If you were wealthy enough to buy a brand new Rolls Royce or Bentley Corniche Coupe, liked their accoutrements but not the attention chauffeuring one creates, or if you simply desired more understated exclusivity than any Aston-Martin can provide, you'd appreciate a bespoke Bristol.
A revered manufacturer of hand-built automobiles, Bristol in Filton entered the car business right after WWII when aeroplane production wound down and combined German precision with traditional British coachbuilding prowess. By the end of the 1950s, Bristol's race-proven straight Six power plant--also used in the AC and Arnolt sports cars--had to make way for a potent Chrysler V8, and the rest is history.
Under the watchful eye of Sir Anthony Crook, Filton's commander-in-chief for many decades, the small factory continues to turn out very limited numbers of cars, adhering to Mr. Crook's credo to "provide fast and safe motorway transportation for four 6ft. adults." The fact that Britol also produces the World's fastest street legal sports car, the 1,012 hp "Fighter," undoubtedly contributes to the marque's allure!
The 1976 model 411 Series Five -- Serial No. *7763575* -- presented here is one of only 27 examples registered within the Bristol Owner's Club Chassis List, which accompanies the car. Although very understated in appearance, it draws a crowd wherever we take it, here at the Ventura Harbor. Whereas Bristols have not been sold in the U.S. since the 1950s, a handful of cars have been privately imported. This fine example spent a third of its life in sunny Southern California, arriving here in the mid-1990s.
Thankfully, the original U.K. registration and MOT paperwork are still with the car; its repatriation would be a straightforward affair! Maintenance history includes Bristol factory work plus invoices from specialists Spencer Lane-Jones and Liberty, adding up to £7,058.26. Stateside, the car was carefully serviced as well, as evidenced by recent receipts totalling US$5,130.00. Parts just replaced include front and rear windscreen seals, tires, brake servos, thermostat, water pump, battery, alternator, regulator, plugs, wires, rotor, and front shock absorbers. The car has been freshly tuned and is MOT ready.
We also just had front and rear bumpers re-chromed, to very good effect. Remainder of brightwork is in excellent condition as well. 411 Series V is the last of the "classic era" Bristols before the changeover to the Zagato-influenced, more angular design.
Below the long bonnet, inside the spotless engine bay, resides a potent Chrysler 400 cu.in. (6.6 litre) Big Block, superseding the 318 cu.in. small block of earlier models. It's the largest V8 power plant ever offered in a Bristol. Mated to a specially calibrated TorqueFlite 727 automatic transmission, it is universally praised for its strength and ease of maintenance; advertised top speed for the Series Five being a thrilling 140mph! Needless to say, cruising around town is a very relaxed affair, with abundant torque on tap at all times.
Of utmost importance on any 32 year-old Classic is the condition of its undercarriage. We're glad to report that this fine example of British artisan coachbuilding presents itself entirely rust free. The front crossmember actually was updated at great expense by the factory in the early 1990s to ensure continued, trouble-free operation of the motorcar!
Click on any of the above images for a full-size view
Note the superbly designed dual exhaust system with twin siamesed outlets, fabricated completely of stainless steel.
Bristol's coachwork, consisting entirely of alloy panels hand-formed to aeronautical standards, is in splendid condition throughout. There is neither any prior accident damage nor any apparent corrosion to report. Fit and finish is impeccable.
Ultra rare, factory-installed WEBASTO electric sunroof puts this Bristol into a class of its own. Yes, the car features working air conditioning, too!
Traditional-minded chauffeurs might prefer draft-free flow-through ventilation provided by the rear vent windows.
An interesting and most practical detail, exclusive to any Bristol, are the dual fender compartments with their spring-loaded covers. The left compartment holds the full sized spare . . .
. . . whereas the right compartment contains brake boosters, fuse panel, and battery.
Thoughtful Bristol engineers strive to locate as many ancillaries as possible within the car's wheelbase, for improved handling.
A delight to observe from any angle, this outstanding Series 5 exhibits an excellently preserved, lustrous, deep red finish, its original colour. There are no dents or bubbles to report, just a few, very small traces of use; nothing to lose sleep over. Hand-applied, black-and-silver pinstriping shows excellent as well.
This car can boast of another rare option: five-spoke AVON 6Jx15 high-performance alloy wheels, factory-fitted to a very small number of Bristols instead of the mundane steel rims. Tires are new COOPER Lifeliner STR 235 R70/15s all around.
Let's have a look inside now!
Bristol's passenger compartment exudes classy, traditional British luxury atmosphere. Fit and finish are impeccable. The best materials known to the coachbuilding trade were fitted to create opulent surroundings. Burled wood dash contains full instrumentation in separate binnacle. All SMITHS gauges work flawlessly. Black dash top is unblemished. Stereo and air conditioning controls are located below the main dash panel.
Fully adjustable high-back front seats with twin folding arm rests feature Pearl Gray CONNOLLY leather, which has always be properly cared for; it's still supple, with just the right amount of patina for its age. There are no rips or tears!
Matching rear seats are contoured, featuring integrated head rests, giving superior comfort and protection to passengers. Carpeting is leather-bound WILTON in a contrasting shade of grey.
From the rear, you can spot a Series Five by its dual fog lamps below the bumper. Note original "P" registration U.K. license plate.
Are you ready for a test drive?
Monday, January 21, 2008, was another wonderful winter day here in Southern California. Sunshine and mild temperatures invited us to open the sunroof and go for an extended trip. The Bristol starts, idles, runs, accelerates, drives, handles, corners, and stops flawlessly. All gauges, switches, and lights work excellently. It truly is a fast car, completely solid, and rattle-free to boot.
Bristol's 411 communicates the feel of a proper American Muscle Car. Acceleration is on par with any 1970s supercar, even a Ferrari or Lamborghini!
Inside, it's a different story. The quiet cabin features superb sound-proofing. The fine aroma of wood, leather, and wool adds an extra dimension of well-being. Yes, this Bristol is a bona fide collector car; however, it's still fully capable of being a reliable, super fast long-distance cruiser!
Although the number of Bristols produced is a closely guarded factory secret, it is estimated that works output during the first 30 years, until 1977, amounted to fewer than 3,000 cars. Since then, the manufacture of Bristols has slowed to a mere trickle. Unlike Ferrari's commendatore, Bristol's equally autocratic owner, Sir Anthony Crook, never sold out to "The Man," keeping the venerated British maker of bespoke motorcars independent and more exclusive than ever.
Even in 2008, those in the know still make the pilgrimage to Bristol's one and only showroom at 368 Kensington High Street near Hyde Park in Central London to order "their" heirloom Bristol motorcar.
Any classic Bristol is a desirable and valuable car; this fantastic specimen has always seen fastidious care, additionally benefitting from an extended stay in a dry climate. One of the last 411-series cars built, it represents the zenith of the model's development. Easily repatriated, this wonderful Gentleman's Express combines utter collectibility with fine, reliable sporting prowess and is ready to be cherished and driven in a manner befitting such a regal carriage.
We sold this Bristol early in 2008 to an overseas customer.