Cars Past

The Bristol Cars Story

The British aircraft industry suffered a dramatic loss of orders and great financial difficulties following the Armistice of 1918. To provide immediate employment for its considerable workforce, the Bristol Aeroplane Company undertook the manufacture of a light car (the Bristol Monocar), the construction of car bodies for Armstrong Siddeley and bus bodies for their sister company, Bristol Tramways.

Bristol range

On the outbreak of the Second World War, Sir G. Stanley White, Managing Director of the Bristol Aeroplane Company from 1911 – 1954 was determined not to suffer the same difficulties a second time.

Sir George White

The Company now employed 70,000 and he knew that he must plan for the time when the voracious wartime demand for Bristol aircraft and aircraft engines would suddenly end.

As early as 1941 a number of papers were written or commissioned by George S.M.White, Sir Stanley’s son, proposing a post-war car manufacturing division. It was decided to purchase an existing manufacturer for this purpose. Alvis, Aston Martin, Lagonda, ERA and Lea Francis were considered.

A chance discussion took place in May 1945. It was between D.A. Aldington, a director of Frazer Nash then serving as an inspector for the wartime Ministry of Aircraft Production, and Eric Storey, an assistant of George White at the Bristol Aeroplane Company. It led to the immediate take-over of Frazer Nash by the Aeroplane Company.

D.A. Aldington and his two brothers had marketed the “Fraser Nash B.M.W.” before the war, and proposed to build an up-dated version after demobilisation. This seemed the perfect match for the Aeroplane Company’s own ambitions to manufacture a high quality sports car.

FN Bristol Booklet

With the support of the War Reparations Board, H.J. Aldington travelled to Munich and there purchased the rights to manufacture three BMW models and the 328 engine.

George White and Reginald Verdon-Smith of the Aeroplane Company joined the new Frazer Nash Board, but in January 1947, soon after the first cars had been produced, differences between the Aldingtons and Bristol led to the resale of Frazer Nash. The Bristol Car Division became an independent entity.

Timeline

Raison d'etre

Factory

The “raison d’être”

The British aircraft industry suffered a dramatic loss of orders and great financial difficulties following the Armistice of 1918. To provide immediate employment for its considerable workforce, the Bristol Aeroplane Company undertook the manufacture of a light car (the Bristol Monocar), the construction of car bodies for Armstrong Siddeley and bus bodies for their sister company, Bristol Tramways.

On the outbreak of the Second World War, Sir G. Stanley White, Managing Director of the Bristol Aeroplane Company from 1911 – 1954 was determined not to suffer the same difficulties a second time. The Company now employed 70,000 and he knew that he must plan for the time when the voracious wartime demand for Bristol aircraft and aircraft engines would suddenly end.

As early as 1941 a number of papers were written or commissioned by George S.M.White, Sir Stanley's son, proposing a post-war car manufacturing division. It was decided to purchase an existing manufacturer for this purpose. Alvis, Aston Martin, Lagonda, ERA and Lea Francis were considered.

1945-47

BMW

The beginning

A chance discussion took place in May 1945. It was between D.A. Aldington, a director of Frazer Nash then serving as an inspector for the wartime Ministry of Aircraft Production, and Eric Storey, an assistant of George White at the Bristol Aeroplane Company. It led to the immediate take-over of Frazer Nash by the Aeroplane Company.

D.A. Aldington and his two brothers had marketed the “Fraser Nash B.M.W.” before the war, and proposed to build an up-dated version after demobilisation. This seemed the perfect match for the Aeroplane Company's own ambitions to manufacture a high quality sports car. With the support of the War Reparations Board, H.J. Aldington travelled to Munich and there purchased the rights to manufacture three BMW models and the 328 engine.

George White and Reginald Verdon-Smith of the Aeroplane Company joined the new Frazer Nash Board, but in January 1947, soon after the first cars had been produced, differences between the Aldingtons and Bristol led to the resale of Frazer Nash. The Bristol Car Division became an independent entity.

1947-60

Le Mans

A reputation is made

George S.M. White, joint Managing Director of the Bristol Aeroplane Company was appointed managing director of the Car Division in 1947 and from 1955 chairman and managing director of Bristol Cars Ltd.

During these heady years, the car division produced six production cars (the type 400 to the 406) powered by Bristol-built 2 litre engines. Built to aircraft standards, using aircraft construction methods and under strict aircraft-style quality inspection, they quickly gained a reputation of being among the finest cars in the world.

They achieved notable sporting success from the 1948 Polish Rally onwards. A Bristol 450 racing car won the 2 litre class at Reims in 1953 and Bristol 450s came first, second and third in their class at Le Mans in 1954 and 1955.

Arnolt Bristols, Cooper Bristols, AC, ERA, Frazer Nash, Lotus, Lister and Tojeiro Bristols all achieved success in the hands of such legendary drivers as Jack Brabham, Mike Hawthorn and Stirling Moss. The Racing team under Vivian Selby included the former “Bentley Boys”, Sammy Davis, Stan Ivermee and Percy Kemish.

1969-73

409

Independence

Believing that “big is best”, the British Government forced the mergers of aircraft manufacturers in the late 1950's. The Bristol Aeroplane Company was split in two, the airframe division joining the British Aircraft Corporation, where its type 198 design was developed into Concorde. The aero-engine division, was merged into Bristol Siddeley (subsequently Rolls-Royce), where the Bristol Pegasus was developed to power the Harrier jump-jet and the Bristol Olympus to power Concorde.

Bristol Cars also merged with Bristol Siddeley, and was marked for closure, but was bought in September 1960 by George S.M. White the chairman and effective founder. George White retained the direction of the company, but sold a forty per cent shareholding to Anthony Crook, a leading Bristol agent. Mr. Crook became sole distributor.

Without the financial and practical assistance of the Bristol Aeroplane Company, Bristol Cars could no longer develop its own engines. It turned instead to specially built Canadian Chrysler V8s, ensuring a product of exceptional quality and restrained beauty, but with the heart of a lion.

1973-97

411

New ownership

In September 1969, only a month before the unveiling of the new Bristol type 411 at Earl's Court, Sir George White (as he had become) suffered a serious accident in his Bristol 410. The car was only superficially damaged, but he suffered severe trauma.

As time passed it became clear that he would never regain his health sufficiently to return full-time to work. To safeguard the future of his loyal workforce, he decided reluctantly in 1973, that he must sell his majority shareholding to Anthony Crook.

As the ties with the White family were severed, British Aerospace (successors to the Bristol Aeroplane Company) requested the company to move its factory from Filton Aerodrome and it found new premises in nearby Patchway. Anthony Crook's showroom in Kensington High Street became the head office, with Mr. Crook shuttling between the two in Bristol's light aircraft.

Under Mr. Crook's direction the company produced at least six types, the names of which were largely borrowed from Bristol's distinguished aeronautical past: the Beaufighter, Blenheim, Britannia and Brigand.

1997-2011

Speedster

The end of the second era

In February 1997, Anthony Crook sold a fifty per cent holding in Bristol Cars to Toby Silverton, with an option to take full control within four years. Silverton, then son-in-law of Joe Lewis of the Tavistock Group and son of Arthur Silverton of Overfinch, joined the board with his father.

Anthony Crook and Toby Silverton produced the Speedster, Bullet and 411 Series 6, though 2002 saw the transfer of Bristol Cars fully into the ownership of Toby Silverton and the Tavistock Group, with Silverton in the chair and Anthony Crook remaining as managing director. Together they developed a two seater V10 “supercar” named after the first Sir George White's world-famous First World War two-seater aircraft, the Bristol Fighter.

Anthony Crook finally relinquished his connection with Bristol Cars in August 2007. In March 2011, to the general distress of the motor industry and Bristol owners alike, it was announced that Bristol Cars had been placed into administration. Rescue came in April 2011, in the form of Frazer-Nash Research.

Personalities

George White

George White

George White

George White was the grandson of the founder of the Bristol Aeroplane Company. He was educated at Harrow School and Magdalene College Cambridge, where he studied under W.S. Farren. He left to work on the B.A.C. shop floor, rising to become general manager in 1940, a director in 1942 and ultimately serving as joint managing director and deputy chairman. He held both the latter positions until through mergers, the Bristol Aeroplane Company effectively ceased to exist in 1967. He was responsible for the direction of the aircraft and armament divisions during the Second World War and was the link between the Ministry of Aircraft Production and the company.

In planning for the post-war manufacturing activities of the B.A.C, he particularly urged the production of the Bristol Freighter and of high quality motor cars. He devoted much time and enthusiasm to the formation of the Car Division and to the acquisition of Frazer Nash. He took charge of the division from 1946 and was appointed managing director of the division in 1947, when Bristol and Frazer Nash separated. On the formation of Bristol Cars Ltd in 1956 he became its chairman and managing director. At the same time he also served as a director of Bristol Aeroplane Plastics, which amongst an array of advanced products from aircraft drop-tanks to yachts, made car bodies for Nobel and Lotus.

Following the merging of the Aeroplane Company's airframe and engine divisions to form the British Aircraft Corporation and Bristol-Siddeley Engines in 1959, he purchased Bristol Cars Ltd. He sold a forty per cent interest in the company to Anthony Crook, by then the sole Bristol distributor. George White became senior partner when the company was restructured, retaining exclusive control of management and policy, while Anthony Crook remained fully responsible for sales. In September 1969, George White suffered serious injury in a car accident, from which he never fully recovered. With very great sadness he recognised his inability to continue running his company and sold his majority holding to Anthony Crook in 1973.

George White and his future brother-in-law rebuilt and drove an early GN while still at school in 1930. He subsequently owned an Alvis and two Aston Martins, but his father Sir G. Stanley White, forbade him to drive cars competitively. Encouraged by Sir Roy Fedden, he took up motor-boat racing from 1931 onwards. He achieved numerous British and World records in his Riley powered "Bulldog II" and his Lycoming powered Bulldog III. In 1937, with the help of Capt. George Eyston, he was actively working on Bulldog IV, powered by a Napier Lion engine, with a view to attempting the World Water Speed Record. A serious accident in April 1938, in which Bulldog III rolled over during a 24 mile record attempt in Poole Harbour, cut short George White's sporting career.

Anthony Crook

Anthony Crook

Anthony Crook

T. A. D. Crook, known as “Tony”, was born in Rusholme, Manchester in February 1920. He was educated at Clifton College and Cambridge. His family had been proprietors of coalmines, but his father died when he was young. He often recalled how at the age of six he was taken as a treat to Southport Sands. There he saw cars racing and instantaneously developed a passion for motor sport.

Tony Crook served with the RAFVR from 1939 – 1946, achieving the rank of Flight Lieutenant. He was twice mentioned in Dispatches. He practiced driving technique in his BMW 328 on a Lincolnshire aerodrome during the war, in preparation for post-war competition. While still in uniform he became a protégé of Raymond Mays of ERA fame and when the war ended, he won the first post-war motor race, held at Gransden Lodge.

For ten years he took part in over four hundred, hill climbs, sprints, races and other motoring events, at first with his BMW and a 2.9 litre twin supercharged Alfa Romeo. He won in his own words, “literally hundreds of races”.

At the age of 27 he set up his own sales, servicing and race preparation company, Anthony Crook Motors, buying a garage with a Ford agency at Town End, Caterham. In addition to selling cars by Aston Martin, Lagonda, Fiat, Simca and Ford, Anthony Crook Motors became one of twenty-two United Kingdom agents appointed by the Bristol Aeroplane Company Car Division.

Anthony Crook purchased his first Bristol 400 in March 1948 and at the end of 1949 he bought a Bristol-engined Frazer Nash from H.J. Aldington, which he raced both in his own name and that of Frazer Nash. He subsequently acquired two Cooper-Bristols, using all three cars in competition to demonstrate the race preparation skills of his company. He drove in the 1952 and 1953 British Grand Prix and in 1952 Monaco Grand Prix, which that year included Formula 2 cars. He was the author of many ingenious publicity stunts to highlight his Bristol agency.

In 1954, Tony Crook opened a showroom in Esher High Street and in 1956 expanded again in premises at Hersham, where he dealt not only in cars, but also in aeroplanes and helicopters. He greatly increased his sales of Bristol cars during this period. In 1962 he took a lease on the famous ‘Bristol’ showroom in Kensington and by 1966 had assumed the role of sole distributor of the 'Bristol' marque. When, as a result of the re-organization of the aircraft industry in 1969, Bristol Cars Ltd was threatened with closure and was purchased by Sir George White, Anthony Crook Motors acquired a 40 per cent shareholding.

Tony Crook became chairman, managing director and sole owner of Bristol Cars in 1973, following the retirement of Sir George, who had suffered severe injuries in a motoring accident. Crook moved the factory from Filton to Patchway, shuttling between London and Gloucestershire in his light aircraft. He retired as sole proprietor of Bristol Cars in 2007, having sold out his interest to the Tavistock Group.

Bristol Cars models

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1946 - 400

1946: Bristol 400

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The first Bristol to go into production, the 400 was a close-coupled two door saloon inspired by the pre-war 326 and 328 BMWs but benefitting from the metallurgical advances of WW2 aviation. Low aerodynamic drag, high mechanical efficiency and modest weight meant it proved a successful rally car, with a top speed of 95.7mph and a six cylinder 2 litre engine that was unusually efficient for its time.

1948 - 401

1948: Bristol 401

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While mechanically very similar to its predecessor, the 401 showed off the aeronautically-honed skills of the Filton factory’s aerodynamicists perfectly, with an almost completely smooth exterior that helped it become the first 2 litre production saloon to achieve 100mph. Built entirely of aluminium, the body of this four seater Bristol was tested in wind tunnels and on runways to achieve the greatest aerodynamic efficiency.
1949 - 402

1949: Bristol 402

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A convertible version of the 401, the 402 was marketed in limited numbers and had a smoothly-contoured hood which folded completely out of sight. It was nicknamed the ‘Hollywood Special’ after a pair of the early cars was ordered by film star Stewart Granger and his actress wife Jean Simmons.
1953 - 403

1953: Bristol 403

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Launched in 1953, the 403 replaced the 401 and while it was the same shape, subtle differences improved the drive significantly. Better brakes, an improved gearbox, larger valves, a sturdier crankshaft and greater oil capacity meant the engine could yield 100bhp and reach speeds of up to 106mph.
1953 - 404

1953: Bristol 404

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Christened ‘the businessman’s express’, this two seater coupé was built on the same chassis as the 403 but with a shorter wheelbase. Weighing in at less than a ton, the 404 came with a choice of engines (a 100B version with 105bhp or a 100C sports version with 125bhp) and boasted a much better braking system than the earlier cars to go cope with a top speed of up to 110mph. As well as featuring tail fins which echoed the design of Bristol’s 450 racing coupes, the 404 was the first Bristol to have the spare wheel and battery fitted inside the wheelbase.

1954 - 405

1954: Bristol 405

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Launched at the 1954 Motor Show, the 405 was the only four door car ever built at Filton. Virtually the same as the 404 coupe from the windscreen forward, this high-performance four-seater was considered the last of the first generation of Bristols. As well as being designer Sir Paul Smith’s choice of everyday transport, the 405 recently found fame after appearing in the Academy Award-nominated film An Education.
1958 - 406

1958: Bristol 406

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A luxurious two door saloon with a larger, 2.2litre engine, front wheel disc brakes and improved rear suspension, the 406 kept many of the typical Bristol characteristics but had a more modern shape with a longer wheelbase and greater width internally. All sorts of extra comforts could be found inside, from headrests and telescopic steering column, to an automatic windscreen washer and a padded safety roll. Although it retained 105bhp, its extra weight, and the focus on comfort and convenience, meant its predecessors had the edge in speed but it was still capable of speeds of 100mph+.
1961 -407

1961: Bristol 407

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The 407 was the first new model to be built by Bristol Cars Ltd after its separation from the Bristol Aeroplane Company in 1960. With a 5.2litre Chrysler V8 engine, 250bhp and top speeds of 125mph, the 407 offered armchair luxury together with high performance. The new V8 engine meant two and a half times greater capacity than earlier Bristols, yet this popular saloon remained comparatively economic. Outwardly it looked similar to the 406 but subtle changes included an extra exhaust pipe at the rear and coil-sprung suspension.
1963 - 408

1963: Bristol 408

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A two door, four seater saloon, the 408 was mechanically identical to the 407, with a Chrysler V8 engine and automatic transmission. Outwardly, a rectangular grille with pronounced horizontal bars was introduced, along with rectangular indicator lamps.Its top speed was 122mph+.
1965 - 409

1965: Bristol 409

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The first Bristol to offer power steering, the 409 was a 130mph four seater saloon that from the outside was almost identical to its predecessor, the 408. The same Chrysler V8 engine remained at 5,211cc but offered increased power and torque. Thanks to softer springs, the 409 also boasted the smoothest ride yet.
1967 - 410

1967: Bristol 410

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Low and sleek, the 410 took on a slightly more curved appearance than earlier models in the series. Seating four, with two doors, it boasted a new, more complex system of braking circuits to offer the greatest safety yet. With 250bhp, the 410’s top speed was 130mph. Another Bristol star, this time of the small screen, the aristocratic policeman, Inspector Lynley drove one of these in the eponymous television show.
1969 - 411

1969: Bristol 411

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With a big-block B series Chrysler V8 6.3 litre engine, the popular 411 boasted 30 per cent more power than its predecessor and was capable of speeds of 143mph. In production for seven years in total, a second edition was introduced in 1971, with self-levelling suspension, followed by a third series a year later, a 6.5litre Series 4 in 1974 and a fifth series from 1975-1976. Electric windows, halogen headlamps and rear seat belts were all introduced as standard over the 411’s lifetime.
1975 - 412

1975: Bristol 412

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A Targa-type Zagato-designed convertible with a removable roof, the 412 was the last of the numbered series to begin with a 4. The 412 kept the 6.3litre Chrysler B series engine of the 411 until 1977, when a second edition was introduced with a 5,899cc petrol engine. Continuing Bristol Cars’ tradition of introducing new technology, the 412 was the first car in production to boast frameless window glass that dropped half an inch when door was opened. It was also the first car to offer the factory option of dual-fuel petrol/LPG.
1976 - 603

1976: Bristol 603

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Introduced alongside the 412 to replace the Bristol 411, the 603 was dramatically restyled to be much more streamlined, with a large, curved rear window. As well as a 5.9litre version, a 5.2litre engine was made available for a period because of rising fuel prices. The more economical engine was phased out by the second series, which offered a 5.9litre engine as standard.
1980 -
Beaufighter

1980: Bristol Beaufighter

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Based on the 412 but with an added turbocharger, the Beaufighter became the fastest accelerating automatic full four-seater production car of its day and boasted a top speed of 150mph. Still featuring the same Zagato design as the 412, with a removable roof, it is distinguishable by its four headlamps.
1982 - Britannia

1982: Bristol Britannia and Brigand

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The Series 3 603S was brought out in 1982, when Bristol began adopting names of the famous Bristol Aeroplane Company models for its cars. The Britannia was the standard version, while the Brigand had a turbocharger added to enable speeds of up to 150mph. Outwardly, the Brigand could be distinguished by a bulge in the bonnet, which accommodated the turbocharger.
1993 - Blenheim

1993: Blenheim

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The Series 4 603 was named the Bristol Blenheim and benefitted from the most modern mechanicals yet, with a multi-port fuel injection to improve performance and fuel consumption. Since its introduction in 1993 two further series were brought out and the Blenheim remains unique among modern passenger cars, with its entire engine and all major masses, including the spare wheel and battery, being within the wheelbase. With a 5.9litre V8 engine, the current Blenheim 3 is capable of speeds of 152mph.
2004 - Fighter

2004: Fighter

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With a top speed of 210mph, Bristol Cars’ iconic two-seater supercar boasted a modified Chrysler Viper 8 litre V-10 engine, enabling the 0-60mph sprint in 4 seconds. With gullwing doors and the turning circle of a London taxi, the ultra-aerodynamic Fighter shared the same innovative design features as aircraft, high speed missiles and even submarines.

Explore our history.

Bristol Tramways

In 1871 a London syndicate proposed building a street tramway in Bristol. The City Council rejected the plan and instead formulated its own scheme. Rails were laid by spring 1874, but costs escalated wildly...

Bristol Cars

The Bristol Aeroplane Company undertook the manufacture of a light car (the Bristol Monocar), the construction of car bodies for Armstrong Siddeley and bus bodies for their sister company...

Bristol Aeroplane Co.

Sir George determined to take matters into his own hands and spent 1909 laying plans for a properly financed aircraft industry for Britain. With his brother Samuel and his son G. Stanley White as founding directors...