Type 400

Chassis no. 1

The 400 was produced primarily as a two door saloon car. There is no need to delve too deeply into the history of the development because that has been more than well covered in print, especially in Leonard Setright's book "Bristol Cars and Engines" and more recently by Denis Jenkinson in his book "From Chain Gang to Turbocharger". A little background will help. The car was a development of the Pre-War BMW 326 chassis, the BMW 327 body and the BMW 328 engine, taking the best elements of all three and then improving them further. Originally it was intended to be marketed under the name Frazer Nash-Bristol. Arising from a joint venture between the Bristol Aeroplane Co. Ltd and AFN Ltd. This linkage was not to stand the test of time and so the saloons by then identified within the company as the 'type 400/85' were temporarily named 'Bristol', later to be advertised as the 'Bristol 2 Litre', whilst the open bodied two seat sports cars under development were to be named Frazer Nash. The project type number used, after the Aeroplane Company and BMW fashion, was logical in sequence, probably due to the involvement of Fritz Fiedler whom HJ Aldington brought over from Germany. This was authorised as part of war reparation, to assist in the development of the concept. Fiedler had been chief designer at BMW from 1932, directly involved with the above mentioned 300 series BMW cars. This probably explains why after his return to his old post in Germany, the next post war BMW emerged in 1952, designated as the type 501, start of the 500 series. Fiedler was Chairman of BMW-AG, ca.55/56. In its day the 'Bristol 400', as it has come to be known, stood out from the majority of the home based products for its smooth lines and respectable performance. Though this model was never intended to appeal only to the sporting car clique, the saloons were used in many sporting events with great success. The international events contested have included the Monte Carlo Rally, Mille Miglia, Targa Florio in Sicily and the Polish International Rally. The most noteworthy teams consisted of Aldington/Lurani, Lurani/Cortese, and Treybal/Dobry. Aldington also rallied with others, e.g. at least once with Eric Storey its his co-pilot. These few flew the flag on the international events from 1948 to 1950. Though there were many other worthies contesting other Types and Bristol engined racers in competitive events, of note amongst these are Tony Crook our Club Patron, and Bill Banks of 'Koni' Shock Absorbers; both are Honorary Club Members. A Bristol 400 competed and finished in the Argentinian "1000 Milias" road race in 1990. More recently a 400 has taken part in the recreated Mille Miglia and though placed down the field against much later equipment, it proved that there's life there yet! All 400s of course are now Mille Miglia eligible.

The Beginning

The first engine was produced for the consortium as had been promised by George White, in May 1946. It was installed in Reginald Verdon-Smith's BMW 327 coupé for testing. Shortly thereafter a small number of body parts kits were made, reputedly seven originally. From these two test chassis and four prototype cars were built, the remaining kit being kept as parts for the other six. Two of these completed cars were saloons and two were Bristol dropheads. Three of these four cars survive and all are owned by members. One of the prototype saloons was to he displayed on the stand taken at the Geneva Salon in 1948, of which more later.

General Specification

Paint Colours

I am often asked what were the official colours available from the factory. Taken from the brochure the standard coach colours as described were: black, maroon, metallic blue, metallic green. Not a vast standard choice but remember this was postwar. Rationing was still in place. Other colours seem to have been applied later at customer request. The remaining prototype saloon is pale blue.

Body Styles

Generally speaking there were only two production body styles of saloon cars which I have called “series” for ease of description, unlike the Bristol Aeroplane Company. The main variations in the production runs were not advertised as a change of series and the bodies were not marked to identify a series. Indeed the body shells were mated with the chassis on the production line in quite a random manner, borne out by the disposition of the numbers with which they were both marked as you will see. Standard saloons apart, a small number of important specials were also commissioned. Some are described later.

How to recognize the first series

series 1 boot lid series 2 boot lid
First type of boot lid (series 1) Second type of boot lid (series 2)

How to recognize the second series

400 Special or Non Standard Body cars

400 Farina

Two drophead cars plated as 400s have now been positively identified as manufactured by Farina in Turin. The chassis numbers are 102, and now 181. This additional car, plus sightings of two others described later and the confirmed examples on 401 chassis in the early 200 sequence of 401 chassis numbers, is further confirmation of the reported production by Farina of a batch of more than 6 cars. The two identified here were built circa 1947-8 by Signor Pinin Farina's then newly formed company Carrozzeria Pinin Farina S.A. which he set up on his own, breaking away from the brothers Atilio and Gino. These two ran the pre-war company of the same name, S.A. Stabilimenti Farina.

In later years it has come to be known as ‘PininFarina’, a company which has established itself in the field of auto styling and has become the more famous of the two Turin based companies, which have been called by Autocar, “Farina the Elder” and “Farina the Younger”.

Above, picture taken at the Farina factory reproduced by kind permission of the AFN archivist, shows HJ Aldington, Managing Director of the BAC/AFN joint venture (Frazer Nash Bristol) from roughly July 1945 to April 1947, visiting the Farina factory site ca. 1947 with the body buck of the 400 Farina drophead prototype mounted on a driven Bristol 400 chassis, alongside an unidentified Frazer Nash Cabriolet and, on the far right, one of the Bristol 2 litre prototype dropheads — on this occasion, HJ's transport.

Aldington had sponsored orders to both Touring and Farina and took a close interest in the development from the earliest stages. The first Farina mounted on a 400 chassis was to become HJ's own car, and there is evidence that it was also fitted with the first Bristol made FNS engine. The car was later rallied by HJ in the company of Eric Storey (christened one of the “hacksaw twins”). Eric sadly died in 1993, and what a fund of knowledge of the early days he took with him! He always referred to the Farina cars as the “special bodied 400s”, and told me that he thought there were about a dozen, of which six were dispatched abroad. The most recent sighting of a car apparently not listed by the Club was in the Isle of Man. The owner turned out to be an ex Bristol agent. He admitted to ownership of two such cars until recent years. Nine are now listed. As I have not yet obtained all of the chassis frame numbers, the newly listed cars could clearly have been plated as 400 or 401 chassis frames. Three additional Farinas possibly on 400 chassis have been reported, but their chassis numbers have not yet been identified. Some might of course be mounted on later chassis, for there is little difference between the 400 chassis and the 401 chassis if provided to take another body; hence the uncertainty.

400 Farina body buck at the factory

More pictures taken at the Farina factory of the 400 Farina body buck.

400 Farina body buck at the factory

(Show and Farina Factory photographs are reproduced by permission of Denis Jenkinson on behalf of AFN Archives.)

Farina Cabriolet

This had horizontal not vertical bars in the radiator grille. The grille identifies yet another 400 Farina not previously described by this club's registrars.

400 Estate car

One car, a driven chassis number 151, was purchased and then shipped out to be modified in Herefordshire, perhaps by Westland of Hereford. Made to the pre-war USA "Woody" fashion copied in the late forties and early fifties by British coachbuilders using in this example external timber framing and timber infill side panels, it is fitted with two doors on each side, which are hinged fore and aft about the central pillar. This was therefore the first four door car built upon a Bristol chassis.

the Hyde special

A raised aluminium, not steel, roof line continues from the front windscreen to the back of a relocated rear seat, whence it drops in two compound elliptical steps, finally to follow the rear wing curvature. Notably the rear body has inset another example of the ubiquitous top hung boot lid complete with series 2 style recessed wheel and wheel case, all set below a larger than normal fixed rear window. The lid is fastened uniquely on this car, by means of twin latches operated from T-handles. A boot compartment created is below the rear seat. All doors feature wind down windows, making it the first registered Bristol to have this refinement. The front windscreen is a split two pane unit mounted more vertically than normal. Rear quarter lights can be opened. Front seats are handed unlike the normal 400 units. The rear seat position has been raised and moved back to increase rear seat leg room; it was also redesigned with central armrest position.

Rear of Hyde Special

Interesting that it has been found to be originally fitted with the single carb. type 85 engine. The car had been previously reported wrecked [as stated in issue 1.10], but as you can see it has been rediscovered, having been salvaged, almost at its last gasp, from a London scrapyard and then subsequently hidden away for about ten years. It now requires a major refurbishment to return it to its original condition. Still painted maroon, it also has vestiges of its original and probably unique maroon cloth headlining. Most had grey wool cloth.

It was reportedly built to evade purchase tax levied on private cars and not applied to commercial vehicles. After a trip to the appropriate government department it was deemed to have passed the test, thereafter being described in its original documentation, first as a ‘400 Estate’, then later as a ‘400 Utility’, never as a ‘Shooting Brake’ or ‘Brake’. Most of the above mentioned descriptions would not be acceptable today as there are no rear doors, but in the late forties the term ‘Estate Car’ was accepted as the definition of a vehicle used to convey personnel about country property. In order to achieve that it did not need to have doors at the rear and so qualified for the classification. It was indeed destined for that use and so effectively sidestepped the additional tax. A ministry door was therefore confirmed open enough to allow others to produce similar tax exempted classes of private vehicles, which they duly did. The tax definition has since been revised and now generally applies to vehicles with more than a certain number of seats provided. I may be wrong but think the current figure is nine. Evidence: the ten seat Land Rover Countryman is treated as a commercial vehicle.

Langenthal

T&CC reported a 400 cabriolet body by Langenthal of Switzerland. Thanks to Denis Jenkinson we now have pictorial evidence that the pale coloured car previously pictured as an artist's impression in Thoroughbred and Classic Cars magazine of April 1990 was revealed on the combined Frazer Nash and Bristol, Geneva Salon stand in 1948. Looking similar to the Touring body style it features more substantial additional horizontal front grilles between its front quarter bumpers which are spaced further apart vertically than the Touring saloon. The central split radiator grille is very similar to the Touring and Farina versions. It has round auxiliary lamps like the Touring prototypes and not horizontal as the Farinas. Unlike the Farina dropheads and Touring saloons it sported a flat one piece windscreen. Appearance alone would sway one to say that this is an example of a Touring drophead. for it has a chromium trim along the edge of the bonnet lid identical to that on the Touring saloons. It is described in Jenks's book, From Chain Drive to Turbocharger, as a Bristol cabriolet. Is it possible that HJ Aldington had asked for a third stylist to produce a single car? I doubt that. If it still exists, it could be that it is still in Switzerland. Will we ever know if it is by Langenthal, or is the Langenthal no more than a ‘Touring drophead’?

Van den Plas

This drophead, which was illustrated in a magazine in January 1950, is also to be seen in the Club reprint 401/11, a collage of special bodied cars put together by a previous Club Archivist, Christopher Balfour. A further mention is made in Denis Jenkinson's book, From Chain Gang to Turbocharger – The AFN Story. Denis refers in passing to an André Pilette who wished to body the Bristol chassis in Belgium. Pilette may have had this particular car bodied by Van den Plas? He may have built it himself? Contemporary magazine text states that it was designed by a Belgian engineer called P. d'Haveloose. It was illustrated in the last edition of these chassis lists in graphic form. Alas no decent pictures have yet come my way. Originally revealed at the Brussels Motor Show 1949, when it was described as painted Green with Cream wheels, the interior trim was not stated and its colour is not known. The coachwork featured raised creases in the wings, running the full length of the car. The one piece bonnet also has a raised crease, which would also stiffen the panel. Air exhaust grilles are fitted in the top rear flanks of the front wings, just in front of the door pillars. The two doors have no external handles. A tubular form of chromed steel bumper bar, split at the front to accommodate the number plate, but linked by a smaller badge type bar below that level. Tubular bumpers are fitted at the rear but there were no pictures of the form. Recessed headlights were fitted faired into the hody at the front. It is worth mentioning that the similarity to the Volkswagen Beetle might be accounted in part by the fact that Monsieur d'Haveloose was reported to be a friend of Dr Porsche, the designer of said car. The car bears the Bristol badges above a 400 style grille, and also on the hubcaps. Naturally the car is configured to left hand drive.

Touring

Right and Left hand drive versions of the Bristol 'Superlegerra' Touring saloon. Prototypes of the 401 Touring.

Frazer Nash-Bristol ‘Spyder’

A two seat sports car by Touring of Milan, this had cream painted coachwork and green trim. This one off styling exercise had been finished at Isleworth by AFN was later sold to the Shah of Iran. The Spyder was on an AFN chassis 421/E2 but it was fitted with a Bristol engine numbered 1056.

400 ZAGATO

At least three original saloon cars it is confirmed were rebodied by Anthony Crook with Zagato bodies as fixed head coupés. I have had reports of up to six. The chassis numbers so far identified are 186, 190 and 412. Looking not unlike the AC Greyhound from the front, these cars were all sold through Anthony Crook Motors Ltd, not the Bristol Aeroplane Company Ltd. Two are owned by current members, the third by an ex club member. Chassis 190 is currently being totally restored in the UK having been recovered in a poor state in Ireland. Chassis 412 is in Australia.

400 Zagato

Others

Geneva Salon 1948

The Frazer Nash and Bristol display. From the date of the show which was early in 1948, clearly all of the new cars presented were already manufactured or or must have been under manufacture in 1947. Logically the Bristol sponsored units must therefore have been constructed on 400 not 401 chassis. This would appear to explain why the the bulk of this group were called “the special bodied 400s” by Eric Storey and his compatriots on the factory floor.

HJ Aldington had resigned as managing director in 1947 and the Frazer Nash – Bristol consortium had been dissolved with agreement to continue beneficial trading, eventually to be designated as the Car Division of the Bristol Aeroplane Co. and AFN Ltd. It seems likely that as the Geneva accommodation would have been booked some time in advance, a decision was taken to proceed and share the facility: hence the two separate banners above the shared stand. As has been stated, HJ Aldington was personally involved in the disposition of orders and progress of most of the cars on display in 1948, and was photographed at the Touring and Farina establishments during the construction period of the cars bodied by these design houses. The pictures found in the AFN archives illustrating these cars and the Bristol company display at the salon, are reproduced here by kind permission of the AFN archivist. See also 400 Farina and 401 Touring.

Another view of the show stand at Geneva, left to right are AFN Spyder with Bristol engine, behind a 400 prototype saloon, 400 Farina with horizontal bars in grille, behind Touring saloon on 400 chassis, at back hiding behind pillar the Langenthal or a drophead Touring, finally another Touring saloon on a 400 chassis.