THE BRISTOL 405 MOTOR CAR
My relationship with the Bristol 405 commenced at an early age, and indeed did not start well. In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, as rear seat passengers, my 2 brothers and I suffered the weekly trip to the family cottage in Wales. This was interspersed with regular halts at the side of the road for relief from carsickness. The vigorous driving style of my Father, combined with the heady smell of wood and leather, together with the pungent aroma of Cuba’s finest, did not sit well with young stomachs!
It did however serve to demonstrate Bristol’s thoughtful design in incorporating a “self emptying” ashtray, by way of the removable cover in the floor to the right of the driver. I later learnt the ashtray could also, most imaginatively, be used to insert a jack for affixing to the chassis rail in the event a wheel change was necessary.
The 405 was not the only model that entered our consciousness, as over time, with the exception of the 402, Father had all models from 400 Drophead through to 409 (bought off the Motor Show stand and which then broke down on the way home!). For some reason though, it is the 405 that remained foremost in my mind (where are you now, NYS 79, black with Mexican Tan?).
Father bought quite a few cars from Anthony Crook Motors. Richard Hackett has an amusing anecdote of when he first started work in their Sales Dept. My Father roared up in an E-Type Jaguar and Richard quickly and eagerly engaged, anxious to score his first sale. However on observing the situation, Mr Crook glided up and with a firm and persistent arm, displaced him to the side with the words: “My dear boy, do please make way for someone with a little more experience”.
As the years rolled by, Dad moved on to other marques. In 1979, 405 Drophead, “YJH 3” chassis no. 42 (also owned by him in the 1960’s) came into my life, where it happily remains to this day.
Like many a Redex blooded motorist with a roving eye, I’ve dallied with many mistresses over the years but always retained my love for the 405, both the 2 door Drophead and 4 door saloon. Buy a 404 for its rarity and beauty, but a 405 for its practicality.
They are remarkable cars, driving far better than a car from the 1950’s has any right to. The controls are delicate, steering is fluid and communicative, the gearchange a delight and the engine sings its smooth straight six melody. It is truly a car that gives more than the sum of its parts.
Somewhat cruelly nicknamed in period “the flying greenhouse” the 4 door design presents itself rather well 60 years on, with strong hints to its aeronautical origins through the nose cone front and the “cockpit” 3 section glass rear.
There are some signs of cost cutting compared to the previous 403, with for example, bought-in door handles as opposed to the exquisite in-house, hand made push buttons of the 401/3. The interior is swathed in thick leather (no economising on vinyl seat backs here!) that exudes a wonderfully evocative aroma that is impossible to replicate with a re-trim.
An attentive master will find himself with a faithful and reliable servant, though many years of under-appreciation, engine “asset stripping” and poor maintenance have led to the demise of many of these fine cars.
Look out for the “Achilles heel” of the 405 (and 404) the ash frame. Though repairable through the application of skill and much money, it is best to look further for a sound car unless there are compelling reasons to buy a particular example. Look out for dropped doors (a strong indicator), rot in the upper boot framing and take a pin or needle along with you to carefully probe the windscreen pillars, hopefully without incurring the ire of the vendor!
They run wonderfully on Michelin X tyres (the 404 being the first British car to have them fitted as original equipment). Money can be saved using taxi tyres, but be aware they are of stronger construction thus do not have quite the same “suppleness”, nor do they look quite right.
50 years after last being apart in 1965, YJH 3’s engine is currently being rebuilt. The car has been remarkably reliable, the rare failures being from ancillary components. In 1979 it took us, three-up with camping gear, touring down through France into Spain. The starter motor failed and we had to be helped on to the Dover ferry and push started on every occasion until a Spanish campsite rebuild held until expiring on my driveway on the return.
25 years ago the car was taken on our Honeymoon around the French Chateaux. Subsequently trips were made to Italy, Switzerland and Germany.
On one French trip, an old lady approached, hobbling along with the aid of a stick. She stood in front of the car exclaiming “what a beautiful car” with each word being emphasised with a firm but accurate bodge of the car with her stick, leaving a considerable dent in the soft alloy nose!
With the arrival of children, such trips were not practical so mileage over the years reduced considerably.
YJH3 and I are virtually the same age and the car, now at 152,000 miles, will soon be in better condition than me. I have tried to be a diligent Father, passing on to my 3 sons an appreciation of craftsmanship, fine leather and wood, with occasional applications of a “Cuban fug” as a right of passage to custodianship, in due course, of this wonderful motor car.
- Father’s 405 “NYS 79” photographed in the late 1950’s.
- 405 Drophead “YJH 3”.
- Top speed testing on the French Autoroute on the way back from Historic Monaco.