Bristol 401
Home Up Feedback Contents Search


Electric Fan
Oil Filter

Bristol 401

f86b_3.JPG (53214 bytes) f55a_3.JPG (51406 bytes) f27f_3.JPG (43451 bytes)

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. 

DSC03339.jpg (102703 bytes)

The Bristol 401 (introduced 1948, discontinued 1953) 

A 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.

The Bristol 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.

The chassis is built like a brick outhouse, with two massive box section members down each side. Reportedly, the section above the rear axle is prone to corrosion.

chassis 1.jpg (56856 bytes)

rear suspension.jpeg (113192 bytes)

Bristol 401.jpg (86741 bytes)


DSC03662.jpg (91908 bytes) DSC03667.jpg (80517 bytes) DSC03657.jpg (68120 bytes)

A "Boob" of Bristols (I just invented the collective noun) at Castletown House, Co Kildare on an outing organised by the Bristol Owners' Club