Bristol Cars History

Bristol Cars: An Overview

The history of Bristol Cars began in 1945. Forecasting an excess labour capacity postwar, the Bristol Aeroplane Company (BAC) began working with AFN Ltd, makers of Frazer Nash cars, on plans for a joint venture in automotive manufacture. By July 1945 BAC had created a Car Division and bought a controlling stake in AFN. HJ and DA Aldington remained Directors of AFN and were joined on the Board by Reginald Verdon-Smith and George Middleton White, both sons of BAC Directors. Reginald Verdon-Smith was elected Chairman and HJ Aldington Managing Director.

HJ Aldington, who was still in the British Army, used his military connections to visit the bombed BMW factory in Munich several times in 1945, culminating in a ‘duty’ trip in October 1945, along with his brother and two Bristol representatives, to take detailed plans of BMW cars and several development engines which they flew back to Bristol. This was quite a tricky manoeuvre as Munich had been declared part of the American Zone and the American Military had just issued orders for the BMW plant to be dismantled and crated up for shipment to the USA. These plans and engines were subsequently declared to be war reparations. BMW chief engineer Fritz Fiedler was also given employment at AFN where he continued development of the BMW 328 engine.

By mid-1947, the different intentions of the Aldingtons and Bristol were becoming clear and Bristol severed its ties with AFN, returning control of AFN to the Aldington family. Earlier in 1947 BAC had registered the company Bristol Cars Ltd although it continued for several years to market its cars as made by the Bristol Aeroplane Company.

The first car, the 1947 Bristol 400, was heavily based on pre-WW2 BMWs. The body looked very like the BMW 327, while its engine and suspension were clones of BMW designs (engine and front suspension based on those of the BMW 328, rear suspension from the BMW 326). Even the famous double-kidney BMW grille was carried over intact. Until 1961 all Bristol cars used evolutions of the 6-cylinder BMW-derived engine. This well-regarded engine also powered a number of sports and racing cars, including all post-war Frazer Nash cars (apart from a few prototypes), some ACs, some Lotus and Cooper racing cars, and several others. Some Bristol cars were made in chassis form and then bodied by specialist firms such as the lightweight Zagato bodies and the custom line of Arnolt Bristols.

In 1961, with the launch of the Bristol 407, the company switched to larger Chrysler V8 engines, which were more suitable for the increasingly heavy cars. All post-1961 Bristols including the current Blenheim and Fighter models use Chrysler engines. From 1960 to 1973, former racing driver T.A.D. Tony Crook and Sir George White owned Bristol Cars; In 1973, Sir George sold his stake to Tony Crook. In 1997, Toby Silverton came on board and there followed the greater level of development of cars seen in recent years (particularly, the new Bristol Fighter). Crook eventually sold the company to Silverton in 2001.

Bristols Online

Bristol 400 Bristol 401
Bristol 402 Bristol 403
Bristol 404 Bristol 405
Bristol 406 Bristol 407
Bristol 408 Bristol 409
Bristol 410 Bristol 411
Bristol 412 and Derivatives Bristol 412 and Derivatives Guide
Bristol 412 Bristol 603
Bristol Beaufort Bristol Beaufighter
Bristol Britannia Bristol Brigand
Bristol Blenheim Bristol Speedster
Bristol Fighter Bristol 450

Other Bristol Engined Cars

Cooper Bristol Frazer Nash
Lotus Mark IX Lotus Mark X
Warrior Bristol AC Greyhound
Arnolt Bolide Roadster Arnolt Deluxe Roadster

Fraser Nash Cars with Bristol Engines

Promotional Brochure for the Frazer Nash Bristols

Model Quantity Dates Notes
Frazer Nash Le Mans Replica 34 1948-1953 Originally named “High Speed” and “Competition”. 96-inch (2,438 mm) wheelbase. Cycle wings. Conventional (Bristol) gearbox.
Frazer Nash Fast Tourer/Mille Miglia 12 1948-1952 Full width body.
Frazer Nash Targa Florio 14 1952-1954 Turismo (100 hp (75 kW)) or Gran Sport (125 hp (93 kW)) Bristol engine options. One car fitted with Austin Atlantic engine.
Frazer Nash Le Mans Coupé 9 1953-1956 140 hp (100 kW) engine.
Frazer Nash Sebring 3 1954 Open version of Le Mans Coupé.