The Bristol brand may be described as - all derogatory meanings aside - a modern freak. Obscure and elitist, elusive but persistent, small but still strangely powerful, the self-proclaimed last wholly-British automobile manufacturer shares little aspects in terms of genesis and growth with other car producers.
Bristol automobiles are the result of a 1945 post war joint venture between the Bristol Aeroplane Company (BAC) and AFN Ltd. , makers of Frazer Nash cars. The end of WWII brought a shortage in aircraft and ammunition demands, forcing lots of factories to shut down or convert their assembly lines in order to cater to new needs. Having been dazed by bombings and unscheduled postponing of pre-war projects, many car producers were slow at making a complete comeback, unwillingly opening niches in the industry.
With a keen eye out for new possibilities to employ the excessive work force acquired during the War, BAC started their own Car Division in collaboration with AFN. The Aldington Brothers, HJ and AD were stripped of the privilege of full leadership of their company, with Reginald Verdon-Smith and George Middleton White joining the Board. Both were sons of BAC directors. HJ Aldington eventually lost his position to Reginald, who was elected Chairman, while he was appointed new Managing director of the company.
At that time, Aldington hadn't yet discarded his British Army epaulets and taking advantage of his military position he paid a visit to the heavily damaged BMW factories from where he 'retrieved' engine blueprints and plans that he would later use to jump-start the Bristol brand. Former BMW engineer Fritz Fiedler was also welcomed aboard Bristol in the process.
Although preparations had been made for the beginning of development and production of Bristol branded models, the two parties went separate ways as a result of unsettling differences. 1947 marked the appearance of the first Bristol automobile, the Bristol 400, a peremptory display of BMW craftsmanship. Mimicking the earlier BMW 327, the car was a blend of 3 different BMW models, with the engine and front suspension taken from the 328 model and rear suspension from the 326. In fact, the Bristol 400 went only inches from the original BMW designs, the 400 having bore the unaltered BMW double-kidney grille.
The British manufacturer continued to find inspiration in BMW models until 1961, when the BMW 6-cylinder engines were replaced by the larger Chrysler V8. The change was not a result of boredom with BMW engineering samples, but rather the consequence of a growing need in bigger engines that could propel heavier cars. Since then, all Bristol cars have been fitted with Chrysler engines, including the latest Blenheim and Fighter.
Although at birth it could have been easily labeled as a copy-cat company, time aided Bristol in adopting a style of its own, with trademarked uniquely hand made aircraft inspired body works and a surprisingly long life. Bought by former racing driver Tony Crook in 1973, the Bristol company became co-owned by Toby Silverton in 1997 who became the sole owner of the company in 2001. The latest Bristol designs, such as the Fighter are much more sportier than the previous, flaunting jet fighter inspired bodies.
Bristol is the only car brand that promotes itself through direct contact with its clients. Its cars are still handmade, taking up to four more times than it takes regular producers to complete an automobile. Having stayed loyal to a treasured set of values, amongst which we can name tradition and true-quality, Bristol managed to avoid any means of advertising. Well almost every means: they have a showroom (the only one) in Kensigton, London.