The 1956 Arnolt-Bristol Is a Rare Bertone-Designed Sports Car With British Bones

1956 Arnolt-Bristol Deluxe 10 photos
Photo: Lou Costabile/YouTube
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The 1950s was a great era for car manufacturing, especially in the US. The industry grew at a never-before-seen pace, and companies introduced many innovations. Automatic transmissions and power windows became widespread, while the overhead valve V8 took over across almost all segments.
The "Big Three" built some of the most outlandish concept cars during that era. At the same time, Hudson and Nash-Kelvinator formed American Motors Corporation (AMC) in the largest merger in US history. Almost 58 million cars were produced during the decade, which turned the US into an economic superpower.

But it wasn't only about big corporations. Many independent automakers were still going strong, while smaller ventures were still popping up to fill market gaps, particularly in the sports car segment. S.H. Arnolt Inc. of Chicago, Illinois, was one of them. Established by industrialist Stanley H. "Wacky" Arnolt, the company imported foreign cars to the US from 1953 to 1959.

Arnolt's venture began in 1952 after an unexpected meeting with Nuccio Bertone at the 1952 Turin Auto Show. The collaboration spawned a series of custom cars with British chassis and engines, and bodies penned by the Italian coachbuilding company.

It started with the Arnolt-GM, based on the MG TD, but "Wacky" also commissioned a Bertone-bodied Aston Martin DB2/4. The latter was canceled after only three cars due to a cease-and-desist order from the British carmaker. Arnolt also had a Bentley Continental R Type re-bodied as a personal car. Finally, he imported a series of sports cars based on Bristol 404 vehicles.

The Arnolt-Bristol was born following MG's inability to provide 200 TD chassis for the Arnolt-MG. "Wacky" signed an agreement with Bristol to have 404-series chassis with inline-six engines sent to Bertone, which then added the bodies and shipped them across the Atlantic.

Penned by Franco Scaglione, who later became famous for the Alfa Romeo B.A.T. concept cars, the Arnolt-Bristol had a somewhat unusual appearance due to the design solution adopted to overcome the tall Bristol engine. To draw the eye's attention away from the unusually high peak in the hood, Scaglione incorporated a central scoop and designed sharply creased fender lines over the wheels.

Coupled with the large headlamps mounted in the center of the front fascia, these features made the roadster look more like a race car than a road car. And this fit perfectly into Arnolt's plans, who created a racing team for the 1955 12 Hours of Sebring. Despite stiff competition from established automakers, the Arnolt cars finished first, second, and fourth in their class, winning the Team Trophy. The lightweight roadster finished second and third in 1957 and returned for a 1-2-3 in 1960.

Despite its success at the track, the Arnolt-Bristol did not sell well. While Arnolt ended production in 1959, some examples remained unsold beyond 1960, with the final Bristol delivered in 1968. Arnolt made 142 cars and sold 130, with 12 lost in a warehouse fire. Come 2023, more than 80 examples are known to exist in conditions that vary from needing restoration to Concours-ready.

The silver 1956 unit you see here is one of the lucky ones that still look like new, thanks to a complete refresh. Currently residing in the Saratoga Automotive Museum, it retains the original 2.0-liter inline-six mill with three carburetors and is fully prepared to drive and attend car shows.

It's not a race-spec version because it comes with extras like side windows, a convertible top, and an instrument cluster, which turn it into a Deluxe version. Still, it's eligible for a long list of historical events. And based on the owner's claim that it picks up speed above 4,000 rpm, it's safe to assume that its gearing and setup are very similar to the competition version of the Arnolt-Bristol.

And don't let the fact that these cars aren't particularly famous fool you; some Arnolt-Bristols are quite desirable among 1950s sports car enthusiasts. In 2014, a wonderfully restored example reportedly driven by "Wacky" Arnolt crossed the auction block for a whopping $550,000. Adjusting for inflation, that's more than $700,000 as of 2023.

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About the author: Ciprian Florea
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Ask Ciprian about cars and he'll reveal an obsession with classics and an annoyance with modern design cues. Read his articles and you'll understand why his ideal SUV is the 1969 Chevrolet K5 Blazer.
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