LOOKING AT LAKELAND PASSES WITH A
A British 2 Litre Saloon of Outstanding Luxury and Performance
WHEN I was a schoolboy, obliged to do all my motoring on paper, 1 used to be intrigued by those reports in the motor papers of 30/98 Vauxhalls, Silver Ghost RollsRoyce and other fine cars tested in the Lake District. Usually such reports included pictures of these high-speed touring cars parked picturesquely on those hump-hack stone bridges which abound in Cumberland and Westmorland, which seemed excitingly remote .1.0 a small boy reading his datocar in London, When, early this year, a Bristol 405 came along for appraisal I pondered on where to go init. It then occurred to me that, although I UM reasonably familiar with most parts of the British Isles, the Lake District was less well known to sue, so why not drive there in the Bristol. We might even be able to photograph it on a hump. back stone bridge, for old times’ sake
So it came about that, moderately early one Tuesday morning, we set off up A 1, bound for Windermere. This so-called Great North Road proved as restricted and traffic-infested as ever, but we -were cheered to discover that at all events other drivers of fast cars were out On it, for soon after leaving London we encountered four 1).B Aston Martins, a 300SL Mercedes-Benz and an Austin-Healey, while, higher up, we -met two XK Jaguars and a TR2.
The Bristol 405 made light of the difficult going to such good effect that we were in Yorkshire in comfortably under three hours, the average speed, notwithstanding the usual slow start, thus being better than 50 m.p.h. On two occasions the speedometer needle stood steady on 110 m.p.h. and the habitual cruising speed was between 80 and 00 m.p.h. This 405 saloon possessed an overdrive, controlled by a little lever convenient to the driver’s right hand, which had the effect of reducing engine speed by sonic 900 r.p.m., so that 80 m.p.h. can be held comfortably at a mere 3,100 r.p.m. in this 3.28-to-1 gear, instead of at 4,000 r.p.m. in the normal 4.22to-1 top-gear ratio. This overdrive operates only from top gear and a change to a lower ratio automatically puts the overdrive out of action, so that when the next change-up to the highest ratio is made it is to normal top, thus obviating a big change in engine speed. Mention of overdrive brings me at once to the excellence of the Bristol gearbox. Controlled by a rigid remote central lever, which is most conveniently positioned, if a trifle farther forward than one expects, the changes can be made instantaneously, and so quiet are the indirect ratios that it is easy to mistake third gear for the direct
drive. Moreover, a free-wheel operating in bottom gear entirely eliminates the gear drag frequently experienced when engaging the lowest cogs in the box, and when, later on this journey, 1 had occasion to snatch bottom on I-in-3 gradients, this feature truly proved to be a blessing. The Bristol gear ratios consist of an emergency bottom gear, in which the car will start smoothly on freak gradients, and three considerably higher ratios, of which the driver employs the synchromesh second and third frequently in order to obtain continuous high-performance from the high-efficiency 2-litre six-cylinder engine. 5,000 r.p.m. comes up easily in third gear, representing a speed of 80 m.p.h., and at any speed under 40 m.p.h. R drop is made into second gear. With a gear-change, and gear ratios, of such merit, no regret is occasioned that the Bristol engineers continue to use a 1,971-c.c. power unit, for were an engine of three or more litres installed there might he less excuse to swap cogs, and to connoisseurs of motoring this would be a loss indeed ! Some engine noise intrudes, because the Bristol power unit is so frequently accelerating to beyond 4,000 r.p.m., but this is scarcely objectionable, is reduced considerably aS overdrive is brought in, and in any case is a small penalty to pay for the excellent fuel economy, of which more Will be written later in this report.. -The general impression of the Bristol 405, as we forged along A 1, was that it is a tireless car in which to drive fast over long distances, the passengers being able to relax in pent comfort and luxury, While the driver enjoys himself with the -excellent controls and the sense of exceptional security provided I:y good roadholding, steering and brakes. It possesses, moreover, interesting items of detail. Thus the instruments are all grouped on a fully-hooded walnut panel directly before the driver, from which he can check at a glance that the oil temperature is at the normal 55 deg. C., the water temperature happy at 80 deg. C., and that the oil pressure reads between 40 and 75 HON. in. according to engine speed. A neat black-dialled 140-m.p.h. speedometer and 7.000-r.p.m. rev.-counter, with white figures, the former incorporating trip and total mileage recorders, the latter a small clock, ammeter arid a fuel gauge, flank the 8maller dials. The minor switches comprise :teat black knobs, in most cases with a white letter to indicate their function. To the driver’s right there are knobs controlling the excellent fog-lamps, a rhenatatcontrol of the panel lighting, the self-parking, two-speed screenwipers, and the very powerful Lucas spot-lamp within the radiator
coal. Above these, on a separate walnut panel, is the aforesaid lever controlling overdrive (it is moved up to engage, down to ditoqigage overdrive, a change out Of top gear causing it to fall automatically), together with the push-button for the screen-washers, which deliver for a period corresponding to the length of time the button is depressed. Beneath the dash shelf are further controls operating the starter, mixture control, bonnet release (by pushbutton), ignition advance-and-retard, and hand-throttle; below these are the usual tiers of control levers for the interior heater. When being started the engine likes the ignition retarded, but otherwise this control is ignored, no ” pinking ” being eN Went on permanent full-advance. The lamps-switch-corn-ignition-key is normal, a passenger’s grab-handle is provided, a lever depending from the screen Al works the self-cancelling flasher-type direction-indicatOrs (which have a reminder light on the main instrument panel), while— full marks !—a reserve petrol supply of two gallons can be switched on by the driver, a blue light reminding him that this has been done.
After lunch (best forgotten !) just north of Doncaster, Scotch Corner came up in seemingly no time at all, and then mist closed in across Bowes Moor, persisting as we skirted Lake Windermere at tea-time. The Old England Hotel loomed up out of the darkness. so in this spacious and pleasant Trust }louse flanking the lake we paused for the night.
This high-speed winter journey had been accomplished very pleasantly. due to the commendable appointments of this -British 2-litre saloon. Luxury is imparted to the Occupants by the comfort of the seats, which have the merit of deep Dunlap foam rubber cushions, smooth upholstery in real hide, and squabs which are adjustable in respect of angle and shaped to provide support while the car is cornering in traditional Bristol fashion. These seats. bucket-type at the front with Leveroll adjustment, may not be perfect (indeed, no mere motor car seenis quite to Compare sith a good air-liner for seat-comfort) but they deserve considerable praise, especially, as when adjusted to provide 100 per cent, leg room there is still fair leg space for those occupying the back seat. Other simple but commendable points of detail enhance the luxury of the Bristol 405. The wide shelf beneath the polished walnut dash is extremely useful, being far more commodimis than any cubbyhole. With rigid pockets in all four doors, pocket s in the backs of the. front seats and a shelf behind the back scat in :iddition, one could Itor Ily wish for more interior stowage space. A map light within the dash shelf. operated by a tiny on-off push-switch before the front
.seat passenger, crash padding above. the dash, arm-rests on each door with a centre rest for the back seat, leather ” pulls ” on the doors, high-geared window-winding handles, useful front ventilator window panels, and opening rear lights, further enhance the well being of those who travel in a Bristol 405. For smokers there are covered ash-trays in the rear-door arm-rests and another in the windscreen sill (which, however, reflected in the windscreen).
The driver is particularly well provided for, because the positioning of two-spoke steering wheel and pedals is really satisfactory, while both the massive front wings are in full view. Ni isibility is ensured by the use of thin screen-pillars, and the diminishing-rear-view mirror is excellent. The big front wings and high, plain bonnet with carburetter air intake, however, make the car seem rather wide, and in slinfight there is a good deal of reflection from this unbroken paint work. Hut her luxury is evident in the reversing-lamp operated by the gear-lever (reverse is beyond first gear, easy to engage and unlikely te be selected inadvertently).
From the servicing viewpoint the one-shot chassis lubrication system, operated by pressing a pedal adjacent to the elutch pedal, is notable; this feeds oil to the front suspension. and, as the rear suspension is lubricated by oilways from the differential easing, the only nipples seeking occasional application of a grease-gun are those on the propeller-shaft universal joints and pedal bushes.
It is inevitable that, having driven in a Bristol 404 up to Scotland last -summer, we should compare this now-defunct model with the current .405; in doing so we mourned the passing of such items as the push-button door handles, which have given plaee to normal levers, and the substitution of a separate key for the petrol-eap flap, whereas on the Bristol 403 and 404 an interior knob .operated this flap, so that, with the doors locked, the petrol was automatically rendered tamper-proof. The external door handles and other plated protrusions, such as rain-deflectors, seem 1.6 have spoilt somewhat the aerodynamic lines of the 405, for above about -80 m.p.h. there it considerable wind-whistle round the screen pillars. Castor-action in the rack-and-pinitm steering, while still vigorous, is less ‘so than on the 101, so that the steering is correspondingly lighter, although this isn’t really light steering by today’s standards. Vibration, and sharp reaction from the road wheels, is transmitted to the driver’s hands over bad surfaces, and the steering is not so positive as that on the 404. It is geared exactly three turns, lock-to-lock, which provides sufficiently good control without perceptible effort, and lost-motion was virtually absent. The steering-wheel rim and its two horizontal spokes are well -provided with finger-grips. The car we had for test was shod with Michelin SDS tyres, and these scarcely ever protested, even when cornering at high speed. Under these conditions the Bristol is roll-free, and the cornering tendency is pleasantly neutral, neither undernor over-steer characteristics intruding. The suspension is sufficiently firm to resistroll, yet provides a very high degree of comfort over all normal surfaces, although at times the rigid back axle can be felt tramping about In assessing this latest product of Bristol Cars Limited,. I am in the happy position of having very little with Which to find fault. The presence of a tubular interior lamp (there is one on each front door-pillar, switched on by the driver) exactly where the front-seat occupant rests his or her head when trying to sleep is not appreciated, any more than a smell of petrol which was sometimes noticeable • inside the car after it had been standing—presumably a leak
from the float chambers. The clutch pedal requires some pressure to depress; a slim foot can just be rested beside it, but otherwise the foot has to be placed beneath it. The headlamp dimmer button works with a commendably positive action, like the other controls; but it is somewhat awkwardly located below the clutch pedal and would be better placed above it. The excellence of the gear-change, which has already been strongly emphasised, makes it doubly unfortunate that occasionally the lever moves Loll far over when second gear is sought, muffing a clean change.
The luggage boot. is lined and is unobstructed by the spate Wheel, for this lives in the near-side front wing, balanced by the battery and reservoirs for the screen-washer in the off-side front wing. The boot lid can be locked with the petrol-filler flap key and the lid is spring-loaded. The luggage capacity is 171 cu. ft. and fitted suitcases can be supplied, the shape of the boot being appropriate to them. Under the bonnet another little luxury is apparent in the lead-lamp, which can be plugged in should illumination be needed for tyre-changing, etc.
The Bristol can be accepted as one of today’s fine cars, capable of an excellent performance from an engine of modest size. The maximum speed of over 100 m.p.h. is Certainly usable in this country, for the well-chosen gear ratios result in useful acceleration. ‘What is especially noticeable is the absence of vibration and exhaust noise, the Bristol engine running up smoothly to 5,000 r.p.in., and showing no symptoms of distress when switched off ‘after prolonged fast running: The composite wood and metal body, panelled in light alloy, is free from rattles and the deep doors shut easily and quietly.
On the ;second day of the test I received proof that, apart from being a swift car on main roads, the Bristol 405 is unperturbed by long spells of low-gear collar-work. Up the short but interesting Kirkstone and Honister Passes, and on the long, impressive haul over Wrynose and Hard Knott Passes, it needed bottom gear on more than one occasion and interminable work at the steering wheel to -swing it round the hairpins, but the needles of the water and oiltemperature gauges never altered appreciably, the occupants remained extremely comfortable, and in some 200 miles of this kind of going, with overdrive engaged very infrequently, the unexpectedly good petrol consumption of 19.9 m.p.g. of Esso Extra was recorded.
Incidentally, these Lakeland passes are worth a visit if you have never driven over them. Any car longer than the Bristol would be exciting to take round the I-in-31 hairpin corners of Hard Knott, which climbs impressively along a ledge in the hillside, taken from be Wrynose end, Wrynose itself being a stiff two-mile I-in-3i proposition. the road, as seen from the summit, zig-zagging away in the distance towards the foot of Hard Knott. Hollister was short and not quite so steep, Butterrnere seems to have vanished from B 5289 (or else wasn’t discernible in a Bristol !), and Kirkstone and Whinlatter Passes were not really exciting. although we took them from the less difficult directions. We were able to complete this morning tourlet of the lakes—Windertnere, Ullswater. Derwentwater, f:rumnioch Water. Bassen th we i te, Thi rl mere. Butterincrc, and Ennerdale Water— on less than a tankful of fuel, the 13ristol’s range a useful one of nearly 300 miles under the worst conditions before the reserve supply has to be brought in. Meeting vintage vehicles always enlivens these journeys in modern
care, but on this occasion, apart from a nice Bentley tourer which we overtook going at. a good 60 on A 1, afterwards seeing it refuelling at Boroughbridge, a Bean encountered in Retford, and a gay Austin Twenty with van body in Keswick, they were conspicuous by their absence.
Another aspect of the car which our rapid embrace of nearly all the Lakes whith tourists like to visit underlined was the absence of fading of the Lockheed brakes. These brakes, 12 in. by 21 in. 2LS at the front, 11 in. by 11 in. at the back, in light-alloy drums, are quite vice-free, pulling the car up strongly and progessively in a straight line without a sound. They call for fairly heavy pedal pressure. The hand-brake, the lever of which lies horizontally on di:: propeller-shaft tunnel between the front seats, is equally deserving of full marks, for it is convenient to use and holds the car securely on gradients of 1 in 3.
The English Lake District, seen in winter, with most of its hotels closed, seems decently rentote, especially when, stopping at a likelylooking hostelry before 2 p.m., you are curtly informed that ” luncheon finishes at 1.30.” This remoteness was emphasised by the presence of damp mist which seems to cling more to the Windermere than to the Ambleside area. We were reminded even here of the march of civilisation, however, by having to follow Ultra Radio Television vans along the narrow roads, and because Ullswater recalled Donald Campbell’s jet-propelled achievements with ” Bluebird.” Kirkstone Pass, like the others we ascended, was easy-meat to the Bristol and, pausing at the summit, 1,500 feet above sea level, for our first photograph, I was pleased to observe that even here there is a pump supplying Clevecol—my favourite petrol. Leaving the Lake District without appeasing our hunger, we came down A 6 into Liverpool, past Aintree race circuit—was motorracing ever conducted in more drab surroundings ?—and through the Mersey Tunnel—where the illumination was a pleasant change from the murk outside—to spend the night in the quaint old town of Chester, with its two-storey shopping centre. Just before Boltonle-Sands an XK120 Jaguar two-seater, with the hood up, had accelerated past us before turning off the main road, but apart from this, and a 4.3 Alvis saloon doing 80 along the Chester road, nothing overtook the Bristol during this three‘day outing. LanCaster seemed sordid, seen in the mist of a January twilight, and Preston More so, especially when we followed a fingerpost marked “
Lives-pool” and immediately became hopelessly lost! Incidentally, the A.A. weather service was operating on A 6, a mile or so north of Preston, and must have proved its worth the next day, for although we left Chester in sunlight, putting 54 miles into the first hour’ running, in spite of traffic halts, thereafter the fog clamped down, lorries ran into other lorries on the frozen surface of A 5, and the average speed fell as low as 14 m.p.h. for the next halfhour, and remained at little better than 33 M.p.h. all the way to London. Thus our intention to carry out a fast main-road fuelConsumption check was thwarted, but driving for miles in the lower gears, and using the performance to the full, up to 100-m.p.h. maximum when brief clear patches permitted, quite the worst conditions for low petrol consumption, we recorded 21 m.p.g., convincing emphasis indeed of Bristol economy. NO water and very little oil were consumed in over 1,000 miles’ driving, and the only mechanical set-back was when the extension for zero-jog the trip
recorder fell off the speedometer. The demisters, heater and screenwipers worked admirably under these conditions. The good tone of the H.M.V. radio is relayed from inbuilt speakers in roof and rear window shelf—one merit of which could be that this should dissuade music-loving rear-seat occupants from piling things up until the driver is deprived of rear-vision ! It was still possible to make some use of the overdrive, which can be engaged satisfactorily at a mere 40 m.p.h., and that morning we had another demonstration of its value, for on Essolube the Bristol requires some 20 miles’ driving before the oil temperature becomes normal, before which 2,500 r.p.m. should not be exceeded—with overdrive engaged it was possible to proceed at 65 m.p.h. without exceeding this engine speed.
As we entered London and drove to the weighbridge to check the Bristol’s weight the fog arrived in full measure, so that a normal hour’s run home in another car took four times as long and the English Lakes seemed more remote than ever.
Having on previous occasions published a full road-test report on a Bristol 402, an account of a journey to Barcelona in a 403, and a story on a fast drive to John o’ Groats in a 404, there remains little to add.
The 100-13 engine is a development of that used in the pre-war ‘German 85-b.h.p. B.M.W. 328, with overhead valves inclined at 80 deg. and operated by cross push-rod valve gear, and, using triple Sole’ downdraught carburetters, it develops 105 b.h.p. at 5,000 r.p.m. on the comparatively high compression-ratio of 8.5 to 1. The crankshaft runs in four bearings and is balanced statically and dynamically, while it has a viscous torsional vibration damper. The forged-steel connecting-rods have an internal oil-feed to the gudgeon-pins and the pistons are of diamond-turned forged aluminium alloy. The cylinder head is of light alloy with inserted centrifugally cast austenitic steel valve seats and bronze sparking-plug inserts. The cast-iron cylinder block has Brivadium high-nickel-content-alloy steel dry liners, the chain-driven camshaft runs in four bearings. the thermostatically-controlled pump cooling system circulates 21 pints of water, and the lubrication system uses 12 pints of oil, circulating through a full-flow filter. Two three-branch exhaust systems leave the engine on the off side.
The chassis frame is fabricated from sheet steel, the box-section main members being 61 in. deep. Front suspension is by transverse leaf-spring and wishbones, rear suspension by torsion-bars. The rear axle has a matched crown-wheel and pinion, and the semifloating axle-shafts are micro-finished at the registers for the oil seals.
The Bristol 405 is very largely a hand-assembled car, available in saloon and convertible forms, beautifully made and finished, and is, as you have seen, notably pleasant to drive, endowed with wellappointed luxury equipment, and providing high performance for a commendable economy of fuel. If you have £3,600 to spare, this fine British car deserves close consideration and if, in addition to the qualities and amenities described, you crave an exclusive car, there you are—in all those miles we didn’t encounter another Bristol !—W. B.