTube-channel Lost Adventures has recently released a video of them uncovering a bunch of cars in an abandoned building near London. The crew behind the channel has made a name of exploring mansions, hotels, facilities, schools, plants and more. Technically not always legal as some sites have securities in place or even occasional police patrols. And yes, it is still trespassing so basically illegal, but it does result in some fascinating footage! 

For this episode, two urban explorers sneak into an abandoned facility to stumble upon an incredible range of vehicles from Bristol Cars, along with quite a few cars and parts by other brands. There are also aeroplane engines, wooden bucks for bodywork shaping and even a dismantled Formula 1 car. As said, most of the cars are Bristol cars, a company that has been declared bankrupt in May of this year and which has had an interesting history through most of its existence. Check out the video (just ignore the countless “crazy”, “insane” and “mental” remarks being uttered);

The heritage of Bristol Cars dates back to the beginning of the 19th century, with the birth of Bristol Tramways looking to improve on public transport by developing an electric tram system. This was followed up by the introduction of an additional bus service for parts of the city where the tram wasn’t able to go. Alongside the tram company, Bristol Aeroplane Company (BAC in short), was founded in 1909. Following the outbreak of the first world war in 1914, about 400 Bristol Scout airplanes served in the British army and navy. It was considered one of the finest early aircraft to have been deployed during the war, along with the two-seater FB2 Fighter.

With the demand for military aircraft plummeting after the war,  BAC shifted their focus to commercial aircrafts and built some very capable flying machines. Fait for Bristol would once again force them to build war machines, as the second world war swept across Europe only 2 decades later. This time Bristol was determined to adapt to the circumstances early on and in 1941 a proposal was made to the managing director of Bristol Aeroplane Company to develop a post-war motorcar manufacturing division. 

This subsequently led to the birth of Bristol Cars which was founded in 1945 coming out of the war. This new branch focussed on hand-built luxury cars in small numbers. A take-over of the small sports car manufacturer Frazer-Nash and plans were set in motion to create the first Bristol badged cars. The result was presented to the public in 1947; the Bristol 400. It featured a frame and engine from BMW, as the rights were purchased from the German manufacturer shortly after the war, and even a double kidney style grill.

Following a fall-out between former-board members from Frazer-Nash and the directors of Bristol Aeroplane Company, the Frazer-Nash part was resold and Bristol Cars was established as an independent entity. In the years after Bristol offered a number of cars following the initial success of the 400, with even an entry at Le Mans with the Bristol 450 which came in first, second and third in class in 1954 and 1955.

During the early sixties the car division merged with Bristol Siddeley Engines and was scheduled to stop producing cars but the effective original founder, George S.M. White bought it the same year and kept going. During the following years Bristol produced some pretty memorable cars, despite facing several challenges. George White suffered a horrific accident in the late sixties and never fully recovered and was forced to sell his stake in the company to long time Bristol-dealer Tony Crook.

One of the most notable cars Bristol made was the 410 introduced in 1966, with Bristol’s somewhat trademark wing-mounted spare-wheel tucked away out of sight under the front left wing. The Bristol 410 was a large two-door saloon fitted with an American V8 by Chrysler, following an engine-partnership with the American car builder started in 1961. The body was done by Touring, a famous coachbuilder from Italy with whom Bristol Cars would work with on several cars, as well as having cars designed/bodied by Pininfarina. 

After the take-over by Anthony (Tony) Crook, the naming strategy for Bristol switched from numbered models to cars named after Bristol aircrafts to honour their heritage. Bristol aeroplanes were very capable machines and the Aeroplane division would go on to help develop the Concorde for instance. This resulted in cars like the Blenheim, the Beaufighter and the Fighter. Cars were still fitted with Chrysler V8’s, right up to the 2000s. It was time for modernisation according to Bristol, as previous cars were based on decades-old platforms and relatively old-school engines. 

The first fruition of this turnaround was the Bristol Fighter, which was fitted with the V10 from the Dodge Viper. It came in three guises, ranging from the entry-level 525bhp Bristol Fighter, a 625bhp Bristol Fighter S and the bonkers (on paper) Bristol Fighter T with over 1.000bhp. Performance was impressive for all variants as top speeds would be at least 200mph, even for the least powerful version. In terms of design, it was also a remarkable vehicle, with gullwing doors, a luxurious leather interior and a sleek-looking body. Supposedly only 14 of these Bristol Fighters were built and sadly the brand went into administration. Frazer-Nash, with whom Bristol had previously merged and separated, bought the remainder of the company in 2011. 

A few years later, another attempt was made to resurrect the Bristol brand. The new car that was tasked with doing so was the 2016 introduced Bristol Bullet. A speedster based on the underpinnings of the Morgan Aero 8 with BMW V8 producing 375bhp. Styling was based on a few classical Bristol cars like the 411 and the Blenheim Speedster. Especially the intake in the nose is a reminder of the company’s heydays. The car was built with modern technology such as a carbon fibre body. Price was set at a quarter million, which seemed too steep to persuade potential buyers and as such the car never made it to production.

In the video from Lost Adventures, you can see several Bristol cars in various stages of build or dismantling, whatever the case may be. Amongst one of these is the only Bristol Bullet ever built, the prototype speedster intended to return to former glory but sadly failed to do so. This car is shown being stored in the basement of the former Bristol facility, covered in dust. The entire estate, so everything that can be seen in the video at least, is soon to be auctioned off to cover debtors as part of the liquidation of the company. This probably means it is unlikely we will see the name return once more in the near future. 

For the background story on the brand, this article on DriveTribe was sourced, along with articles on UltimateCarpage.com and Road & Track on various specific cars.

3 responses

  1. Gentlemen. I have been left a unique car by my uncle. It is the prototype for the Bristol 411. It differs from the standard 411 in minor ways, small rear fins for example. It is a non runner, brakes seized, head gaskets required.
    I have also been left his 407. I am a lucky boy !
    I am toying with the idea of selling the prototype to finance restoration of the 407.
    Any suggestions how I might proceed ?
    Thanks, Steve Charles

  2. @Steve – sounds like quite a cool car 🙂
    For these unique cars, there are only a handful of specialists who will know exactly what we’re talking about. And, to be honest, we’re not part of them. Maybe auction house experts (RM auction and the likes) could help you. Also, we’d recommend contacting the “Bristol Owners’ Club”, probably the best guys to help you with that https://boc.net/s/

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