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Bristol Sports Cars


Bristol 403
The Bristol 403 retained prewar BMW origins, looking little different from the 401 but boasting 15 extra horsepower, good for a top speed of around 100 mph.
The Bristol 403 retained prewar BMW origins, looking little different from the 401 but boasting 15 extra horsepower, good for a top speed of around 100 mph.

 

Four years after Bristol put its 401 on sale, the prestigious British aero-enginemaker-turned-automaker was ready with something better. But the firm saw no need for anything radically different given its chosen low-volume/high-price market (that would follow a few years later with the 405), so the new Bristol 403 was no more than a thoughtful update.

Launched in May 1953, the Bristol 403 looked almost identical to the 401. Appearance changes were limited to silver grille bars (still in BMW-style "twin-kidney" surrounds) and new red model badges (instead of yellow) on trunklid and hoodsides -- all very subtle. There was also no companion convertible this time.

Mechanical changes were more substantive, encompassing drivetrain, brakes, suspension, even the heater. Because of the ex-BMW engine's numerous racing successes (mostly in Frazer-Nash cars), Bristol now knew a great deal about its performance potential. Though the firm simply reprofiled the camshaft and fitted larger, sturdier main bearings for the Bristol 403, it gained 15 horsepower, now up to 100 bhp total, plus a little more torque, that made for easier low-speed slogging and more eager mid-range response.

The Bristol 403 served as an updated version of the 401 -- it received a few upgrades under the hood, but most of the cosmetics remained largely unchanged.
The Bristol 403 served as an updated version of the 401 -- it received a few upgrades under the hood, but most of the cosmetics remained largely unchanged.

Continued from late 401s was an improved gearbox with Borg-Warner synchromesh. As before, a flywheel was incorporated in first gear, and the shift lever was long and willowy. Late Bristol 403s carried a more satisfying remote-control linkage with a shorter shifter. Chassis changes included the addition of a front anti-roll bar to trim the handling, and the use of larger, heat-dissipating Alfin drums for the brakes.

With its extra power, the Bristol 403 was even more the sports tourer than the 401. The factory claimed a 100-mph top speed, though no magazine road-test figures exist to back it up.

There's not much more to say about the Bristol 403, except that it was the shortest-lived Bristol to date, lasting just two years. Production totalled exactly 300, all built at the Filton factory near the facilities then being erected for manufacturing Brittania turboprop aircraft.

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