History of Bristol Cars | Bristol Owners' Club
Bristol cars: A brief history of the marque

The Bristol car has always possessed an enviable reputation for superb design and top-quality materials, regardless of production costs.

This philosophy originated in the manufacture of aircraft and aero engines, for which the original company was founded in 1910. From 1920, it was known as the Bristol Aeroplane Company.

Car production began in 1946, leading to the creation of Bristol Cars Limited in 1960 – and thereafter the official formation of our club in 1964.

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During two World Wars the firm produced large numbers of successful aircraft including the Brisfit (short for Bristol Fighter). The Bristol Blenheim (shown left) was introduced to Royal Air Force service in 1937, and its younger sister by just one year, the Bristol Beaufighter, was introduced to RAF service in 1938.

The Type 400 2 litre saloon was soon joined by the 401, from which in turn was derived the 402 Drophead Coupé and the 403 saloon. Of these, the 400 was a 4 seat saloon, while the 401 and 403 were 5-seaters.

All later production Bristols were to be fitted with Chrysler V8 engines of various capacities from 5,130cc upwards, together with the Torqueflite automatic gearbox. Over the past half century, production has not been huge. Small as it is, the company has survived because it fills a niche for those connoisseurs who value a superb car above mere price.

So much for the standard production models. It is often forgotten however, that this company also produced the Type 450 road race car. These models competed as Factory Team Cars in the successive years of 1953, 1954 and 1955 at Le Mans in the 24 hour race and also at Rheims in the 12 hour road race. The body style was a closed coupé in 1953/54 and an open two seater in 1955.

Also in November 1999, news was released of a new car – the Bristol Project ‘Fighter’. The Fighter is the first Bristol 2 seater for more than 40 years and built as a totally engineering inspired design. It promised neutral aerodynamic effect and a top speed calculated to be in excess of 200 mph – this achieved via either a 6-speed manual (another first for nigh on 40 years of Bristol production) or 4-speed automatic transmission (never offered before).