Bristol 401


More than a hint of early BMW styling in that front end.

Car marques that started off building planes. There’s BMW, Saab, Toyota and Bristol. Obviously some have been more successful than others in modern times and Bristol’s not one of them. Bristol produced fighter planes in both World War one and two and launched their first car in 1946. The 401 was built between 1948 to 1953 and was actually the second car the marque produced, built using technology from pre-war BMW’s.

The 401 was powered by a single cam, two litre inline six cylinder that featured hemispherical combustion chambers. The engine was produced by Bristol but borrowed heavily from BMW designs of the time and was also fitted to a number of AC Aces. The two litre six produced anywhere from 70 to 85 hp depending on whether fuel was being delivered by a single Solex carburettor, or triple SU’s and with a relatively small bore and long stroke (66 x 96mm) the two litre delivered peak power at 4500rpm. All 401’s were fitted with four speed manuals and amazingly for the time, rack-and-pinion steering.


All aluminium body helped keep weight to just over 1200kg.

In a 1952 road test by Motor magazine a 401 reached 156km/h and was able to accelerate from a 0-100km/h in about 15 seconds. Despite being almost five metres long and well over a metre and-a-half wide, the 401 only weighed 1250kg thanks to its aluminium construction. The body was styled by Carrozzeria Touring and with the assistance of a wind tunnel, allowed an incredibly low drag coefficient of just 0.36 (the same as a new Jaguar F-Type). The chassis was a common box steel frame and suspension duties were taken care of by transverse leaf springs up front and torsion bars out back on the live axle.


Just 611 401’s were built over the car’s five year life span, but considering they cost over 3500 pounds in 1950 this shouldn’t come as a surprise. A 401 in condition like this blue gem will set you back well over 100,000 dollars, while ones that need ‘attention’ still go for high five figure sums. Surely it’s worth evert cent though. Look at it!


One of 611 Bristol 401’s built.





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