Bristol Sports Cars

Bristol 411
The Bristol 411 maintained its stoic, blocky aesthetic, though the exterior belied an impressively powerful machine under the hood.
The Bristol 411 maintained its stoic, blocky aesthetic, though the exterior belied an impressively powerful machine under the hood.


The Bristol 411 appeared in 1969, just two years after its predecessor debuted. But the days of biennial model changes were over, and the new Bristol 411 would remain in production for the next six years, the longest-lived Bristol to date.

Also once more, the Bristol chassis and squarish four-seat coupe body were little changed. That the former was still around at the turn of the Seventies now seems truly remarkable. Remember that Bristol had copied this box-section platform from a late-Thirties BMW design and had first put it on sale, under the original 400 model, in 1947.

The intervening 23 years had seen changes to front suspension and rear-axle location, but basic structure, the 114-inch wheelbase, and the cars' general stance had all stayed the same. Even so, Bristol followed through on its suspension tuning for the 410 model by making radial tires standard on the Bristol 411.

There was one other change, and it was literally a big one, as the Chrysler 318-cubic-inch hemi-head V-8 was exchanged for the same firm's heavier but considerably more potent 383-cid wedge-head unit. The result was an extra 85 horsepower and a lot more torque.

While this engine had long been a staple in Chrysler's U.S. lineup, it was also familiar in the UK, having powered various Jensens over the years, including the limited-production Vignale-bodied Interceptor and four-wheel-drive FF grand touring coupes of the late Sixties. Here, as there, it was teamed with Chrysler's latest TorqueFlite automatic transmission.

Even if it did increase weight, the 383 made the Bristol 411 appreciably faster than any previous Bristol. Magazine road tests reported a healthy 10-mph gain in top speed -- now a thrilling 140 mph -- and standing-start acceleration of around 7 seconds flat, enough to rival that of the larger Ferraris and Maseratis of the period and very much in American "muscle car" territory.

In appearance, of course, the Bristol 411 was about the farthest thing from a muscle car you could imagine: as conservative as any Bristol, resolutely blocky, and rather staid. At least it was cleaner than recent Bristols and more attractive for it. More modest bodyside chrome strips -- one on the rear fender, the other trailing into the door from atop the front wheelarch -- replaced the former full-length twin strips, the rear end was simplified (bringing a slightly larger trunk), and there was a bit more rake to windshield and backlight.

The Bristol 411 was subtly but sensibly refined in succeeding years. Late 1970 brought a Mark 2 version with automatic self-levelling rear suspension, achieved via load-sensitive compensating struts powered by an engine-driven hydraulic pump. The big V-8 already drove the power steering and still-optional air conditioning, but it was designed for this sort of workload and didn't mind the extra job. Wider wheels all-round accompanied this upgrade.

As if to return to its two-year cycle, Bristol launched the Bristol 411 Mk 3 in 1972, marked by a lower-profile nose with very powerful seven-inch-diameter quad headlamps (replacing the familiar dual head/driving lamps foursome) mounted horizontally in an oval cavity either side of a rather awkward square grille. A slim paint stripe replaced the previous front-fender chrome trim, though rocker panel moldings remained. At the rear were no fewer than four exhaust outlets, the result of minor tuning changes.

The Bristol 411 was the final evolution of Bristol's 406. Lines were cleaner if still conservative, and gadgets more plentiful than ever.

But the Mk 3 didn't last long, for 1973 brought the revised Mk 4 with the latest 400-cid evolution of the Chrysler 383. This was adopted to meet European emissions standards (less stringent than America's but just as vexing to automakers and also tightening every year) and permit the use of British-grade "two-star" leaded regular gasoline. Rear styling was revised yet again, now quite plain.

After a short run of minimally modified Mk 5 models, the Bristol 411 was laid to rest in 1976. Bristol's production pace slowed by about a third, to an average three cars per week, so only 600 Bristol 411s were built in a little over six years.

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