Treasures from the Archives (2)

We’re still sorting through the HT archives and our acquisitions subcommittee is adding to them with new purchases. This job will become a lot easier when we develop and improve the database so that we, and our subscribers, can have a quick visual reference to existing material.

One item I was looking at the other day was a small red pocket sized exercise book. This contains a handwritten list of drivers and team members as well as other useful contacts for the 1953 Le Mans 450 works team. Jack Fairman and Lance Macklin are recorded on the front page with details of their blood groups and (cheerfully) their next of kin.

Lance Macklin had, it seems, rather a reputation as a playboy. Described as a good-looking, smooth-talking charmer, Macklin was easily distracted by female company. To quote from his obituary,“If there was some blonde in the picture he would not turn up to practice”. He had a list of those allowed to visit his bedside in France should the worst occur. He had chosen the Comtesse de Caraman, of Chateau de Courson for a French bedside visit, and Mrs Hindmarsh of Westbourne Park Road should an English disaster occur. Who was this mystery French aristocrat? The Comtesse de Caraman is an ancient and prestigious title with impressive connections to the worlds of literature and art. But this wasn’t, it transpires, an illicit liaison. I see that the Duc de Caraman’s first wife was Nada Esmée Macklin (b.Cobham 23 Nov 1917) so the Comtesse was likely to have been Lance’s next of kin, his sister rather than her redoubtable, 90 year old mother in law the Dowager Duchess.

P Sumner Wilson, Tommy Wisdom (well known in motor racing, rallying and motoring journalism circles) and Mike Keen are mentioned as is the Garage Moderne of Arnage (telephone 8) and the Hotels Central and Les Charmettes. (telephone 893 and 23). Finally Solex  are included, headed by Baron de Montesquieu and M. Rossat, their Chief Test Engineer, based at Hotel de l’Hippodrome, on Les Hunaudieres.

Macklin was co-driver of  car no 37 with Graham Whitehead. Tommy Wisdom and Jack Fairman drove number 38. A third car was held in reserve.

Macklin’s father, Noel Macklin founded both the Invicta and Railton companies, as well as Fairmile Marine, a manufacturer of spectacular wartime motor gun and torpedo boats.  (The Fairmile D  was propelled by quadruple Packard engines, developing 5000bhp)

Lance won the BRDC International Trophy, at Silverstone in 1952.  He drove an Aston Martin to third place at Le Mans in 1951 (with Eric Thompson), but Macklin had no more real success with AM than he had had with his previous mount, the perhaps underpowered HWM. He felt the £300 retainer he was paid by Aston Martin was not enough, and when offered £1,000 to lead the Bristol sportscar team in 1953, he jumped ship.

Unfortunately for Bristol in 1953 at Le Mans both cars broke down before half distance. In each case the balance weights became detached from the crankshaft. The rear wheels then locked at high speed, making both cars veer off the road and catch fire. However, before this happened Jack Fairman posted a new lap record for the 2 litre class. Astonishingly, the cars were rebuilt and back competing on the track at Reims 3 weeks later.

In 1954 Macklin moved on and joined the Austin-Healey team, finishing third overall in the Sebring 12 Hours, with George Huntoon.

For 1955, Macklin had entered the Austin-Healey 100 S Prototype at Le Mans. This had a 140-horsepower twin carb four-cylinder engine with a massive cam, but Macklin was lapped by the much faster sports-prototypes from  Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz. As the Austin-Healey came past the pits, Mike Hawthorn’s disc braked Jaguar D-Type apprars to have slowed abruptly as it came in for fuel, forcing Macklin to swerve out of the way.

His Austin-Healey was  then struck from the rear by Pierre Levegh’s Mercedes-Benz 300SLR. The Mercedes-Benz catapulted into a retaining bank and disintegrated into the crowd.  84 died, including Pierre Levegh, the driver of the 300SLR. 120 were injured, and the crash prompted international revision of safety precautions. Incredibly, the race was not stopped, as Police apparently felt the resulting congestion would prevent emergency services tending to the injured. Perhaps only 10 years after the war the authorities were inured to such mass casualties. Meantime, the Bristol 450 team ran like clockwork, with only 15 minutes pit time in the 24 hours, and won their Class finishing in line astern formation 1-2-3. Sadly, after this tragedy the company decided not to continue motor racing. 

Later, Macklin sued his former friend Mike Hawthorn for libel after the latter implied Macklin might be to blame for the tragedy. Following a later incident in the Tourist Trophy at Dundrod, in which Macklin crashed his Austin-Healey 100S avoiding an accident in which Jim Mayers and William T. Smith were killed, Macklin retired from motor sport .

The Healey survived the shunt and was sold for $1.3 million in barn find condition. And one of  Mike Hawthorn’s D Types, later driven to sixth place at Le Mans in 1956 and third at Sebring with the ill-fated Bueb, was recently priced at $11 million.

 Graham Whitehead 1922 –  1981) participated in one Formula One World Championship Grand Prix, on July 19, 1952. He finished 12th, scoring no championship points. He also competed in several non-Championship Formula One races.

He began by racing his half-brother Peter‘s ERA, 1951 and then drove his Formula 2 Alta in the 1952 British Grand Prix. He finished second at 1958 24 Hours of Le Mans only weeks before the accident on the Tour de France in which Peter was killed. Graham escaped serious injury and later raced again with an Aston Martin and Ferrari 250GT before stopping at the end of 1961.

Tommy Wisdom, founder member of the HPC, was well known in motor racing, rallying and motoring journalism. He competed with success in several Grand Prix as well as at Le Mans. He  competed in the Monte Carlo Rally 23 times. He won the Grand Turismo Class of the Mile Miglia three times. He was involved with Capt George Eyston and John Cobb in successful world record breaking attempts and also wrote books on road driving.  

Prewar, Jack Fairman drove an Alvis 12/50 in trials and hill climbs from 1934. He also raced at Brooklands.
Postwar, Fairman achieved many successes in sports car racing, particularly in endurance events. He drove for a number of top-rank teams during this time, including Bristol, Jaguar, Ecurie Ecosse, and Aston Martin. It was with Aston that Fairman won his most significant events, partnering Stirling Moss in the 1959 Nürburgring 1000 km, and Tourist Trophy at Goodwood. He also made a brief Formula One debut at the 1953 British Grand Prix, driving and retiring an HWM 53.

He was a  test driver during the development of Connaught’s Formula Two and later Formula One cars. Following Bernie Ecclestone‘s purchase of  Connaught in 1958, Fairman continued with his sporadic Formula One career in a wide variety of machines. He became  the last man ever to start a Grand Prix with a front engined car and the first to drive a four-wheel drive car, at the 1961 British Grand Prix in the experimental Ferguson P99, run by the Rob Walker Racing Team. Fairman’s last Formula One race was in  1963 at Imola , driving a Porsche for Ecurie Maarsbergen.

In the 1970s he was to be found running a minicab office – alas, racing exhausts had deafened him and the job did not last.

Mike Keen was a founder member of the ‘Monkey Stable’ sports car team. Besides his success at Le Mans with the 1953 Bristol 450 team Mike Keen did well in a variety of cars which included a single seater HRG, Cooper-Bristol sports and Formula 2 Cooper-Alta. He also appeared in 500cc formula three races with a Cooper-Norton. Mike crashed while leading the 2 litre Class in the 1955 Goodwood 9 Hours. Tony Crook was injured in the same race and they were brought into hospital together. Tony survived, but sadly Mike did not.

Sources: Wikipedia, Daily Telegraph obituary, High Performance Club archives


Publication Achievement!

The Bristol Aeroplane Company Car Division

by Bristol Owners Heritage Trust

A treasure-trove of breathtaking archive photographs, the vast majority never seen before, The Bristol Aeroplane Company Car Division makes a major contribution to the history of the first Bristol cars, those with the firm’s own BMW-derived engine.

From its inception in 1947, Bristol’s car operation fastidiously documented activities at its base at Filton and beyond. From prototypes and design studies to factory manufacturing lines, from publicity images to motor-racing, everything was faithfully recorded by the company’s in-house photographer, Ted Ashman.

In its 400 pages The Bristol Aeroplane Company Car Division showcases over 310 of Ashman’s remarkable photographs, arranged year-by-year from 1947 to 1955. Only recently made available, many were shot on 10×8 or 5×4 glass negatives; as a result, the detail and quality is superb. With authoritative commentary by a consortium of experts from the Bristol Owners Heritage Trust, the marque’s early history is brought alive as never before.

The story of the Bristol-engined cars after the 1955 separation of the car and aircraft divisions is continued in a chapter dealing with the 406 model. Finally, an essay by the current Sir George White, son of the first managing director of Bristol Cars Ltd, recounts his father’s leading role in the establishment of the original car-manufacturing business at the end of the Second World War.

The book concludes with the Car Division’s original production ledger for all the Bristol six-cylinder cars, detailing factory specifications including chassis and engine numbers, exterior colour, allocation information and dispatch dates.


“The reproduction vividly opens up the detail in the images – you sense you’re stepping in for a test drive. The book’s beautiful design … is a joy, the large format and amazing image quality opening a window on Bristol history. If you appreciate beautiful car books, this labour of love is worth saving for.” – BOOK OF THE MONTH IN CLASSIC & SPORTSCAR (DECEMBER 2018) 

“Overall, this is a work of historic significance and a thing of beauty in itself. Highly recommended.” – MICHAEL W. BARTON, BRISTOL OWNERS DRIVERS ASSOCIATION

The photographs and their detailed captions draw you into a wonderful 1950s world of innovation and optimism, including the 450 racing cars, the Cooper-Bristol GP cars, the Zagato-bodied models and the Arnolt-Bristol.”  – BOOK OF THE MONTH IN OCTANE (DECEMBER 2018)

Download the stunning photos by clicking here!

News, People

Obituary of Sid Lovesy

Sid Lovesy, former Factory Manager of Bristol Cars Ltd, was born on Armistice Day 1919 and died on the 11th of April 2018 at the age of 98.

After a promising career as a cricketer for Gloucestershire county, and war service in the REME, Syd was employed by the Bristol Aeroplane Company at the postwar birth of their Car Department, later to be called the Car Division.

Sir George White, then Managing Director of the Bristol Aeroplane Co., had foreseen as early as 1941 the need for postwar diversification and planned car production at Filton, initially based on another company’s products, as a first step towards large-scale production of high-quality entirely Bristol-designed cars.

Syd commented that he was the only person in the building with engineering knowledge about the design and construction of wheeled vehicles, as he was in at the start of the new Car Division  from 1946 and was to continue in continuous employment for the Bristol car works until 2011, when Bristol Cars Ltd failed.

Starting as an auto-electrician, Syd took part in design and production of the very first Bristol Type 400, and would have laid hands on every single Bristol produced until the business folded. In the early days he would travel to Lucas in Birmingham, then meet the designers in the evenings to work out the intricacies of the wiring loom.The company’s fortunes waxed and waned with the economy of its parent aeroplane company and of the country itself, from Austerity to You’ve Never had it So Good, and the transition from the Filton built highly engineered 2 Litre engines to the effortless power of the 5.2 Litre Canadian Chrysler V8 and its later derivatives. Employee numbers varied from 300 in the early nineteen fifties to 18 in 2011. Production levels of these superbly engineered, elegantly understated cars varied from five a week to zero.

Any customer  who came to the works at Filton, or later Patchway, would likely have encountered Syd in his pre-computer era office, surrounded by the build sheets of every Bristol ever made, and details of every purchaser and customer.
He was a priceless repository of intimate knowledge on every single model made. having worked on and driven them all from the 2 litre  85 bhp Type 400 to the 8 litre 525 bhp Fighter, which was to be the company’s swansong.  His memories included having to cope  with the gullwing door on an early Fighter coming open at speed, yet conversely remaining obstinately shut when a small fire occurred while out on a test run.

He was a skilled and adept driver all his days and proudly recalled, when summoned urgently from the showroom in West London to the factory at Filton , managing the journey in what was then the latest V8 in 93 minutes in those pre-motorway, pre-70 speed limit days.
> His attention to detail and courtesy to his customers was only surpassed by his loyalty to the company, supporting it beyond the call of duty when it finally, to his great distress, went into administration.

We were delighted that he was able to attend the Bristol Owners  Heritage Trust lecture day at the new Aerospace Bristol on his 98th birthday last November, at the foot of the Brabazon runway within sight of the works where he would have built, tuned and  tested cars 70 years ago. And – yes – we were able to sing Happy Birthday to him.
We will not see his like again.

Dr Stefan Cembrowicz
A video recording of an interview with Syd will be available via the Bristol Owners Heritage Trust website shortly.

Syd Lovesy with Bristol Car in London
BRISTOL car convention

Photo of Sid from a 1963 staff photo:




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.