Rumblings, June 1953




When we road-tested a 2-litre Bristol last January we were impressed with the all-round excellence of this fine car and endeavoured to convey on paper our enthusiasm in the subsequent appraisal. Consequently, we went with keen anticipation to a preview of the new Bristol 403 which took place in the Orchid Room of the Dorchester Hotel one sunny lunch-time last month.

We came away elated in the knowledge that the new Bristol has all those features of specification and equipment that made its forerunner such a desirable possession, with the addition of improvements to those few aspects which we found it our duty to criticise. The brakes, for example, used to call for rather determined pedal pressure but they have been revised on the Type 403 to obviate this. The heater on the car tested took a long time, that decidedly wintry morning, to warm us:; this, too, has been “seen to.” Moreover, whereas we were well satisfied with the performance of the Type 401, which had a maximum speed of about 98 m.p.h. and stormed main-road hills at over 90, it did call for lots of manipulation of the very nice Bristol gear-change. The old engine gave 85 b.h.p., but the new 1004A power unit of the Type 403 develops 100 b.h.p. at 5,000 r.p.m., an increase of only 500 r.p.m. This has been achieved by a new overlap camshaft, new head with larger inlet valves and so on. We are assured that not only is the performance improved, but that low-speed torque is better, so that less gear-changing is required to maintain speed. The propellor-shaft is now fully balanced to improve smooth running at speed. The twelve principal modifications as between 401 and the new Type 403 can be summarised as follows :—

(1) Higher standard of performance through improved power/weight ratio by increasing the b.h.p. to 100 at 5,000 r.p.m. without increasing the car’s overall weight.

(2) To permit full use to be made of this increased performance, the braking system has been considerably improved by the incorporation of new scientific light alloy fully-balanced brake drums and improvements to brake-pedal ratio to provide increased leverage and so reduce brake-pedal pressure.

(3) The roadholding has been further enhanced in the 403 by the introduction of improved shock-absorber settings and an anti-roll bar incorporated in the front suspension.

(4) Air-conditioning system redesigned to permit recirculation of warm air for use during town driving or in low temperatures. The previous advantages of the exclusive Bristol air-conditioning system are still retained.

(5) Fuel tank ventilation system revised to permit even faster filling.

(6) Steering pinion adjustment improved.

(7) Anti-splash plates incorporated in engine bay.

(8) Improved moulded-type windscreen wiper blades.

(9) Light in luggage compartment.

(10) Trickle-charger socket repositioned to permit easier access.

(11) Special silvered finish to radiator grille for improved appearance.

(12) New red badge medallions and new 403 coachwork flashes.

The Bristol is a comparatively new car but its history is interesting and worth recalling. In June, 1945, Bristol directors and executives, who had for some time been attracted by the possibility of building a Bristol car, saw their opportunity. Plant and machinery were being freed from the commitments of heavy war-time contracts, and there was an excellent chance of creating an opening in the post-war market. A small amount of factory space was taken over, a design team was formed, and within the Engines and Light Engineering Divisions small organisations were set up to handle the engine and other components.

After a period of intensive research, work was put in hand on a number of complete sets of parts. Of these sets, two were to be assembled as chassis only and road tested; four were to be fitted with bodies and so become the first prototypes, while the remaining set was retained for spares.

The small band of enthusiasts who formed the early nucleus of the Car Division got down to their jobs so effectively that by early 1946 the first Bristol engine was running on the test bed. Not long afterwards the first chassis took the road. Selection of a body design was not an easy matter. Several possible alternatives were closely examined before one of them, after an intensive programme of tests, including a great deal of wind-tunnel research, was finally selected as the first model to be produced. It became known as the Type 400.

At once work began on the building of a sample body. A small group of skilled craftsmen set to work in one of the shops, side by side with hand-picked draughtsmen allocated to body work.

As a result, design of the body was finalised in a very short time. Four prototypes were put in hand at once and were ready in time to be fitted to the chassis when required.

With the  car now ready to go into production, accommodation was allocated for a car-building shop, and from various departments throughout the company drafts of skilled personnel were brought in to reinforce the small band of men who had begun the job. Work started on shop layout, jigs, tools, and fixtures, and from all departments of the Bristol organisation the new division recruited technicians experienced in car design and construction.

In those days the Bristol car was almost 100 per cent. a Filton product – that is to say, almost all parts were made within the company. As time went on, however, the Aircraft Division, in order to handle the steadily growing peace-time programme of production, found it necessary gradually to reabsorb labour and plant loaned to the Car Division. It was soon necessary, therefore, to order from specialist firms many of the parts originally manufactured at Bristol. The policy was implemented gradually without interfering with production.

It was at the Geneva show in March, 1947, that motoring correspondents from all parts of the world had their first glimpse of the elegant newcomer.

In its subsequent rise to fame, the Bristol gained great impetus from a remarkable series of achievements in international competition. First success came in August, 1948, when Dobry and Treybal entered their Bristol in the 14th Polish International Rally and were declared overall winners.

Within a few months the same drivers scored another major success with an outstanding performance in the 1949 Monte Carlo Rally, the world’s most gruelling road trial. They were placed first among British cars and took third place in general classification. From that time onwards the Bristol distinguished itself with a run of successes which focussed world publicity upon it. These successes may be summarised as follows :

March, 1949 : Second in over-1,100-c.c. Touring Class and second in Touring Class General classification of Targa Florio, Sicily.

April, 1949 : Third in Touring Class of Mille Miglia, Italy.

May, 1949 : First in 2.000-c.c. Class and second in Open Class of Como Lario hill-climb, Switzerland.

July, 1949 : Sixth in General Classification and fourth and fifth in 2-litre Class of Alpine Rally, despite two of team crashing. First in Standard Touring Cars General Classification, Tuscany Cup, Italy.

August, 1949 : First in over-1,500-c.c. Class, third in Touring Cars General Classification of Stella Alpina., Italy.

December, 1949 : Count “Johnnie” Lurani declared 1949 Italian champion for successes with Bristol 2-litre.

May, 1952 : First and third, Production Touring Cars Race (1,500-2,500-c.c. class) and team prize.

May, 1952 : First, Dutch Tulip Rally (2-litre class).

July, 1952 : Won Grand Prix d’Excellence Toutes Categories. at the Concours d’Elegance, Tangier, Morocco.

March, 1953 : Took first place in the Touring Class of the Rallye Soleil, Cannes.

April, 1913: Second in International Tulip Rally.

In recent months its appearances in international competition have hardly been so frequent as in the early days, but there is still occasional news of a victory in production-car events.

The Type 400, first of the Bristol line of cars, is no longer produced. It was superseded in 1948 by the Type 401, which, in turn, is now to be replaced by the Type 403. We believe the Type 402 was a drop-head version which did not prove sufficiently rigid and silent to meet Bristol’s exacting standards.

This latest Bristol is obviously an outstanding car. It retains its modest engine size of 2 litres, yet we shall expect it to have a comfortable maximum speed of 103/4 m.p.h. It is very sparing of fuel, its sponsors claiming 24 m.p.g. at a steady 60 m.p.h. It is one of the most elegant cars made in Britain and as a wind-cheating two-door saloon it is, we suspect, going to make more angular competitors with engines over twice as big look rather slow, uneconomical and ungainly !

In this moment of Filton-worship let us spare a thought for the German engineers of quite a long time ago who designed the B.M.W. engine from which the Bristol 100A engine evolves, to “Aldy” who spotted its Alpine-worth, and to those sufferers from claustrophobia who, ensconced in the back seats of this two-door saloon with its push-button doors, are the only mortals amongst all classes of the human race who are likely to be less than 100 per cent. enthusiastic about the latest Bristol 2-litre.

To our acclamation of a very desirable piece of automotive property may we, remembering that we are MOTOR SPORT, add an expression of hope that the next Bristol preview may be of a short-chassis 140-b.h.p. Gran Sport saloon or a Le Mans Replica ?