Very Rare 1963 Bristol 408 Emerges After 40 Years in a Barn, Chrysler V8 Fires Up

1963 Bristol 408 11 photos
Photo: The Late Brake Show/YouTube
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When talking about rare barn finds, we usually think about Ferraris, Bugattis, and muscle cars from the golden era. But the list extends well beyond these types of classics, especially in the UK, which is home to a long list of hand-made sports cars that are hard to find. Today I'm talking about Bristol Cars.
Established by the Bristol Aeroplane Company at the end of World War II, Bristol Cars purchased Frazer Nash and the rights to manufacture three BMW models and the firm's M328 inline-six engine. The company eventually started making its own designs and engines, moving into the luxury sports car market. The 1960s marked yet another shift for Bristol, which adopted Chrysler V8 engines.

The first car with Mopar power arrived in 1961 as the 407. It was replaced by the 408 in 1963 and then by the 409 in 1965. The lineage continued with the 410 (1967), 411 (1969), and the 412 (1975). The latter remained in production all the way until 1993. Bristol continued using Chrysler V8 powerplants until it was placed into administration due to financial troubles in 2011. The 603 was the last car to use the old A-type engine.

While these V8-powered Bristols aren't particularly famous outside the UK, they're pretty rare. That's because they were quite expensive at the time. The first V8 car, the 407, moved only 88 units from 1961 to 1963. Its successor, the 408, sold only 83 units, while the 409 found just 74 customers. Finally, the 410 left the assembly line in 82 examples.

The barn-kept 408 you see here is one of the rarest Bristols out there in terms of survivors. Because while the British company made 83 cars from 1963 to 1966, only ten are thought to still exist. And this one is that much more spectacular because it's an original survivor save for a repaint it got in the 1990s. And it also spent a whopping 40 years in storage.

How does a rare and historically significant classic like this end up neglected for so long? Well, the owner parked when life became too busy raising kids. He planned to get it out on the road again once the children reached a certain age, but he eventually chose to enjoy newer cars. Come 2023, he finally decided to give it a makeover and called in the folks at "The Late Brake Show" for a helping hand.

Fortunately enough, the Bristol is still in good condition. Sure, it's dusty, and the paint is no longer perfect, but it sure looks like it will clean up nicely. The color combo is also quite classy, thanks to a maroon center section "sandwiched" between black lower body panels and roof. The light-colored interior is in even better condition, with most of the leather upholstery and the wood trim still intact.

Our host had difficulty getting the V8 running again, but the 60-year-old Chrysler powerplant eventually agreed to fire up and run. Yes, this 408 is not yet ready to hit the road, but it's a solid collectible that should become road-worthy with only a bit of work. And that's tremendous news for a car that's been sitting for 40 years.

So what kind of V8 does it have under the hood, and what kind of performance it delivers? Well, the 408 was produced when Bristol used a 313-cubic-inch (5.1-liter) powerplant. Part of the Chrysler A engine family, it's a small-block V8 with polyspherical combustion chambers. Introduced in late 1954 as a 277-cubic-inch (4.5-liter) mill, it grew slightly bigger over the years.

The 313 version arrived in 1957 and was first used in the Canadian-spec Dodge Custom Royal and the Australian-built Chrysler Royal. It also found its way into a long list of Canadian-market Dodge and Plymouth models before Bristol commissioned it for the 407 in 1961. The 408 used the 313 for only a few years, with Bristol dropping the bigger 318-cubic-inch (5.2-liter) powerplant in the Mark II version in 1965.

Fitted with a four-barrel carburetor and a push-button gearbox, the 313 delivered 250 horsepower and 340 pound-feet (461 Nm) of torque in the Bristol 408 when new. The company advertised the sports saloon with a top speed of over 122 mph (196 kph) and a 0 to 80 mph (129 kph) sprint of 16.2 seconds.

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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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