Bristol Brigand

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Exclusivity in extremis!

An outing with a Bristol is like taking a trip back in a time capsule to a more leisured, high-quality way of life; not exactly 1930s, more the studied, unobtrusive good taste of the early 1950s when the rich were still rich, the workers were still workers and life followed a nice, predictable, well-ordered social pattern. Before any of Motor Sport’s readers start straining to hear Ivor Novell° melodies in the air, and before Tony Crook at Bristol’s picks up his phone and asks me why I’m comparing the latest turbocharged Bristol Brigand to something out of the 1950s, let me make it clear that (a) I’m now indulging in an ill-timed bout of misty-eyed nostalgia and (b) I’m not referring to the engineering technology of the current Bristol cars.

What I am saying is the time has passed Bristol by in the most charming way possible. With an absurdly modest output of hand-crafted, high-quality cars, this specialist manufacturer contents itself to occupy an expensive, elite and exclusive niche in the high-performance market. “Britain’s most exclusive car” proclaims a sign within the company’s unostentatious Kensington showroom. A claim that can be made with some justification, we feel, because when we recently spent an enjoyable weekend with the Brigand, we did so in the knowledge that there were barely thirty similar examples of this particular moden anywhere else in the World. That’s exclusivity!

Two years ago we enjoyed a test of the square-cut, impressive Bristol Beaufighter, a large drop-head coupe which combined considerable dignity with shattering performance. That recipe is continued with the Brigand, although most people felt that the slightly softer, more rounded, lines of this latest machine to be more attractive than those of the Beaufighter.

Just to recap for those who may not know the admittedly well-recorded and documented history of this specialist manufacture, the Bristol Car concern was originally an offshoot of the Bristol Aeroplane Company. One of the pioneers of the aviation business, this was founded by Bristol businessman Sir George White back in 1910 and, during the Second World War, over 14,000 aircraft were built for military use, the majority of them being Blenheims (the first British aircraft to operate over enemy territory in 1939). At the end of the War the company found itself with an enormous surplus of engineering capacity, so some of this was turned over to manufacture of specialist cars. By 1956 the Bristol Aeroplane Company had been reorganised into three wholly owned entities: Bristol Aircraft Ltd, Bristol Engines Ltd, and Bristol Cars Ltd. At that point Bristol Cars passed into the ownership of another Sir George White (the grandpa of the one who established the aircraft company in the first place) and former racing driver Tony Crook. Production of the cars continued at the firm’s Filton factory. as it does to this day, and when Sir George retired in 1973, Tony Crook became Chairman and Managing Director.

Like all Bristol models, the £49,827 Brigand is built round a massively strong chassis of closed box welded steel construction with three cross members and stiff floorpans which are welded into the structure. By any modern-day standards, this gives the Brigand constructional integrity equal (some would sat considerably better than) any monocoqor structure from a mass manufacturer, and also contributes towards the Brigand’s quoted weight of 3850 lb (1746 kg) — mow than a ton and a half!

The body is a full four-seater, two-door saloon of welded steel construction incorporating aluminium alloy panelling. The wide-opening doors have burst-proof locks and a self-locking system — and feel as solid as the bare chassis frame obviously is! Front suspension is by means of unequal length wishbones in conjunction with coil springs. telescopic dampers while torsion bars and a Watts linkage are employed at the rear. Adjustable front and rear dampers are fitted, the steering is a power-assisted recirculatory ball system and self-adjusting Girling disc brakes are employed all round.

As on all the current Bristol range, Chrysler’s 5.9-litre V8 engine (101.6 x 90.93 mm) powers the Brigand, in this case equipped with a Rotomaster turbocharger to further boost the “more than adequate” Power output. Bristol decline to quote a figure for this unit’s brake horsepower, taking a leaf out of Rolls-Royce’s book in this respect, but as we said when testing the Beaufighter in 1981, it’s quite sufficient to endow the car with a quite outstanding acceleration capability. This 90-degree V8 is equipped with specially developed camshafts, a four-barrel downdraught carburetter and employs electronic ignition. The engine’s cooling capacity is 29 Imp Pints (16.5 litres) and automatically operated twin electric fans assist engine cooling when required, there also being a manual over-ride switch to control these fans irrespective of engine speed.

Transmission is by means of a Chrysler Torqueflight transmission with torque converter, offering three forward speeds and reverse, with a conventional intermediate hold facility on first and second gears. The Brigand runs on tubeless Avon Turbospeed

ACR18 radials (215)70VR15) which incorporate the Avon safety bands to prevent the tyres coming off the Wolfrace-manufactured alloy wheel rims in the event of a puncture at speeds.

So far we have dealt with the Bristol company’s background and the bland technical specification of the Brigand. None of this, however, can convey the atmosphere of well-insulated refinement that one experiences when one slips in behind the wheel of one of these bespoke motor cars. To start with, the Brigand’s cabin is very high compared with those of most cars on the road today so, inevitably, one is imbued with a feeling of quiet dominance and superiority as you view the world across the seemingly endless bonnet. The Chrysler V8 isn’t really quite in the same league for refinement and silence as the Mercedes-Benz V8 or the Jaguar V12, there being a perceptible amount of induction noise, particularly under hard acceleration, but we’re talking in terms of a fine distinction and, by the standards of most large cars, it is extremely refined.

Furthermore, the Brigand continues to startle the driver when one really begins to put one’s foot down. It will roar from standstill to 60 mph in six seconds flat and to 80 mph in 10 sec. In terms of top speed, Bristol quotes 152 mph and, during our tests on a privately owned airport runway in East Anglia (taking a leaf out of Tony Crook’s book — his cars’ performance testing is done at Filton!) the ease with which the Brigand built up to an indicated 145 mph suggested tons that the quoted top speed might be a bit on the conservative side. Of course, harsh acceleration and sustained running at 100 mph-plus speeds will exact a dramatic toll on the Brigand’s fuel consumption, but during the course of our three days with the car we averaged out at 17.8 mpg which, under the circumstances, is so outstanding that I had to check my mathematics three times before I was satisfied that my calculations were correct!

At these sort of speeds there is precious little in the way of wind noise and the Bristol Brigand is certainly a supremely relaxing machine to waft about the place at speeds in excess of 100 mph. Such performance would really only be appreciated on long trans-European tours in enlightened countries which enjoy de-restricted Motorway standard roads: even a passing acquaintance with a car such as the Bristol Brigand, endowed with such reserves of performance and handling, reminds one that modern-day technology can easily produce cars that are capable of exceeding the 70 mph limit with absolutely theoretical safety and security. If only most drivers were educated to the same sort of levels, our road safety statistics would make far less worrying reading. . .

Loping along at 100 mph, the Brigand’s V8 engine is ticking over at 3,600 rpm and the atmosphere within the cabin is akin to a West End club. I would suggest that the classic blend of high quality leather upholstery and trim, deep pile carpeting and hand-polished, walnut is at least the equal of anything produced by Rolls-Royce. The instrumentation exudes quiet good taste, with white lettering on black backgrounds. Immediately ahead of the driver is a 160 mph speedometer and a matching 7,000 rpm ev-counter which has its warning line at 6,000 rpm. Between the two major dials is a turbocharger boost gauge, and there is a water temperature gauge (105 degrees was normal) and an oil pressure gauge which ran regularly around 55 psi. The fuel contents gauge for the 18 Imp gallon (82-litre) fuel tank is, perhaps thankfully, shielded by one’s left hand when one adopts the normal “ten to two” position on the high-mounted, thin-rimmed steering wheel. The car includes in its basic price an excellent air conditioning system and a notably effective combination of heating / demisting and ram-effect ventilation. Not only are there four fresh air vents at face level across the fascia, but there is also one low down on each wheel arch, carefully designed to blow air between the front seats and the doors to cool warm the rear seat passengers. It is this sort of attention to detail that marks the Bristol apart from even its more expensive and exalted rivals.

Other individualistic touches include rotating vents to admit cooling air from the inside of the compartments behind each wheel arch, those compartments containing the spare wheel (nearside) and the battery, twin brake servos and fuse panel (offside). Once released with the special key, which is normally kept tucked away in a little pouch on the inside wall of the o/s wheel arch, the lower panels of each front wing swing upwards to reveal these two neat little features which are unique to Bristol’s way of doing things.

Aside from its impressive straight line performance, the Bristol Brigand handles remarkably well for a machine which looks so upright and dignified. It rolls a reasonable amount, but at no time does one get the impression that the Avon rubber is about to lose adhesion with the road surface: it hangs on splendidly and, although the ride was, I felt, a touch softer than the Beaufighter’s had been, the Brigand can really be hustled through tight corners at an amazing speed. The automatic gearbox was smooth and effective, but crept too much when stationary in “D”, while the brakes were not quite as progressive as I would have liked. When one applied pressure to the pedal, they initially felt quite smooth but then seemed to come on too abruptly as the servo effect took over.

It goes without saying that the level of detailed trim and equipment on the Brigand was of a very high order indeed. Windows and front seat adjustment are controlled electronically, the individual headrests are removable when not required, electrically heated rear screen, electrically adjustable door mirrors, pockets on the rear of the front seats, courtesy light with a delay, the luggage boot can be opened electrically by the driver, the whole finished package is undersealed and the inside of the bodyshell selectively treated with anti-drumming material.

There is nothing quite like a Bristol. It’s not as common as a Rolls-Royce or Bentley, it’s more exclusive than a Jaguar or Mercedes-Benz, less ostentatious than an Aston Martin. It represents a blend of quiet, under-stated good taste allied to a high level of equipment, impeccable finish and dramatic performance. We called the Beaufighter “an English gentleman’s very high speed touring carriage,” no better soubriquet could be suggested for the Bristol Brigand; it’s as simple as that.

A . H .