An English gentleman’s very high speed sporting carriage!
OWNING a Bristol is much akin to being a member of a very exclusive club. There are so few of them on the road that people automatically turn to examine one as it goes past. That’s not because they are ostentatious, quite the reverse, but simply because they are so distinctive, large and obviously upper crust in their whole demeanour. If one accuses Bristol Managing Director Tony Crook of being unashamedly elitist in his approach to building and marketing these cars, he will almost certainly reply that is precisely the reason that Bristol Cars are still in business. Almost absurdly exclusive, Bristols trickle 9ut of their Filton factory at the rate of little more than one a week. And there will always be fifty or so people every year, throughout the country, who are prepared to pay for the incredibly high standards of finish and refinement offered by the current range.
We have recently been trying the turbocharged Chrysler VS powered Beaufighter, a distinguished four-seater sports coupe carrying the name of one of the Bristol Aeroplane Company’s best known fighting machines from the Second World War. It’s basically a variation of the distinctive 412 theme; an angular, impressive looking machine built round . a substantial closed box section chassis which produces an extremely· robust structure onto which the steel framed body, clad with aluminium alloy panelling, is welded. From the moment one climbs aboard the Beaufighter – and I emphasise the word climbs because at 4′ Sl/i” height this is certainly no cramped sports coupe – and clunks the heavy driver’s door closed, one is aware that this is a very substantial car indeed.
Inside, the Bristol Beaufighter exudes the air of a gentleman’s club lounge. If Mercedes a·nd Porsche claim their plain, non-reflective interior finishes to be practical, uncomplicated and ergonomically ideal, then Bristol make no such concession to the latest trends. The Beaufighter’s fascia is covered. with lustrous, high quality walnut veneer to complement the top .quality leather individual front seats. I found the seats tall and broad enough to be extremely comfortable, and although they don’t really offer sufficient lateral support for the ungentlemanly practice of hustling the Beaufighter indecorously through tight country lanes, their range of adjustment is magnificent. Drop your fingers down to the side of the transmission tunnel and yqu’II find small electrical switches which allow one to adjust height, tilt and fore/aft adjustment. I was just about to complain to Tony Crook that I would have liked more support beneath my knees when he pointed out that a paying customer can, of course, have the seat’s base positioned at any angle he chooses when he orders his car, thus offering a range of adjustment that he wants rath’ef tlian the’ one th·e rriahufacturer thinks he ought to.have. I suppose I should have thought of that!
Immediately ahead of the driver is a distinctive, high set three-spoke steering wheel through the top segment of which one can view the discreet 160 m.p.h. speedometer and matching rev. counter. There is a fuel gauge to’ the left, ominously recording the speed at which . the 5.9-litre (101.6 x 90.93 mm.) Chrysler VS consumes the contents of the Beaufighter’s 21 gallon tank. Since the performance of this VS is boosted by means of an exhaust driven Rotomaster turbocharger which has been specially adapted for this purpose by Bristol, the fuel gauge can register an alarming level of consumption. If one wishes to make use of this Bristol’s sub-6 sec. zero to 60 m.p.h. capability allied to a top speed in the region of 140 m.p.h. then a sub-IO m.p.g. thirst can be expected. But during the course of our spell with the Beaufighter we recorded an average consumption of 16.5 m.p.g., which should be pretty representative of the sort of figure an average Bristol owner should be capable of attaining.
Between the speedometer and rev. counter are water temperature and oil pressure gauges plus a large red warning light to remind you when the handbrake is engaged. To the far right of the fascia is a vacuum gauge which indicates whether the turbocharger is operating or not, while just to the left of the steering wheel are the controls for the excellent, very refined air conditioning system which efficiently excludes all road fumes from the interior of the Beaufighter while at the same time providing a delightful freshening breeze in the middle of a hot summer day. In that connection there are also scuttle vents to help the flow of air through the car.
Bristol tradition continues with the spare wheel mounted within a locker in the bodywork behind the left front wheel, while the same aperture on the opposite side contains the battery, servos and electrical ancillaries including the fuse box. This leaves the deep boot helpfully uncluttered and ‘capable of swallowing an enormous amount of luggage for the Grand Tour. We tested the Beaufighter equipped with its superbly trimmed, removable, solid rear roof section attached along with its glass roof panel. But these can be removed in consistently clement weather conditions, leaving the owner with a splendid open luxury four-seater complete with a deeply padded safety rollover bar. As another footnote to the amazing amount of detail thought which has gone into this Bristol, the inertia reel seat belts
attach to a runner on the floor which slides forward to allow unimpeded access for the rear seat passengers. Tony Crook sadly confesses that he omitted to patent this clever idea which is now being copied by some other manufacturers.
It’s now more than twenty years since Bristol first made contact with Chrysler with a view to engine supply and the relationship has prospered, even though Tony Crook’s company uses a very small number of their V8s by the standards of a volume car manufacturer. Interestingly, Bristol was in the process of completing development work on a 3.9-litre d.o.h.c. six-cylinder engine in 1960 and they originally contacted Chrysler to examine the possibility of arranging a supply of their automatic gearboxes. The “sample” gearbox arrived at Bristols complete with V8 engine attached and the decision was taken to experiment with a Chrysler engine installation. From that chance beginning arose the arrangement whereby Chrysler supplied engines for the exclusive coupes from Filton; the six-cylinder engine development was cast aside and they’ve never looked back from that moment onwards!
Bristol don’t talk about vulgar matters such as power outputs. Suffice to say that, bearing in mind its previously mentioned 0-60 m.p.h. time, one can regard the figure as “adequate”. The engine is fitted with electronic ignition and cooled by two automatically operated electric fans, this system incorporating a manual over-ride switch which can operate these fans irrespective of engine speed.
Fire up the Bristol Beaufighter and all you hear is a subdued, muted, distant roar. The three forward speed automatic transmission functions without any snatch, pause or unruly hiccup, even when revving the engine hard. The car’s ability between 60 and 90 m.p.h. is truly shattering, making it a very safe car inasmuch as it permits overtaking manoeuvres to be completed without any drama, even on short straights. Front suspension is by means of unequal lenth wishbones with coil springs, telescopic dampers and a torsional anti-roll bar while torsion bars are used at the rear in conjunction with a Watts linkage and telescopic dampers. Initially one might feel the ride a trifle soft, but the steering is so pleasantly positive and well-geared that it doesn’t take long to discover that the Bristol may roll a fair deal, but its Avon 225-70 VR 15 radials stay in firm and comforting contact with the road surface. In the pouring rain it’s as well to take things relatively gently, although it can be quite an illuminating experience when you suddenly detect a trace of wheelspin in a straight line as the gearbox changes from second to third in such conditions!
With self-adjusting servo-assisted Girling disc brakes on all four wheels, the Beaufighter stops with a reassuring feel. But you can’t expect a magical response from just brushing the brake pedal when a car weighing the best part of two tons is well under way. Although we found the brakes effective and fade-free, we were surprised at the amount of pedal effort required when it’s necessary to pull up suddenly.
A high level of auxiliary equipment includes four halogen headlamps, parking lights, twin automatic reversing lights, rearguard fog lamps and twin windtone horns. The windscreen wipers operate in three positions: normal, fast and intermittent; there is a very high quality push button radio I cassette player, an electrical aerial and central locking for the two large doors.
If ever a car offers therapeutic value, then it’s this Bristol Beau fighter. After a long day in a London boardroom, it’s easy to imagine a Managing Director unwinding behind the wheel of this splendid machine during his drive home. In town traffic it’s a bit of a worry because it’s so large and so very expensive. But once on the open road, it covers the ground in spendid fashion; unobtrusively, comfortably and remarkably quickly. It is beautifully finished, immaculately trimmed and extraordinarily quiet. For those who love taut-handling Porsches, romantic Ferraris or briskly efficient Mercedes-Benz, ‘the Bristol Beaufighter may have an attraction that is elusive to see. But to judge by the number of owners who have changed from these marques to become Bristol owners over the years, the evidence seems clear. Once you’ve been bitten by the Bristol bug, it is hard to shake off. If you can afford it, of course! To become the owner of a· Bristol Beaufighter will lea.ve you just enough change out of £40,000 to purchase a year’s road fund tax. If you’ve got that sort of money, it would be well spent thus. – A.H.