"Bristol Cars And Engines"

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“Bristol Cars And Engines” by L. J. K. Setright. 159 pp. 8¾ in. x 6 in. (Motor Racing Publications Ltd., 56, Fitzjames Avenue, Croydon, Surrey. £4.50).

Far from the subject matter for one-make histories exhausting itself, we have been receiving a constant output of new books under this important heading. The latest is the long-awaited Bristol book, by Leonard Setright. Although the Bristol was a post-war, small-output production, selling indeed at the present time at the rate of not more than about three cars a week, Setright has managed to set down so much fascinating material about this exclusive car that a full-length book has resulted, which is a complete account of the activities, aims and disasters of the Filton Company to date and which makes absorbing reading for all enthusiasts.

No-one was better fitted to tackle Bristol history than Setright, because he has long been an enthusiastic owner of a 405, is Chairman of the Bristol OC, and Editor of that Club’s magazine and he clearly believes that the Bristol is the World’s best car, superseding in quality and exclusiveness even the noted motor-cars from Crewe. It is true that quite a lot of the book’s contents seem to have appeared previously, in American motor journals, in now-defunct British luxury motor magazines, and in the pages of the excellent Bristol OC magazine. But the general reader will not have had the opportunity of enjoying all this Setright Bristol-persuasion and to them the book, which in any case is the whole truth, should be extremely welcome.

Many one-make books devote themselves primarily to history, dispatching the various models of their selected subject one by one, without much analysis. Setright, on the other hand, includes a wealth of technical detail. Moreover, convinced as he is of Bristol superiority, nevertheless he does not shrink from spelling out the Bristol engineers’ mistakes and the Company’s short-comings. For instance, he explains in detail why the handling of the Bristol 401 was not a patch on that of the first of the line, the Bristol 400. And no-one will accuse Setright of prejudice after reading what he has to say about the 405—”The door handles and locks were now mass-produced items instead of being handmade in the factory, the bumper bars were very crude and ordinary things, the heatercontrol was regulation Cricklewood tinware, and the dashboard finish was not in the least impressive. Worse still was the nagging thought of all the wood that could not be seen, as well as the framework which became visible on the inside of the boot lid when this was opened (again by cheap mass-produced handles and a futile lock) to discover a 17 ft.3 luggage boot of unusual shape extending right into the spaces behind the rear wheel arches.” He is even ruder about the Beuttler-bodied 406E….

The book takes the reader model by model through the Bristol range, from 1946 to the present-400, 401, 402, 403, 404, 405, the Arnolt-Bristol, 406, 406S, 406 Zagato, 407, 408, 409, 410 and 411, with technical descriptions, handling comments and the place of each in the Bristol scheme of things carefully sifted. Beyond that, which is intensely interesting in itself, the industrious author devotes a chapter to the racing Bristols, the Type 450, and another to Bristol racing engines which powered so many successful single-seaters, notably Mike Hawthorn’s Cooper. The wealth of data in these chapters alone is worth the price of admission. It is customary to include prototypes and experimental cars in such histories, and here we have revelations about the twin-cam 160 engine intended for the still-born Bristol 220. There is, naturally, some preliminary BMW history, because the Bristol 400 was a refined 326/328 BMW, which makes one wonder whether this writer has thought of clarifying the history of the Bavarian make and sorting out the present rather complex range of BMWs?

There are some nicely controversial items in Setright’s long Bristol story. It could be debated whether the “hemi” cylinder head was pioneered by the 1921 GP Fiat, for instance, and Armstrong Siddeley fans may not take kindly to his remark that the Star Sapphire had “a terrible engine” that made this car “quite awful”! Riley RM followers will not take kindly to his, alas true, account of how easily Anthony Crook exceeded 100 miles in the hour at Montlhery in his Bristol 401 when the Riley people were having endless difficulties accomplishing the same task, admittedly with a far less-costly car. Conversely, while Setright is warm in his praise of the sidemounted spare wheel adopted for the 404, to improve weight distribution, he might have said that Lagonda used such a location on their 4½-litre model before the War. But I wonder how many of you knew of one most unusual use to which BRM racing engines were put in a military vehicle, before reading this book, or had to be reminded that the unusual nose of the 404 and 405 was based on the air-intake to the Bristol engine as found in the wing of the Brabazon air-liner ?

“Bristol” is a very worthwhile addition to motoring knowledge. It is bound to resemble an instruction book, which of course it is, with photoset text and well-selected if rather “flat” illustrations. An index would have enhanced it but there are adequate appendices.—W.B.