1955 Bristol 405
The Bristol Car Company has a rich and fascinating history. Its origins date back to the Bristol Aeroplane Company (formerly The British and Colonial Aeroplane Company) that was founded in February 1910 by Sir George White, chairman of the Bristol Tramways and Carriage Company, along with his son Stanley and his brother Samuel, to commercially exploit the fast-growing aviation sector. The Bristol Aeroplane Company developed into a British industrial powerhouse and they built some of the world’s most technologically advanced aeroplanes. Some of the most well-known and successful aircraft built by Bristol were the Bristol F2 Fighter (used during World War I), the Bristol Bulldog and the Bristol Beaufighter (used during World War II).
Following the First World War the British aircraft industry suffered a dramatic downturn and subsequently significant financial challenges. In an endeavour to keep its workforce employed the Bristol Aeroplane Company undertook the manufacture of a light car, the single seat Bristol Monocar which was powered by a motorcycle engine, the construction of car bodies for Armstrong Siddeley and bus bodies for their sister company, Bristol Tramways. The company survived, but times were tough.
Aircraft manufacturing ramped up again with the outbreak of the Second World War, however, management had learned that they must plan for the future. It is understood that discussions started as early as 1941 to establish a post war car manufacturing division. Bristol began working with AFN Ltd, makers of Frazer Nash cars and British importer of BMWs before the war, on plans for a joint venture in automotive manufacturing. What ultimately eventuated was that the Bristol Aeroplane Company took over AFN Ltd and established its car manufacturing division, Bristol Cars. A purpose built factory was constructed at Filton Aerodrome, near Bristol.
The first Bristol was designated the 400 and not surprisingly given the Frazer Nash and BMW connection it was based on a BMW 326 chassis with BMW 327 styling. The engine, whilst built by Bristol, was also based on a BMW 327. The first prototypes were built in late 1946, however, the car was formally introduced at the 1947 Geneva Motor Show. The car was a great success for Bristol and almost 500 examples were built through until 1950. This included 17 Drophead Coupes with coachwork by Pininfarina. In 1949 Bristol introduced the 401, which was designed and bodied by Touring of Milan in Italy. The new model was aerodynamically sleeker and featured ‘superleggera’ construction with an aluminium body over a steel frame. As a result the car weighed significantly less and its performance was greatly enhanced. Bristol was gaining a reputation for building technologically advanced motor cars that were luxurious, very reliable and offered genuinely exciting performance on the road. Their cars were not cheap and as a result they remained somewhat exclusive. Buyers of new Bristols back in the day were typically wealthy businessman who wanted a car to stand out in a crowd. They also wanted a car they could drive and enjoy and many Bristols were used for hill climbs and weekend motor racing.
Bristol developed the 450 specifically for motor racing and it made its debut at the 1953 Le Mans 24 hour race. Two cars were entered in the race, however, they both retired with engine failures after about 10 hours. Bristol returned to Le Mans in 1954 and entered three cars, with uprated engines and improved aerodynamic bodywork. In contrast with the previous year all three cars finished the race, coming home in first, second and third place in their class and seventh, eighth and ninth overall. Their performance also earned Bristol the team prize. Bristol returned to Le Mans again in 1955 and again performed exceptionally well achieving the same results as in 1954. The race became famous for the wrong reason when a major accident resulted in debris flying into the crowd killing 83 people and injuring many more. Following this race a number of manufacturers, including Bristol, retired from motor racing indefinitely.
Subsequent road cars included the 403 (1953-1955, 287 cars built), which was a further development of its predecessors, the 404 (1953-1958, 52 cars built), the 405 (1953-1958, 308 cars built and the 406 (1958-1961, 174 cars built).
Bristol Cars was sold after its parent company joined with other British aircraft companies in 1960 to create the British Aircraft Corporation (BAC), which later became part of British Aerospace.
In 1953 Bristol introduced the two door 404 and four door 405. For these models Bristol abandoned the BMW style radiator grille for a style that reflected its aviation heritage. A unique design feature of the 404 and 405 is the sizable lockers in the front wings accessed externally by gullwing doors. On a right hand drive car, the locker on the driver’s side held the spare wheel and jack, whilst that on the passenger’s side housed the battery and fuse panel. These cars also had upgraded engine performance, an improved gearbox with a short gear lever and front disc brakes as an option.
Oldtimer Australia is delighted to offer for sale a 1955 Bristol 405 Sports Saloon.
The original build sheet on file confirms that this car was ordered on the 01/10/54 by Parrs (Leicestershire) Limited from Abbey Lane in Leicestershire in the UK as a demonstrator. The estimated date of despatch was noted as 18/02/55. The original colour scheme is noted as ‘chinese ivory’ with black upholstery and gold wheels. The car was originally registered as MJF2. The factory Car Service Record on file notes a disc brake conversion on the 16/10/58 at 15,847 miles.
There is also a document on file summarising its history. The car’s first owner was Frank Newton Bott from Linwood just outside Glasgow in Scotland. Bott immigrated to Australia in the 1960s, bringing the car with him. He moved to Perth in Western Australia and the car was registered as URN 640. Bott sold the car in September 1968 to Reg Blewett who also lived in Perth. Over the next 35 years, the car changed hands a few times, initially staying in Perth then moving east to Melbourne and later Bendigo.
The car’s current owner, who is very well known in the Bristol community in Australia, purchased it in 2003 from Colin Kennedy in Bendigo. This Bristol 405 was a little tired when he purchased it and in 2008 he had the body stripped to bare metal and repainted in its current colour scheme of navy blue with a silver roof. There are some photos on file of this work. The body was found to be very good, apart from some corrosion around the front indicators. Some woodwork was replaced around the rear window. This and a few other imperfections were expertly repaired by a gentleman at the Caboolture airport, where he was restoring vintage aeroplanes. The panel gaps are generally very good for a hand built car.
The current owner is ‘a driver and not a polisher’, so therefore his cars get used! Today this car presents very well, but it is not a show car. The paint is in good condition as is all of the external trim. Unfortunately, someone has reversed into the car and hit it with what looks to be a tow ball. There is a slight dent in the front bumper which has also pushed back and caused minor damage to the body. The damage is not obvious, but it is there. The wheels are in good condition and shod with (older) Falken 175/80R16 tyres all round.
The interior was retrimmed back in 2008 and it still presents nicely today. There are no rips or tears to the upholstery and even the carpets are in good condition. The timberwork is also in good condition, but it would benefit from a sand and polish. There looks to have been large speakers previously mounted on the rear parcel shelf which have left some marks. The rear quarter windows are both missing their latches.
The engine was rebuilt back in 2008 and the car would have travelled less than 10,000 miles since then. The car runs and drives exceptionally well and anyone in the know appreciates that the engine and gearbox are both a feature on these early Bristols! This car has a wonderful exhaust note and the engine sounds ‘just fabulous’. These cars were well ahead of their time and this example proves just that. It’s hard to believe that this is a 65 year old car!
Whilst the driving position is ‘typically 1950’s British’, you do feel comfortable behind the wheel. The steering wheel itself is quite large in diameter. It is similar to a period Aston Martin and designed to give the driver the ability to easily manoeuvre the car whilst driving with some gusto! Out on the open road this car performs exceptionally well. Its current owner has driven it to rallies right across the country where it has always performed with aplomb. The car has factory overdrive which makes it a comfortable cruiser at motorway speed. Did we mention the engine and gearbox . . . fantastic!
The documentation on file notes that the car has had an engine change very early in its life, possibly before being sold to its first owner. The engine in the car is the correct engine type, with the suffix 100B.
Today the odometer reads circa 87,500 miles.
Accompanying the car is the original build sheet, some Bristol historical documents & club records of ownership, restoration photos from 2008, a spare wheel/tyre and jack.
The following quote from British Autocar magazine (8th October 1954) sums up the Bristol 405 very well “ . . . . a close examination of both the mechanical components and the bodywork indicates that the manufacturers of this streamlined sports saloon are out to produce a vehicle that is as good as the best”.
- A rare and exclusive 1950’s British classic.
- 1 of only 308 examples built.
- Well presented in a colour scheme that perfectly suits the car.
- Mechanically sorted and ready to use.
- Bristol 405
- 87,500 miles