Bristol traces its automaking origins to 1945, when Bristol Aeroplane Company sought new life as wartime demand for its aircraft engines dried up. Discover how it found the answer in the battle-scarred remains of Germany's BMW, and appropriated not only engineering and engines, but Fritz Fiedler, BMW's chief engineer.
The repurposed British company's inaugural car, the Bristol 400 of 1947, was basically an amalgam of prewar BMW components and design, including the engine and even the twin-kidney grille.
The Bristol 401, 402, and 403 models that followed between 1948 and 1955 carried on in this vein, even as they gained their own reputation as desirable high-quality, low-production sporting cars. The Bristol 404 model signaled a more modern, independent, and stylish direction for the company, and even spawned a suave sedan.
Though it was slow to relinquish its BMW engineering origins, Bristol increasingly asserted itself as a maker of quintessentially British performance cars. The Bristol 406 of 1958 shed the last of its forbearers' aircraft inspired styling cues, and the 407 of 1961 finally cast off the BMW-derived inline-six for a robust Hemi V-8 supplied by America's Chrysler.
In the 1960s, Bristol set about a pace of model changeover remarkable for a small-volume independent. The result was a quick succession of expensive, performance oriented touring cars that included the Bristol 408, 409, and 410, and culminated in the Bristol 411 of 1969. Handsome but reserved styling, a businesslike but plush interior, and a storming American V-8 made the Bristol 411 a classic of its type and typical of the great cars celebrated in these articles.
On the next page, we will begin with two of the earliest Bristols -- the 401 and the 402.