In 1946, the Bristol Aeroplane Company,
one of the world's most successful aviation manufacturers
diversified into car manufacture. In 1960 it was persuaded
to join with others to form the British Aircraft
Corporation (later British Aerospace). At that time the car
division (Bristol Cars Ltd) passed into private hands.
Bristol Cars claim that their staff is still drawn
from an aviation background "to ensure that they are
steeped in the traditions of superior engineering,
unimpeachable quality and a total devotion to safety".
Today, the company claims to pursue
a mindset that designs and builds cars with a useful life
of many decades in mind. Bristol Cars are the only luxury
car manufacturer that remains in private British hands.
The Bristol 401, a development of the 400
series with a more aerodynamic body, was constructed on a
strong steel chassis using aluminium bodywork on a "superleggera"
frame. It was known as the "Gentleman's Express"
The Bristol Aeroplane Company made its
first car, the 400, in 1946. It was based on pre-existing
BMW technology, appropriated as war reparations at the end
of World War II. The Bristol 400 essentially combined the
best features of the pre-war BMW models, coupling the
chassis of the 326 with the race-bred engine of the 328.
All six-cylinder Bristols were based on the same
BMW-derived combination of chassis and engine, with
relatively minor changes until the last Bristol 406 was
built in 1961.
|The Bristol 401 (introduced 1948, discontinued 1953)
memorable and aerodynamically efficient body, with push
buttons for door handles and a drag factor (0.354 according
to one source) that still compares well today. A larger car
than the 400, and a full five-seater. Mechanically similar
to the 400, except that the three SU carburettors of the
400 engine (designated the 85A engine) were replaced with
three Solex units for the 401 engine (designated 85C),
raising the power output from 80 to 85bhp.
engine is based on a pre-war BMW design which reputedly can
trace its origins back to the Austin Seven, which was built
under licence by Dixi in Germany. When BMW acquired Dixi at
the end of the 1920s, it embarked on a series of engine
developments. With increases in bore and stroke, an
increase in distance between the bore centres, two more
cylinders and two additional main bearings – by which
time it bore very little resemblance indeed to the original
Austin Seven unit – the 747cc four had become a 1,971cc
six by 1935.