Treasures from the archives

Among Tony Crook’s papers very kindly donated to  the Heritage Trust by his executors I came across this yellowing  contemporary advertising feature reprinted from the Motor, 25 September  1963  (yes, Bristol Cars did advertise at one time, as they have indeed resumed doing  lately)

As you can see it compares  performance figures for several high end saloon cars of the day. The Rolls Royce, Mercedes 300SE, Vanden Plas 4 litre and Daimler Majestic Major are compared with the Bristol 407 regarding top speed, fuel consumption, and acceleration. And it is implied that the new 408 must be  superior …

The Bristol 407, not surprisingly,  is one of the leaders in this test. Its 5.2 L engine and alloy body must’ve given it a considerable advantage. Mercedes’ top end   W112 model, the   300SE (twice the price of its predecessor the  220SE)  on the other hand is carrying around a considerable amount of steel (and chrome) with a much smaller 3 Litre engine developing 160 bhp.

The “Vanden Plas  4 litre” , – presumably the ponderous  Princess,  the  Austin engined limo, beloved of mayors and undertakers  is hardly in the running here and  lags well behind with its top speed  recorded at a measly 87 mph, and 16 seconds for the 0-50 dash.  No use at all for a speedy getaway . Far better was the next year’s smaller Vanden Plas 4 litre R with its 175 bhp short stroke version of Rolls’ B40-B60-B80 range, as used in the Austin Champ and larger military vehicles.

I was however surprised – and  impressed –  by the Daimler Majestic Major’s figures,  produced by an ungainly-looking  sub-limousine hiding  V8  power under its. bonnet. It was powered by a Turner- designed 4.5 litre powerplant turning out some 220 bhp,  probably as much as the Mark X Jag of the day (power outputs were notoriously vague in those days and Bristol, like Rolls-Royce, didn’t deign to specify BHP output other than saying it was “adequate”. )  The Daimler would indeed  out-accelerate and outrun its Jaguar Mk X stablemate . Turner , its engine designer , had come from a motorcycling background and was also responsible for the Ariel Square Four,  Triumph’s Speed Twin, Thunderbird and Bonneville models, and Daimler’s neat 2.5 litre V8 as used in the Dart and SP250.

But despite the Daimler’s potent background, the 407 beat it on top speed, just nosing past the 125 mph line, on  acceleration ( 0-50 in under 7 seconds,) and on touring  (though not overall) fuel consumption, at just better than 17 mpg.

Stefan Cembrowicz


2017  News from the Heritage Trust

Our gleaming, anatomised 403 is now safely tucked away in a very large box as part of Aerospace Bristol, inside the 1911 Belfast Hangar at Filton,  where it will have pride of place in the 1950s timeline of the Bristol Aeroplane Company.

The wooden box is to prevent other “Large  Objects”, as the planes and missiles being shifted about in there are  referred to, bumping into it while they are being  trundled behind tractors or on top of  the heroic Aero Collection forklift (which is strictly banned from approaching  anywhere near our lovely, shiny  403).

Concorde has now been unwrapped, display cabinets are being built, and an opening date is still un announced. August? September?

We will have our Heritage Trust first inaugural lecture day on November 11th. The program is still under wraps, but we are once again expecting to have two or three speakers very relevant to the world of the Bristol Car and its heritage – with, perhaps, due reference (and reverence) paid to its aeronautical links.  Most of the Trustees’ spare energies  will be taken up for the rest of the year by writing,  as the  Heritage Trust Is now under contract to  a certain high-end publisher to provide text, and hundreds of very high-quality images for a very special new book about Bristols.

Our images are being selected  from the Heritage Trust archive,  which contains thousands of large glass slides taken by Ted Ashman when he was works photographer for the Bristol Aeroplane Company.

We don’t believe such a complete archive exists for any other British carmaker. Ted’s job was to photograph  to the highest quality everything  that went on in the Aeroplane works. This could be in the design department, in the boardroom,  on the shopfloor, on the engine assembly line or during testing and  sales flights. He approached photographing the Car Division of  the Bristol Aeroplane Company, as it was then called, in the same spirit , so we have engineering, coachbuilding,  assembly, press and racing photographs of super quality for our selection.

Many of these have never seen before. Understandably, at the publishers request  we won’t be releasing any of these new images until he has made his own selection.

Digitising our collection archives is now well underway thanks to some very generous anonymous donors. Due to the discovery  of asbestos in the mighty Brabazon hangar, we have now shifted our archives to their fourth set of premises. We’re renting a very secure room, courtesy of Bristol photographic Society, and digitisation of  our photographic archives has been carried out by Brittney,our long suffering Curator.

We are now starting on our collection of 548 magazines, dating back to the1940s. All of these contain reviews, road tests and news items about Bristol cars. Sadly,  we cannot at present publish  or circulate copies of these without obtaining Rights permission from each publisher (or their heirs) .

UK Copyright law, although overlooked by certain motoring publications, is no laughing matter.  However , it does allow us to make  one copy of a document for research or educational purposes, and these will now be stored in our electronic archive.  Fearful of flood, fire or theft, we have backed all of this data up on to our faithful Macbook Air as well as  two separate external hard drives, and are also uploading them (very slowly…) to the Cloud (at the moment we have over 100 GB queueing up to get onto the Cloud. Even with a the fastest  high-speed domestic connection this will take a Very long time.)

Camera techies will rejoice in some details, others please look aside for a moment.

We have been using a Nikon D7100, and today a D5500 on a copystand , with a venerable MicroNikkor 55 mm  Macro lens, controlled by a Nikon programme on our Macbook Air – ideal for  checking contrast and focus on the large screen.

Sensor size means our 55 mm lens becomes a 75, hence the long lens to subject distance. We shoot in RAW and jpeg simultaneously, (the latter files small enough to email in groups ).

Image quality is less crucial for the newsprint, though we still achieve pinsharp results.

Most of the magazines are about A4 size, though a few of the older ones are smaller. We also have objects like postcards and even postage stamps in the collection, which will need the full macro treatment.



Ladies and Gentlemen,

One of the delights of the seven years of my otherwise gruelling research into ‘Abbotts of Farnham’ has been meeting so many folk who have, almost to a man, or lady, been unfailingly helpful and supportive, as I have often mentioned in my News-letters. Of course, not all of my Abbott contacts, new friends, live in England and although I have met a small number during either mine and Sally’s trips to France, Belgium (and Canada), or during their own visits to England, one gentleman I had not met, though we communicate as if we have known each other for ever, is Bruno Verstraete from Hochfelden, Switzerland. Bruno has a 1954 Abbott Healey Drophead Coupe, photographs of which he has regularly sent to me during its 11-year, 2,000+ hours restoration. So you can perhaps imagine my delight when, a month or so ago, Bruno gave me the wonderful news that his Abbott Healey had been selected for entry into the Concours Class at the Warren Classics and Supercar Show, held at The Warren Estate Golf and Country Club near Maldon, Essex on Sunday, 24 September.  What a joy. Naturally, I promised to be at the Show to see Bruno’s car but, even more importantly – to meet him! At long last… At so it came to pass. A very early start from our new home on Hayling Island, a 127 mile drive to Maldon (Who was it who was so delighted to be living in the south-east of the country again, where all major Classic Car events take place, close-by? He said!) and by 10 a.m. were in the car park. The show cars, in different groups, by marque or type, were spread around half the golf course and I thought it a delightful setting, with some of the finest cars in the world parked on or around immaculate putting greens, fairways  – and a little bit of rough!

I love the Classic Car Shows at the NEC, they are very special to me. It is where, at ‘our’ first Show in November 2012, I felt that ‘The Abbott Register’ and my research really ‘took off.’ At the same time I believe that Classic Car meetings staged on or in large fields can lack a little atmosphere, ‘intimacy’, if you will. Though an open-air venue, the Rural Life Centre at Tilford does have a nice balance, with Clubs, cars and a wide variety of stalls tucked into the varying and interesting features of the Centre.

Inevitably Bruno’s car, parked in the aforementioned, ‘rough,’ was a pure delight. Absolutely magnificent in its Pearl Metallic Green, an official Healey colour, Sandbeige leather interior and matching colour hood, it was surely the nearest to a 100-point restoration that it is possible to get.

But, Bruno’s Abbott Healey was not the only surprise I enjoyed that Sunday. Just two cars away from Bruno’s was a beautiful red Healey. Because I had been looking across the fairway to Bruno’s Healey, and not expecting there to be another Abbott Healey, my eyes strayed neither left nor right. Even as I got closer to the red Healey, I could still not convince myself that it was an Abbott.  A total of some 579 Healeys were built, not all drop head coupes. Abbott bodied 90 drop head coupes, but just 25 of them were known to the Club in 2012. But, no, or rather “Yes” this red beauty is an Abbott (F3035) and belongs to Allan Fuller, from Surrey. You may have realised that Allan and I had not previously met, nor even communicated. How he slipped through my trawler net, despite my using the smallest permissible mesh, is a mystery to us all! But he escapes no more… his beautiful car is in ‘The Abbott Register’, for posterity.

Just another example of how you have just GOT to get out and meet the people, as I have been doing to the best of my ability over the seven-plus years and putting some 50,000 miles ‘on the clock’ of my car in the process, so I recently spotted.

And to really round off a wonderful day, in every respect, I met Bruno’s father, Marc, who I judge to be as much a perfectionist as his son. Marc lives in Belgium. When I was first in touch with the family, quite some years ago now, Marc also owned an Abbott Healey (C1927). Happily, I am in contact with Marc’s Abbott Healey’s new owner, Gino Dupont, also in Belgium. In fact it was Gino himself who first, and very kindly, notified me of his new and much prized possession!

Before I depart the Warren Classic and Supercar Show, I must tell of how, on the occasion of his Abbott Healey being selected to enter this most prestigious Concours, Bruno produced a splendid, 63 page, A5, hard-backed book that details the history of the car; of the Healey company; of ‘Abbotts of Farnham’ which I just about managed to concoct for him (!) and the history of the car’s restoration. It is packed with splendid photographs that cover all facets of the life of the car. A truly professional production by a truly professional man. And, Bruno very kindly presented me with a signed copy of his book, which I shall cherish. I will take it to the SAHB Autumn Seminar for any Abbott Healey owners there to see. It has certainly made me think at a higher level when considering ‘showing’ a classic car in the future. Well done, Bruno. Well done, indeed. And thank you and your father for your friendship and courtesy on the occasion of our first meeting, so far from your homes.

The previous Sunday, 17 September the Surrey Classic Car Club held their annual Show at the Rural Life Centre at Tilford, near Farnham. Naturally, the ‘Abbott Register’ was in attendance – and Tilford is but 35 miles up the A3 for me now! Deep joy! The Show was excellent and I was delighted that Ken Vickery managed to have both his Abbott Ford MKIII Zephyr 6 estate and his Friary Vauxhall Cresta estate on the Abbott stand. And Bob Kent supported me, as he has always done, bless him, by bringing his Friary Ford 105E estate/hatchback. Bob told me that he had put a lot of work into the car since last we met and it certainly does look excellent and, as it always does, attracted many interested folk. I do enjoy watching as they approach Bob’s car, thinking that it is an Anglia saloon, with at least one of their party loudly proclaiming, “I had one of these Anglia…” and then as he walks behind the car, he stops dead in his tracks when he sees that is NOT the Anglia saloon similar to the one he once owned, but the Friary conversion that he had most likely never heard of and has certainly never seen before! Great fun. Never ceases to make me smile! And Peter Minett’s huge pictorial display of the history of Abbott continues to attract many, many interested persons. I sit and watch as they take what seems an eternity to slowly turn over each huge page of the display, 36 of them, all A1 size, whilst others patiently wait their turn. Comments such as, “Well, I never knew that Abbott did…” “I had no idea that Abbott also did…” “Is that really a 4-seat Jaguar XK120?”  “Is that really a Ferrari?” “That is surely not really a Bugatti T50?”  “Hey, Fred, look at this…” And so it goes on – virtually non-stop for the whole seven hours of the Show!

Though continuing to write (type) the book, research has not ceased and I am typing most Chapters double-spaced, for new information continues to arrive and begs inclusion. I believe that I am responsible for much of this last-minute activity, for nothing concentrates the mind and raises doubts so much as making or writing a ‘statement,’ a thought or an opinion that, one suddenly realises, has not been fully substantiated. So I pause, go back to the expert(s) to either ask for further information – or for confirmation that what I have written is correct. It does happen, occasionally!

Examples of new and additional information relating to Abbott cars that has recently surfaced include two of Abbott’s Bentleys. Photographs have been discovered and very kindly sent to me by Anton van Luijkan from Lieden in The Netherlands and Wayne Kennerley, from Pembrokeshire, an expert on RRs and Bentleys in South Africa, of which a couple there are by Abbott. My sincere thanks to them both. One, a Bentley ‘R’ Type (one of 16 bodied by Abbotts) was completed on 2 September 1953 (chassis number B269SP) is photographed in, literally, 100s of parts, all spread across the concrete floor of a large garage. The car’s first owner was John Menzies, of Edinburgh. Now, is that the grocery/general store/newsagent gentleman? I suspect that it might be. When you see the photographs of the car’s bits, commonsense ought to prevail as a total restoration would cost the absolute earth – for a car possibly worth perhaps a little less than £200,000 in England. Will anybody ‘bite the bullet’? We shall see, but in the meantime the, so sad, photographs will be in the book.

The other Abbott Bentley (chassis:  B10MD) was photographed in the USA. It looks complete, though will nevertheless require a complete restoration, already estimated at $400,000 in the USA. This, the last of Abbott’s 20 MKVI Bentleys was delivered to James Lilley, Lilley & Skinner Ltd on 16 November, 1951. Two things, first – that would surely have been Lilley & Skinner of shoemaking fame? Oh, how I used to dream of being able to afford a pair of Lilley & Skinners instead of a pair of Bata’s best! Second, the car is said to have been on the Abbott Stand at the 1951 Earls Court Motor Show. But the Show is in October and not only was this fine car not delivered to the agent until 16 November, it did not go ‘on test’ till 1 November. So perhaps it was the 1952 Show car. OR, more likely I am beginning to suspect, the car not quite complete, e.g. not yet tested, yet taken to the October, 1951 Earls Court Motor Show anyway, before being returned to Wrecclesham for testing and delivery to agents, Jack Olding, of London W1, for onward delivery to the customer. A photograph I have of the car at an Earls Court Motor Show has the registration number EDA 52, which would normally indicate that it is Abbott’s latest Bentley model for release in 1952. I am hoping that somebody will confirm the car’s history, movements and whereabouts around this period to me in due course. Me? I’m baffled!  Some Bentley experts are pleased to see these photographs for I read that these cars were thought to be ‘long gone’, never to be heard of again. Could this be the ‘Abbott Register’ effect?

Not many months ago a superb, 1937 Abbott-bodied Aston Martin 15/98 SC (short chassis) DHC  (chassis number: L7/844/SC) was for sale with Tim Joslyn’s ‘Patina Auctions.’  Nigel Smith and I went to Oxfordshire to see the car and meet Tim who, shortly afterwards, very kindly sent me a set of the professional photographs of the car that he had commissioned. It was a beautiful car that had been in the same family since purchased new in December 1937 – with a hefty 17.5% discount, because the owner-to-be, Mr J G Henderson, knew Mr R. Gordon Sutherland, Aston Martin’s CEO at that time. And nearly 80 years later it was in the possession of his two daughters when it was put up for sale through Tim’s new classic car auction company.

Well, yet another of Abbott’s beautiful Aston Martin 15/98 creations has been put up for sale, this time in the USA. Bearing chassis number A9/825/SC, it is being sold by Autosport Designs Inc, of New York. This car has been in the USA since 1993, when it was first in the possession of the then Chairman of the Aston Martin Owners’ Club (USA). In 1998 the car was entered in the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, where it was placed 2nd in Class. Many readers will know that the Pebble Beach Concours, in Carmel County, California, near the Pacific coast, is the most prestigious in the world. What a huge honour for an Abbott car to be there. And to win an award! Wouldn’t EDA have been proud? As I write these notes I have yet to discover the selling price of the car, but have emailed the vendors and asked the question and hope to have an answer before I press the ‘SEND’ button. Just 24 of these 15/98 Short Chassis Aston Martins were bodied by Abbott and only three are thought to still be in England. 24? Well, it could be 25 for, as so often is the case, confusion reigns over these little items of detail. One publication gives one figure – another offers another. I do have the chassis numbers, and some registration numbers of 24 Abbott 15/98s, but not the 25th . And why ‘15/98’? Well, the first pair of figures represent the ‘horse-power’ rating of a car, as calculated by the RAC all those years ago; the second pair of figures represent the car’s actual horse power. Many older cars were designated in that manner.

I am very grateful to my friend, dear John Maddox who has handed me a plan of Abbott’s Wrecclesham works that he drew, relying on the keen memory that I know he possesses still. As a gentle aide memoire I had sent him a copy of the plan drawn some years ago by Jim Robb, formerly a technician in the Servicing and Repairs Workshop, now a resident of the parish of Oregon, USA. Jim, too, had drawn his plan of the works site from memory and they are remarkably similar. John also had a photograph that he particularly wanted me to see. It is of an ‘Abbott Staff Outing’ with a good number of employees, standing or kneeling on the grass in front of a beautiful Bedford OB coach (“Arrhhh! That beautiful OB. But, my beating heart, be still, be still!”) By a happy coincidence , on that day the coach was hired from Comfy Coaches. Back in the very early 1930s, Abbotts bodied buses for Comfy Coaches. I am never sure how to refer to the ‘public service vehicles’ from that era, for though they were all single-deck, they were referred to as buses – but, to me, a “bus” is a double-decker… all else is a ‘coach.’ Which is correct, I wonder? I have sent the photograph, which is really quite small, down to my photo-shop friends in Bristol and asked if they will kindly print some 6 X 4 inch enlargements and then enlarge the front right hand quarter of the photo-graph, for it includes a clear image of Mrs Judy Woods. Judy was an‘outworker’ who made the head-linings for the newly converted Ford MK2 estate cars, in her home. A van delivered the material on Monday mornings and collected the head-linings she had made the previous week. I have rarely wanted any photograph that I have handed over to my friends in Bristol to turn out more successfully!

With my very kindest regards and best wishes to you all.

Len C Huff RD 11 October 2017

Apt 9, Foreland Court, Rails Lane, HAYLING ISLAND PO11 9LW

Tel: 07772 787 693                                      Email:

The Bristol’s Return to Filton

Return to Filton

C152 inverted & adjusted

The Bristol Owners Heritage Trust invites you to attend our November 11th 2017 meeting at the newly opened Aerospace Bristol in Filton. You will find full travel directions and lots of other information on their web-site   The site post code is BS34 5BZ

Summary of the Day

Attend the site all day and have access to all the exhibits and displays from 10am to 5pm for the concessionary rate of £15 per head, with preferential free parking (for Bristols and related marques). These tickets must be obtained in advance – see below.

From 2 pm to 5pm we have a series of talks celebrating the Trust’s new acquisitions and the presence of the 403 display car in Hanger 16S. The talks will be in The Concorde Building.

3 talks are planned, with a tea break in the middle. The Ted Ashman photographic archive has now been fully digitised and this priceless resource will be used in the talks, which will cover Bristol cars in competition, the production history of the 6-cylinder cars, and company personnel at work.

We look forward to seeing you – Andrew Blow, meeting co-ordinator.


A historic day for BOHT!! Please see the Press Release from Aerospace Bristol below with the link to the full article here to their website: AEROSPACE BRISTOL WELCOMES HISTORIC BRISTOL CAR HOME TO FILTON  (Copyright Aerospace Bristol)

March 22, 2017

Aerospace Bristol has welcomed a 1953 Bristol 403 saloon car home to Filton – the place where the historic Bristol Car was designed, tested and manufactured by the Bristol Aeroplane Company over 60 years ago.

The Bristol Aeroplane Company diversified into car design and manufacture at the end of the Second World War and their automobile division went on to become Bristol Cars. Thanks to the knowledge and expertise of aviation engineers, and the manufacturing techniques of the aviation industry, Bristol Cars were able to achieve higher levels of performance and the company became world famous for quality and luxury.


Linda Coode, Collections Manager at Aerospace Bristol, said: “The Bristol 403 was actually tested in The Bristol Aeroplane Company’s wind tunnel and this aviation heritage can be clearly seen in the aerodynamic body design. The bonnet, doors, fuel filler cap and boot all open from the inside, to remove the wind resistance that would be caused by external handles. It’s a fine example of high performance engineering to come out of Filton and we’re thrilled to feature it in the Aerospace Bristol exhibition.”

The Bristol 403 that will be displayed in the museum was discovered in a barn in South West England, where it had been stored for over 30 years and had fallen into disrepair. The classic car was rescued by the Bristol Owners Heritage Trust and carefully restored to its former glory by volunteer apprentices from restoration experts Spencer Lane Jones. Now restored and ready for public display, the luxury vehicle has been delivered to Hangar 16S: the grade II listed WWI hangar that will house the Aerospace Bristol exhibition when the £19m industrial heritage museum opens this summer.

Stefan Cembrowicz, Chair of the Bristol Owners Heritage Trust, said: “I would like to thank all of the dedicated volunteers who prepared the Bristol 403 to such a high standard. Hundreds of hours of work and an incredible level of care and attention have gone into restoring this beautiful car, with over 30 hours spent on preparation of the bonnet panel alone. I am truly delighted to see her arrive safely at Aerospace Bristol and very much look forward to seeing this wonderful vehicle on public display alongside other remarkable examples of Bristol engineering.”

The Bristol 403 was known as a “fighter pilots delight” due to its aviation heritage, a “businessman’s express” due to its combination of speed and luxury, and a “hushabout rushabout” due to its combination of speed and quiet running. Fitted with a 100bhp, 2 litre, 6 cylinder engine, developed from the pre-war BMW 328 Sports/racing engine, it could reach a top speed of 104mph in standard trim. A total of 287 were built, each costing just under £3,000 (the equivalent of around £61,000 today),

Taking off this summer, Aerospace Bristol will bring together a varied collection of nationally-significant exhibits and hidden archive records to tell over one hundred years of aviation history for the very first time. The museum’s iconic centrepiece will be Concorde 216; designed, tested and built in Bristol, she was the last Concorde to be built and the last to fly.