Buy Big, Buy Bristols

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Sir,

Your correspondence on the pains and pleasures of running large cars appears to have gone into something of a decline lately —perhaps because too many of your readers have decided, erroneously, that the pains outweigh the pleasures, perhaps because they have decided that it is a sign of incipient insanity to drive overblown American crash-tanks or under-suspensioned Jensen CV8s. Perhaps I may be allowed to redress the balance, and cast more light upon your road test of the Bristol 411 in the 50th anniversary issue, by recounting some of my own experiences with a 1964 Bristol 408.

The primary lesson I have learnt is to ensure the car one buys is sound in wind and limb; this is true of any car, hut particularly in the case of large and/or exotic ones, for which spares and repairs are proportionately expensive. My own example, I have deduced by my cost, was indifferently cared for over many years, and I have paid the price! Secondly, it is essential to be more than competent mechanically if one has bought a pup; comparatively few garages wish or are competent to work on this type of car; while those that are competent are correspondingly expensive. Thirdly, that one has to select one’s breed with care if one is buying not just for pleasure, but also to avoid depreciation in value; the only sure formula, if one wants to use the car and not just polish it for concours events, is to select a machine built deliberately in low quantities, to an exceptional standard of construction, preferably by a manufacturer still in business, possessed of unusual speed, with handling to match and yet luxuriously appointed and refined to drive at speed or around town— in other words, a “grand routier”, which is the Bristol 408 exactly.

Thus far we have seen the disadvantages; now let us list the advantages. Firstly, running eosts need not be exorbitant and should not deter the would-be owner. Assuming one has followed the above formula, assuming one has been sensible enough to pick a well-kept example, assuming one tackles at least the routine maintainance oneself, there is no reason to foresee excessive expenditure simply to keep the car on the road. The car will probably have a large or highly-tuned engine and will inevitably consume rather more petrol than the majority of the grey porridge if I may borrow a phrase from your Continental Correspondent) which clog the road today, but remember, we are driving for pleasure, not parsimony! Morever, this little extra is offset by the fact that, with careful choice, there is no need to worry about depreciation. If one cannot necessarily expect an increase in value, the car should at least hold its price.

And what of my own Bristol 408? I can only state that the remarks made in your driving impressions are all borne out by a twelve-year-old example of the marque. In quality of construction, painstaking and ingenious design and pure driving pleasure it surpasses any other car I have known. I think that it is the joy of driving it that I must emphasise. Sitting high, with a superb view of the road down the long bonnet, 3 clear view of the instruments through the twin-spoked steering wheel, with an abundance of power at one’s command for sharp acceleration or high-speed cruising and, above all, with the command of what must be one of the best non-power steering systems ever built, combining lightness, precision and just sufficient feel of the road to know that the car is going exactly where one wishes—with all this it is possible to have delusions of being King of the Road! And yet I am not sitting in some stripped-down, souped-up sports car, but in a superbly built, remarkably comfortable saloon with ample room for four six-foot men and their luggage for a Continental tour. It is true that the Bristol has a dual personality; its quiet running, its sober appearance and traditional interior of walnut and fine leather (from which I derive great pleasure) belie its appetite for high speeds and long distances.

In summary, I can only urge your readers to cast aside their doubts and buy a large and unusual car. The simple joy of owning and driving one will be increased by the thought that for the same money they could have bought a ton of already rusting tin covered (if they’re lucky) by sufficient paint to disguise the incipient rot for a few weeks and with the protection of the AA included free for one year (an ironic comment on the reliability of so-called new cars). Much better to buy a Bristol (with whom I have no connection other than as a satisfied owner).

Datchet. N. T. H. SMITH

PS: Why not a feature on “Shopping for a Bristol”?

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