My Type 400
My first three months’ salary as a junior doctor was invested in a Bristol. In those days £280 was enough for a 15-year-old two-litre Bristol 403 — first owner a cardiologist. Close-ratio gears, disc brakes, aircraft engineering, and highly-tuned engines made these exotic aluminium cars, built in the Bristol Aeroplane Company factory, a ‘fighter pilot’s delight’.
My current Bristol, a 1948 model 400, is now used for weekends with occasional long runs across France. Race-bred engineering makes for competent handling at circuit speeds at Prescott, Le Mans and Silverstone. The 400 is eligible for the historic Mille Miglia — other traffic seems surprised at our 80mph-plus cruising speed on local autobahns.
By a fluke of niche marketing and character, Bristol Cars is almost the last surviving British car maker. But – having pulled out of the hat its latest 1,000hp model, the eight-litre Bristol Fighter T, costing £351,000, it sadly went into administration and 18 staff (one from the 1940s) lost their jobs.
Living in Bristol, it was a privilege to visit the factory — still in a 1950s time warp — for spares and advice from this most terminally exclusive of British car makers. Almost everything was still available from the stores, even for 59-year-old cars. And in the street, old aero-engineers from factory floor or boardroom would acclaim Bristol engineering when they saw a car they may have worked on.
Nowadays, those who want to get their hands on one should be able to find the 1950s two-litre models in good condition at £15–20,000*, though expect to double this for a good short-wheelbase 404, or a 405 drophead. After 1960, Chrysler V8s replaced the BMW-derived two-litre six engine. These start from £12,000*.
My advice is buy the best that you can afford, and have it checked first by a specialist garage — an engine rebuild alone will cost you almost as much as a sound runner.
But these 50- to 60-year-old cars are surprisingly easy to drive on modern roads — as well as offering visual pleasure. Some years the Bristol needs only an oil change and a polish, other years a four-figure sum and many hours spannering up this non-depreciating asset — an investment which always pays great dividends. If you enjoy the finest engineering and style, and would appreciate a British-made Bugatti, look no further.
* This piece was written back in 2009 before the current classic car boom.