Bristol, the British manufacturer of exclusive coupes, went bankrupt in 2020, the very year of its 75th birthday. Now the brand is rising from the ashes…
Did you say Bristol?
In the 1930s, Bristol collaborated with BMW. After a few years’ break, relations were resumed in 1945. The Bristol Aeroplane Company wanted to evolve and change. Like many other aircraft manufacturers, such as Saab, the brand saw an opportunity to enter the automotive market. Bristol therefore used the chassis and technology of the BMW 327, which is why the front grille features the two well-known beans!
The bodywork aerodynamics were pretty good, as the engineers who signed off the 401 had a long experience in aircraft design. The company’s aeronautical arm financially supported the car division for two decades, enabling it to establish a reputation for high quality and an uncompromising technical approach – exactly as it is in the aeronautical industry. In 1960, the aircraft manufacturer merged with other companies to form the British Aircraft Corporation. At this point, the financing of the automotive part of the business came to an end. George White joined forces with Anthony Crook, a former pilot and sports car dealer, to take over the Bristol Car Company on a 60/40 basis. In 1973, White was involved in a serious accident while driving his Bristol and Crook bought out his shares. He continued to run the brand at arm’s length, with a small ‘factory’ in Filton and a single outlet in London’s Kensington district…
For 50 years, the brand appealed to wealthy eccentrics with a passion for technology and a desire for exclusivity. Age caught up with him and Crook sold a 50% stake to Toby Silverton in the early 2000s. In 2004, the brand introduced the Fighter, a coupe powered by a Viper V10 engine. Three years later, at the age of 87, Tony Crook sold the rest of his shares to Silverton. The company survived for another 4 years before going bankrupt in 2011.
Kamkorp Holdings, which already owned Frazer Nash Research, quickly took over the company and announced the launch of a new Bristol, the Bullet. This one, in fact a re-bodied Morgan Aero 8, would never become reality. In the end, in 2020, Kamkorp and Frazer Nash got bankrupt too and everything that belonged to Bristol Cars was sold. In Great Britain nothing is done like everywhere else… Both the Bristol Owners Club and the Bristol Owners Heritage Trust acquired the bodywork masters, the tools, the plans… thanks to « generous patrons »!
2020: a new beginning
Jason Wharton enters the picture: he wants to relaunch the brand, to make Bristol a full-fledged manufacturer again, after decades on the verge of perpetual bankruptcy. Like Aston Martin, which recently relaunched the production of the « James Bond » DB5 or Jaguar, Bristol intends to make a comeback with « continuation cars ».
Three limited series of eight cars will be offered: the 411 Series 8, an evolution of the Series 6, the Fighter and the Speedster. This production is now possible, as the brand owner has been able to acquire both the intellectual property of the designs and the tools to build the cars. The cars will be powered by a Chrysler 6.4-litre V8 engine, coupled to an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission.
The chassis, interior and electrical architecture will be updated to meet the expectations of today’s customers. In fact, the new Bristols will be a balance between modern technology and classic design. A prototype is expected to undergo various tests towards the end of the summer and deliveries to customers will be spread over 2022 and 2023. Prices start at £495,000 and the order book is open.
These will normally be the brand’s last cars with combustion engines: Bristol plans to release an electric model in 2025, the Buccaneer. The brand wants to be a leader in electric vehicles for its 80th anniversary in 2026. Wait and see… (Text: Dimitri Urbain)