Why is Bristol leaning back so much

It's all over now, Bristol Cars finally failed

Bristol Cars recently filed for bankruptcy again. It's the end of the British automaker. Because unlike the first bankruptcy nine years ago, there is no restart this time. We therefore look back on the eventful history of the cult manufacturer.

The Bristol Cars story begins after World War II. In Great Britain, too, people and companies are reorienting themselves when the guns finally fall silent. Thanks to lavish armaments orders, the Bristol Aircraft Company has been economically successful years. Now a new strategy is needed. Eventually the need for military aircraft was satisfied.

At the company's headquarters in Filton near Bristol, the plan is maturing to also build cars in order to utilize part of the workforce. The first prototypes are created in our own development department. But as early as June 1945, the management chose an abbreviation. The Bristol Aircraft Company takes over the car manufacturer Frazer-Nash. This gives Bristol access to a license agreement with BMW and know-how from Bavaria.

Pirated copy or licensed product?

After all, Frazer-Nash has been manufacturing the BMW 328 as a licensee in Great Britain since 1934. The BMW 328 is a good basis, after all, the BMW is still considered the best sports car of its era to this day. Bristol builds on this contract and now also uses the 328 as a basis. The German Fritz Fiedler also helps with this. The former BMW employee worked for Bristol in the years after the war and developed the BMW engine into the Bristol.

In 1946, Bristol presented the luxury class vehicle, the Bristol 400 Saloon. Anyone who sees the first Bristol today will recognize the role model. Because the makers of the British were obviously inspired by the BMW 327 with a body from Autenrieth. Was this proceeding in accordance with the treaties signed before the Second World War?

Possibly not, but in the post-war years BMW lacks the means to prosecute a violation of the law. Maybe the story was easier than I thought. Because in its official historiography, Bristol attaches importance to the fact that Bristol Director George White and Frazer Nash boss Harold John Aldington traveled to Munich to obtain approval.

Until 1955, BMW appears to be - evidently - tolerating the Bristol approach. Only after nine years does the typical BMW “kidney” disappear from the front of the Bristol cars. EMW in East Germany, where after the war cars based on pre-war BMW designs are also made, BMW forbids the use of the kidney grille immediately. Regardless of this gray area, Bristol markets its vehicles with confidence from the start.

Bristol is expensive and sporty!

Because on its debut, a Bristol 400 costs £ 1,525 plus tax. A Jaguar Mark IV costs “only” £ 1,263 at the same time. Even the Jaguar is outrageously expensive, but a Bristol is still a bit more expensive. Because at the price of the sports car, its owner could have put almost seven Ford Anglia E04A in the yard. Certainly not a bad car, but as a car for everyone, of course, it is in a completely different class than the sports car.

Its star was the modified BMW engine. The engine is powerful and reliable. With these values, the engine quickly makes a career in motorsport. With a displacement of two liters, the engine fits perfectly into Formula 2 defined in 1947. Below Formula 1, it replaces the pre-war Voiturette class. The six-cylinder engine from Bristol rose to become the standard drive system for British racing car manufacturers practically immediately.

When Formula 1 failed after Alfa Romeo withdrew, the world association FIA announced its 1952 and 1953 world championships for Formula 2 vehicles. Mike Hawthorn drove a Cooper-Bristol behind three Ferraris in the 1952 season in fourth place in the world championship. Mike Hawthorn even secured victory at the Grand Prix in Goodwood (Lavant Cup) and Silverstone (BRDC International Trophy), which were not part of the World Cup.

The production vehicles from Bristol are also sporty. In 1948 the private Bristol 400 owned by Freddie March, the 9th Duke of Richmond, is the first car on the newly built Goodwood Motor Circuit. The company also makes good money supplying its engines to other automakers. The Bristol engine also takes over the propulsion in the AC Ace or the AC Aceca. Lister used the engine in a sports prototype in 1954.

Bristol Cars becomes independent!

In the fall of 1955, the Bristol Aircraft Company spun off the Bristol Cars subsidiary. With this step the mother makes the bride marriageable. Because despite high prices and the additional sale of engines, the car industry hardly makes any profit. In 1960, Bristol merged the subsidiary with Armstrong Siddeley. With Bristol Siddeley Engines, a company is created that sees its focus in engine construction.

At times, the management is even considering phasing out car production. But before the closure there is a management buy-out. Bristol manager George S. M. White (60%) and the Bristol dealer Anthony "Tony" Crook (40%) from London bought the car production and the rights to the brand in September 1960. White is the founder's grandson and has been running the company since the end of World War II. Crook is already trading Bristol cars before buying. Even before the purchase, Crook initiates that Zagato clad some Bristol vehicles.

The former fighter pilot and racing driver knows the brand's customers very well. Together with his partner George White, Tony Crook is realigning the company. The “own” engine was replaced by a V8 from Chrysler. This makes Bristol the inventor of the Anglo-American "Gentleman Express". Manufacturers such as Jensen Motors and AC will later follow this pattern. But a Bristol always remains the holy grail of this type of vehicle.

The customers are as eccentric as the cars!

Despite the new drive, little changes in the technical basis of the vehicles. Up until 2011, all Bristol models stand on a steel frame like the one that supported the Bristol 400. In 1973 Tony Crook paid off his partner. George White suffers from the aftermath of a car accident four years earlier and is retiring. Tony Crook, for whom Bristol has long been the life's work, becomes sole owner.

For a long time, the sole owner has mastered the art of tailoring his cars to the needs of the sometimes eccentric clientele. It is certainly no coincidence that Detective Inspector (DI) Thomas Lynley drives a Bristol 410 in Elizabeth George's novels. The luxury coupé cannot be financed from his salary at Scotland Yard. Thanks to his aristocratic origins, DI Lord Asherton has the necessary financial cushion to afford a Bristol.

In real life, too, Bristol mobilizes nobles, stars and entrepreneurs. Customers include entrepreneurs such as Sir Richard Branson and the musician Liam Gallagher. Bristol scores with these customers with quality and rarity. The sales model is a bit eccentric. Because the only place to buy a Bristol is the showroom in the fine London district of Kensington. Tony Crook also buys back older vehicles and sells them again after a restoration.

This significantly restricts the used market!

In spite of this - or because of it - the company's financial situation always remains tense. There is always a lack of money for developing new products. In 1993, Crook introduced the Bristol Blenheim with an almost final show of strength. But even the new development is still based on the Bristol 400. Nevertheless, the Blenheim will remain the basis of the company for the next 17 years. And it remains the last car to be built under the direction of Tony Crook.

In 1997 the British Tavistock Group took a stake in the company. Crook rejects offers from foreign carmakers who would like to adorn Bristol. The balance sheets have long been deep red. Tavistock settles the balance sheet year after year and receives additional shares in return. In just four years, the investment company will take over the car manufacturer completely. Tony Crook will remain on board as a consultant for the time being.

Finances will remain a problem for years to come. After ten years the rift finally breaks out. Tavistock dismisses Mr. Bristol "because of irreconcilable differences regarding the future of Bristol Cars". Nevertheless, the turnaround does not work. Bristol Cars is insolvent for the first time in early 2011. Tony Crook, who finally passed away in 2014, bitterly foresaw this bankruptcy when he left.

But there is - as we now know - an extension for Bristol Cars!

The Swiss company Kamkorp Autokraft is taking over the bankruptcy estate. This brings Bristol back under a common roof with Frazer-Nash. The popular saying goes that two sick people in one bed don't make a healthy person. In fact, Bristol can no longer get on its feet properly, even with new owners. It remains with signs of life such as the prototype Bristol Bullet presented in Goodwood in 2017, which is powered by a BMW engine.

A year later, the showroom in Kensington underwent an extensive restoration. But both are ultimately just cosmetics! Because the announced series production of the Bullet in Chichester can never be realized. Bristol is insolvent again in 2019. This time the bankruptcy court rejects all continuation plans. So everything that still has value comes under the hammer. Fans and friends of the brand are particularly attracted to the basement of the showroom in London Kensington.

Because Tony Crook was still hoarding memorabilia from the company's history there. In addition to spare parts, there are also blueprints and blueprints for Bristol vehicles. There are also brochures, shipping notes and sales receipts. You can't get more Bristol!