Very Rare 1954 Bristol 403 Emerges After 51 Years in Storage

1954 Bristol 403 garage find 10 photos
Photo: The Late Brake Show/YouTube
1954 Bristol 403 garage find1954 Bristol 403 garage find1954 Bristol 403 garage find1954 Bristol 403 garage find1954 Bristol 403 garage find1954 Bristol 403 garage find1954 Bristol 403 garage find1954 Bristol 403 garage find1954 Bristol 403 garage find
When discussing iconic British carmakers, we usually think about Jaguar, Aston Martin, Bentley, and Rolls-Royce. There's also Land Rover when it comes to off-road capable SUVs. But there are quite a few once-great marques that we rarely mention. I'm talking about the likes of Triumph, Wolseley, and Bristol.
While Wolseley went belly-up in 1975, Triumph soldiered on until 2004. A much smaller company, Bristol kept building cars until the 2010s and even announced plans to enter the EV market, but its endeavor was cut short by financial problems in 2020. Come 2023, the company's future is uncertain, but Bristol left a few cool and rare classics behind.

I'm talking, of course, about the Type 4XX series, which started with the 400 in 1946 and ended with the 412 in 1993. The former was, in fact, heavily inspired by the pre-WW2 BMW 327, but Bristol switched to a more unique design in the early 1950s. Built from 1953 to 1955, the 403 was the last Bristol to feature a BMW-style grille. It was widely regarded as one of the most aerodynamic cars of its era.

Like most Bristols from the era, it drew juice from a modified and modernized version of BMW's straight-six engine. Sporting bigger valves and larger main bearings than its 402 predecessor, the 2.0-liter inline-six sent 100 horsepower to the rear wheels. And that was enough to push the sports car from 0 to 60 mph (97 kph) in 13.4 seconds and toward a top speed of 104 mph (167 kph). Not amazingly fast for the era, but we must remember that the 403 was more of a luxury coupe than a sports car.

All Bristols were low-volume cars, and the 403 was no exception. While production lasted two years, the British firm sold only 287 units. And that's mostly because they were considered outrageously expensive back then, outpriced only by vehicles from Rolls-Royce, Bentley, and Lagonda.

Naturally, the low production number makes the Bristol 403 a rare gem today. It's unclear how many of these cars are still around, but most experts agree that fewer than 200 survived. And probably less than 20 are still on the road. The example you see here is one of the lucky ones that soldiered on for 70 years, but, unfortunately, it did so by spending more than five decades in a garage. Specifically, this 403 was parked in 1972 and neglected ever since.

Documented and brought into the list by YouTube's "The Late Brake Show," the 403 doesn't look as bad as you'd think after 51 years off the road. But that's mainly because the body is made of aluminum, so there's no rust to worry about on the surface. It's not all good news, though. The inline-six engine was removed from the car in the 1970s, and it needs a complete rebuild to become usable again.

The interior is obviously in rough shape overall, but surprisingly enough, most of the leather and the headliner are still in good condition. More importantly, the cabin is complete. The same goes for the engine, with its parts scattered around the garage. All told, this Bristol comes with everything it needs for a rotisserie restoration. But will it get one?

Well, the owner has recently restored a BMW 3 Series E30, and we could say he has some experience in that direction. But apparently, he's planning on doing a more sympathetic refresh once he gets the six-cylinder mill rebuilt and running. And that's excellent news for one of the rarest British cars out there. Until that happens, watch it coming out of storage after more than 50 years in the video below.

If you liked the article, please follow us:  Google News icon Google News Youtube Instagram
About the author: Ciprian Florea
Ciprian Florea profile photo

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.
Full profile


Would you like AUTOEVOLUTION to send you notifications?

You will only receive our top stories