Dear Readers, 

I found this one-off translation in our archives, and could not resist sharing it with you. My daughter teaches German and pointed out, rather firmly,  that “ This is the reason we still need translators”. 

I feel I must point out that all opinions and incorrect facts,  are of course those of the anonymous author, and are not shared by the Heritage Trust! 

Bristol 412S2  Zagato

What speaks in favour of a Bristol? A question any car connoisseur has to pose himself sometime. Other circles do not perceive him (a car is a “he“ in german, a man´s toy) at all. His outward impression at the fuel station or at the supermarket parking lot is disappointing. We had hoped for much more (response) from the spurious charm of this exotic car. Had expected questions such as “Is this a kit car?“ or “How can this one be that ugly?“ or, better still: “Is the plastic body kit from Kamei or from Zender?“

None of such.The Bristol was drowned completely in the anonymity of his neutral-white paintwork. Only two car buffs did spot him on the way and expressed their enthusiasm: “Bristol? Zagato, isn´t it?“ But only because he is rare and so unbelievably bizarre.

Possibly also because both of them were proud to have recognized the Rekord-D headlights (Opel´s equivalent of the Vauxhall Victor FD). Even they could not answer the question of what speaks for a Bristol other than some sort of radical individualism garnered with snobbery. “Nothing“ would be the obvious answer, if one had to consider it at such length.

Later, in his last years from 1980 to 1983, as the S3, the 412 bore the name “Beaufighter“. Beau means beautiful. An outrageous euphemism as far as both the car and the homonymous combat plane are concerned. Since Bristol was eventually a royal aircraft manufacturer; only sheer poverty and a handful of free-of-charge BMW patents (German intellectual property rights were suspended after the war and regarded as war booty) made  the company turn around in the fifties. Cars were Bristol´s saviours, initially based on the BMW 327/28. In 1961 came the swap for Chrysler drive trains in the 407: V8 engines, Torqueflite auto boxes. The Bristol evolved into a comfy luxury barge, yet the ladder frame chassis remained. Nothing in the Bristol earns the the title “technical treat“. Bristol´s impresario Tony Crook still knew how to place the brand inside the automotive royalty.

A touch of Landaulet.

We are cruising through Munich in the Beaufighter, sorry, 412 S2. It is sunny and warm, the T-roof is pinched behind the front seats, the playful quarter lights in the roll-over bar are open and the stately car wears the folded-down rear hood like a casually thrown scarf, as is appropriate for an extrovert Zagato bohemian. The now-open, portly coach suggests the aristocratic touch of a Landaulet. Contributors to this (sensation) are the copious, soft-skinned Connolly seats and the princely spaciousness as well. The 412 is a big car, suitable to  seat four without problems. The delightfully arranged Smiths instruments know to appeal, just as the walnut veneer dashboard.

The switches are wildly dispersed, you have to guess their function, yet this is not difficult. The most redeeming feature is the glove box trap which is adorned by a braided leather strap.

Beautiful detailing is the exception rather than the rule in the Bristol, most parts appear eclectic and cobbled together.The steering wheel comes out of Triumph´s Stag, the selector lever with its laid-in locking catch wobbles and collides with the air-con jets, carelessly pinned in underneath. Finally, the door openers are catchy. Any Opel is better made than the workmanlike Bristol, and any half as dear RR Silver Shadow exudes the air of true craftsmanship. Despite his meagre talents, the Bristol remains arrogant, his prize was a delimiter just like expensive hotels or clubs: Members only.

Tom Wolfe, the great would-be writer and dandy, would drive a Bristol 412. If only to please Ugo Zagato, this styling eccentric who, besides his illustrious strange creations sometimes indulged in real beauty, viz.Aston DB4GT.

The Bristol 412 was unmistakably fostered by Lancia´s Beta Spider, a contemporaneous product of Carr. Zagato. Roof line and rear quarters including rear lights are identical. Moreover, the consistently edgy body shape reminds us of the Beta, further enhanced in the Bristol by the built-in power bulge up front (Snow cap is a rather lyric expression). Proportions are less than lucky. Too long a wheelbase due to the sparewheel-well between the drivers door and front suspension is married to far too much rear overhang.

The wheels, usually eye-catchers like pretty shoes on women and which enhance charming beauties, are a total loss in the Bristol. they have won the “cheapest series steel wheel“ contest (hands down), which cannot even be remedied by the Jaguar hubcaps. Instruments  are donated by Jaguar XJ and an uninspired steering wheel.

As some sort of consolation, the Bristol´s ride is much better than his looks.

The 360 cu.i. Chrysler V8 of nearly 6 litres capacity always delivers sufficient torque right from bottom revs. Consequently, the nominally disappointing 172 (??) hp are forcefully pushed (new German expression retained), they feel more like 200. On the air filter, (a label) reads “Lean Fuel Electronic“, an indicator towards rather illusory fuel economy due to transistorized ignition.

Thus, he´s a casual cruiser, the Bristol, the Torqueflite auto box changes speeds gently and lazily – speedy does not go together with British blue blood. At 3000 revs, the V8 bubbles contentedly, the four exhaust pipes lend him a  pleasantly dark tone, he never hollers (barks) vulgarily.

Ride comfort is surprising, the relatively simple live axle suspension reveals itself as expressly velvet footed(does this mean suitable for pussy-footing?), helped by high weight and the  long wheelbase. Another Bristol mystery is the astounding weight of 1630 Kilos despite the alloy body.

On the offside lives the spare wheel, battery is nearside; every Bristol has this feature.

A Bristol is but a Bristol

A further trump card of the Bristol is his nimbleness, he turns practically on the spot, and you ask yourself why. We did not test the roadholding, would be somehow inappropriate. Our guess is good-natured understeer, certainly not begging for bends.

What´s going for a Bristol? Nothing, as already assumed initially.A Jensen Interceptor enthralls, by comparison, and the already cited Silver Shadow does everything much better. The Bristol is but a Bristol. and there remains  one mystery: how can such a mediocre car be that expensive? Possibly because the sentence “I Drive a Bristol“ is usually followed by a minute of silent awe.


You need a long day to fall for the Bristol. You will probably never love him. He is too unobtrusive for a real eccentric and too crude for a high-end car. This is a break test for the owner. The 412´s character is pleasant, haughty and silent. But a Silver Shadow does the same and  is is pretty on top of that.

The more intensively you behold him, the more he wins. Length sells, at least with the Bristol. And Zagato never was mainstream.