Survivors of the day’s HMRC tax year deadline were able to attend our annual-ish lecture day on 6 April 2019.
The day started with stylish riverside parking of nearly a dozen Bristols by kind courtesy of Bristol City Council, who graciously assented not to tow us away.
Guest of honour was a BMW 326 parked, for the purposes of compare and contrast, next to Michael Barton‘s treasured ex TADC 400, the first Bristol produced.
Before lunch, Heritage Trust Chair Stefan Cembrowicz led parties of the curious deep into the City of Bristol Archives. Our HT archives are now safely stored within their extensive and highly secure storerooms, safe from unscheduled intrusion. Helpful Archives staff produce items on request and our enormous spreadsheet is very kindly being transcribed into their digital Collection Management System, which will make it accessible for online as well as manual searches.
Stefan was able to demonstrate and display some of our three thousand 10“ x 8“ glass slides, taken in black-and-white by Ted Ashman, the Bristol Aeroplane Company works photographer between 1948 and 1956. The quality and depth of detail of these is staggering even by the standards of the best digital cameras nowadays.
We also had on display an Authors Proof of the 2018 Heritage Trust Palawan book, Car Division, which contains over 300 of these terrific images. You can drown in the detail, said one reviewer.
We looked at double elephant sized (that’s bigger than A0) blueprints of Bristol’s first model, the Type 400, as well as a wide variety of pamphlets, brochures, and ephemera relating to each and every model of Bristol. The fascinating account of the Inskip USA sales campaign was on display, its many trans-Atlantic cablegrams and bookings on the Queen Mary and Waldorf Astoria coming to nought with nothing sold stateside; the elegant business phraseology of those far away days barely concealing a rising note of panic as sales didn’t materialize.
It seems that despite fine engineering, delightful handling, thoroughbred DNA and inherent quality a $6000 2 litre Bristol didn’t compare well with a homegrown musclecar such as a Buick, let alone Chrysler’s later 300+bhp Hemi engined C300 model, which were to be 40 mph faster and $2000 cheaper.
Appetites having been wetted by poring over the treasures in store, lunch intervened and, as the sandwiches disappeared rapidly, the caterer commented that she had never seen anything like it.
Also on display was Dudley Hobbs’ masterpiece, our beautiful showroom model of the Type 401. This is recorded in the accounts in 1951 as having cost over £60 – made in-house as a result of several weeks labour. Surely this was Britain’s most advanced car of the era – and arguably for decades to come? Aero and windtunnel design gave Bristols first Aerodyne a cd of 0.32, impressive even nowadays (Jag’s E-Type of the next decade was around the 0.5 level, just saying..).
When the Antiques Road Show saw this model at Filton, rather to our embarrassment their valuer placed a value of £25,000 on it. This caused us difficult decisions about insurance of this irreplaceable and unique artefact.
We were also able to display Tony Crook’s battle scarred helmet and racing goggles , exactly as seen in Michael’s early slides shown of him racing his BMW 328. And his battered mahogany tuck box from Clifton College was also present, scarred with the effects of many break-ins by hungry schoolmates – or possibly the owner himself.
Chocolate digestive biscuits having been deployed, the tea urn was drunk dry, and finally Andrew Blow introduced a short video made by BMW enthusiast Mike Dawes at Brooklands demonstrating and critiquing his well turned out 1938 BMW326 model. It was good to remind ourselves of the genetic link between the two great enterprises of BAC and BMW. (And – to reflect on how their fortunes have varied…)
When the Bristol Aeroplane Company formed its Car division, it was carrying out Sir George White‘s vision from the worst year of the war, 1942, when he decided that postwar there would be a large surplus of skilled labour in the aircraft factory, and a demand for high quality cars (in the Bentley category rather than that of the Morris). Having debated starting with producing something from someone else’s stable; perhaps Aston Martin for example, they settled on BMW after the war, when a prewar license agreement with AFN remained in place. The plan was, after a few years spent establishing design, production, workflow, servicing, and distribution, to build their own model, a completely Bristol designed car. This would have been the all independent, inboard disc braked, Moulton rubber suspended Type 160/220 with an all alloy 3.65 litre engine – all built to Filton standards. Ah, what might have been…
So the first Bristol, the Type 400, had chassis and coachwork style directly descended from BMW’s four door 326 saloon and two door 327 coupe. The 326 we saw was designed for long distance relatively high speed cruising on Hitler’s brand new autobahns. Although the car’s top speed was just below 80 mph, the car was designed to run all day at over 70. And this set the pace for every Bristol ever made subsequently, with their emphasis on long-distance high speed touring . The engine first used by Bristol however was not the relatively modest 50 bhp 326 engine but was developed from the highly successful 328 sports racing engine which had been so successful in the Mille Miglia. This was subsequently to be tuned by Bristol engineers to nearly double the bhp, more than 150, and was to become one of the most successful sports racing car engines in the 1950s.
Though handling and balance is said to be very similar between the two models, the Bristol coupe’s cabin is smaller with less legroom for the rear passengers and only two doors. This enables the roofline to be lower and more streamlined at the rear. (Bristol were to test their Type 400 extensively in their own and the University of Bristol’s wind-tunnels).
The audience all departed in good humour by 5 pm, some for long journeys home.
Thank you to all who attended for a successful day. And please remember that the Bristol Owner’s Heritage Trust is a registered charity. We are not supported financially by the BOC but rely on individual donations all of which are most gratefully received , and can in this taxing times be Gift Aided, to the benefit of both donor and recipient.
This Charity’s major achievements have been accomplished with the help of generous individual donations. This includes our lovely display preparation Type 403 in the Aerospace Bristol Museum, as well as our delicious Car Division book published in 2018 by Palawan Press. And our extensive archives are now available to be viewed freely by one and all under secure, supervised conditions – fulfilling the educational terms of this charity.
We look forward to seeing you again next year.
Yours in Bristol
Stefan Cembrowicz and Peter Campbell
A special thankyou to our speakers Michael Barton, Dr John Hobbs and Mike Dawes – and also to Graham Tratt, City of Bristol archivist, for his tireless help.