Looking for a head-turning project car? Check out this ‘garage find’ Bristol 400

by Charles Branch,
26 November 2014 2 min read
Looking for a head-turning project car? Check out this ‘garage find’ Bristol 400
1949 Bristol 400

(Editor’s Note: This is the first of a new monthly series we’re running Silodrome, in which Charles Branch picks out some of the most interesting classic cars going up for auction. This week he takes a look at a 1949 Bristol 400 barn find, which will make a fantastic project for one lucky buyer.)

Some of us are ‘conservationists’ of a different type to the common understanding of that word. Some of us are people who just love time in workshop and garage, who come alive as we strip down a car to its last nut and bolt and begin the process of lovingly putting it back together re-built and restored.

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These are the people who will spend hours getting body panels repaired and ultimately painted so the finish is glass-like and flawless, and the people whose very soul rejoices in bringing a near wreck back from the death of the scrap yard into a new birth for a new era. If you’re one of these hobbyists looking for the right winter project to put your time and energy into then this delightful though slightly worse for wear Bristol might just be what you’re looking for.

It’s a ‘barn find’ (or, more correctly in this case, a ‘garage find’), and it’s one of the more desirable classic cars one could hope for — a 1949 Bristol 400. This is a rare and slightly unusual car that’d make a wonderful restoration project for anyone brave or talented enough to take it on over the winter.

The Bristol 400 was put into production immediately after World War II when the Bristol Aircraft Company decided to diversify their business and move into prestige car production. They acquired a license to produce BMW pre-war models and set about using the best of the BMW technology to create their first motor car — the Bristol 400. Production began in 1947 and ended in 1950 with 480 cars being made; by 2014 only approximately 23 are thought to be still in existence.

Coming from an aircraft company the Bristol 400 has flowing, graceful lines coupled with an inevitable British solidness, all helped along with some teutonic engineering. The engine was advanced for its day: With a hemi-head requiring two pushrods to operate the exhaust valves, the engine capacity of this overhead valve straight six was 1971cc and developed 80 horsepower at 4,500rpm, the gearbox was a four speed with synchromesh on the upper three gears in typical British style and the top speed was over 90mph.

The front suspension of the Bristol 400 was independent whilst the rear was somewhat unusual, consisting of a live axle with a transverse leaf spring augmented by longitudinal torsion bars, which would serve to provide more positive location of the rear axle than is possible with the more common longitudinal leaf spring arrangement.

The Bristol 400 and later Bristol cars featured aircraft build quality and were renowned for their quietness at speed, a factor built-in because of the attention to the aerodynamics of the body. The cars are responsive to drive having light and positive steering with good feel, good brakes and excellent road manners. So this is a car that, once restored, will be a joy to drive and, depending on the quality of the restoration, has the potential to be something of a head-turner at car shows (a restored Bristol 400 won ‘Car of the Show’ at Goodwood in 2012).

This ‘garage find’ will be coming up for auction by Bonhams on 7 December 2014 at the Collectors’ Automobilia and Motor Cars Sale in Oxford, and you can click here to visit the listing.

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  • Hampshire says:

    The description of the 400’s suspension, which was used on all subsequent models until the 407 was introduced in about 1964, is a little misleading: Front suspension – a transverse leaf spring bolted at its centre point in a box (I can’t recall if this was part of the chassis or separate) with shock absorbers. Rear suspension – live axle with longitudinal torsion bars and shockers. The 406 was fitted with a Watts Linkage to improve the axle’s location. My family and I owned a 400, 401 and a 405; all had excellent road holding and handling tho’ the 401 was less nimble than the 400 & the 405 – both sparkled. The last Bristol we had was a 407 with rocket ship acceleration but some of the handling quality I think was lost with the comparatively heavy V8 for which the front transverse leaf spring was replaced by coils to make room. Hope that helps. Those were the days!

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