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"One starts to throw this car into corners after a very few miles of motoring. The high geared steering responds to a single quick turn of the two spoke wheel, and the 405 goes round, as uncompromisingly upright as a Calvinist pastor ...” The Autocar, May 1955.
The very fact the The Autocar compared the Bristol 405 to a “Calvinist pastor” perhaps gives one some idea of just what these machines are about; quirky, unique, fascinating, almost wilfully ‘odd’, the Bristol Aeroplane Company could not be accused of simply running with the pack. Ploughing their own furrow, they came to car manufacturing not from land limited ‘horse and cart’ origins but rather from the skies and tiny numbers of machines were produced by hand for a discerning clientele who, it should be said, were prepared to pay handsomely for them. Utilising the latest engineering techniques and finest materials, Bristol cars were undoubted technical tour de forces who’s aircraft-inspired standards were a revelation to the average motorist in the 1940s; as the old adage (or perhaps something we just thought of) goes, there is no hard shoulder at 35,000 feet.
Kick started with the help of BMW war repatriations, a company Bristol had shown a keen interest in through their partners AFN prior to the outbreak of hostilities, they quickly moved towards their own chassis and body designs. However, the jewel in the crown, the Rudolf Schleicher designed hemi-head, straight six engine continued to serve the company for the next sixteen years, all be it with the benefit of design tweaks and superior post-war materials. A brilliant piece of design utilising just one cam shaft with clever cross-over pushrods to operate the inclined valves, the engine gave excellent power and today is still prevalent in many classes of historic motor sport.
Given their background in aircraft manufacture, aerodynamics were rigorously applied to Bristol body design to reduce drag and improve stability, just as they were by the ex-de Havilland engineers employed by Lotus in the same period. Consequently, the BMW influenced body with its trademark twin kidney grill was soon dropped and air intakes that could have been lifted from a contemporary jet ‘plane became a Bristol signature along with stylish yet functional tail fins.
In 1953 the Bristol 404 was launched followed two years later by the longer wheelbase, four seater, four-door 405, both Gentlemen’s expresses of the highest order. Aluminium alloy bodies were mounted on ash frames which were in turn supported on substantial steel chassis’. These were the first Bristol machines to sport the trademark upright spare wheel concealed behind the near side wheel arch which along with the battery and main electrical hardware being mounted in the opposite wing, freed up valuable luggage space inside the car. Rack and pinion steering, independent front suspension and a slick four speed plus overdrive gearbox gave the 405 bang up to date driving characteristics to complement the old world charm of its wood and leather cabin.
Registered on 6th May 1957, with the appropriate ‘405’ number it still carries today, via ‘Mr Bristol’, Anthony Crook, and described as “Off White” on the original buff log book in the Bristol’s frankly huge history files (two off), this 405 has been used extensively and enthusiastically throughout it life aside from a relatively short hiatus between 1985 and 2001 during which time a total restoration was carried out.
Having purchased the 405 for £2,000 in 1979, accomplished engineer Group Captain Brian Kidd ran the car for six years, rebuilding the engine (twice, due to over-fueling damaging the cylinder bores) and gearbox before the aforementioned major restoration was undertaken. The work carried out is extensively documented with photographs and also articles in the ‘Bristol Bulletin’, the excellent Owners’ Club magazine. Numerous continental tours and the Liege-Rome-Liege Historic endurance rally successfully undertaken in 2001 are also featured in the Bulletin, as is an article addressing the relative merits of Touring in a pair of six cylinder Bristols and having covered some 200,000 miles in them, one would suspect the Group Captain knew of what he wrote. With some 90,000 miles under its wheels since the restoration it is not surprising that come 2012 some brake and front suspension work was required, duly carried out by the then owner, Mr. Geoff Pritchard. More recently in 2017, while under the stewardship of a Commander Bringham, the engine was again rebuilt along with the gearbox and overdrive unit, a new clutch was fitted, the steering and hubs were rebuilt and the car totally rewired.
Today the Bristol is that perfect mix of nicely mellowed, nigh on twenty year old restoration which gives the body, paint and interior that much-prized ‘lived in’ feel like your favourite pair of brogues, or Levi 501s in the case of our younger readers (and Jeremy Clarkson), coupled with running gear that is mechanically as good as it gets. Yes the paint has a few slight cracks typical of aluminium bodied, separate chassis cars and the leather has a few marks and creases but these perfectly match the charm and, for want of a better word, charisma of the machine. Scrutinise the photo gallery and decide for yourself if this is the sort of condition you wilfully embrace.
The 405 is also highly original with its Enots one-shot chassis lubrication system still fitted and functioning perfectly along with its original radio and functioning plug-in under bonnet inspection light. Given their popularity and value it is nice to see its original ‘matching numbers’ engine still installed too. Given its use as the manufacturer intended (i.e. extensive long distance touring), it is no surprise that the Bristol has received a handful of sensible modifications to allow for modern traffic conditions; an oil cooler, Kenlow fan and dynamo-look alternator including negative earth conversion have all been fitted. Though the triple Solex carburettors currently sport pancake air filters, the original air cleaner canister is with the car. As mentioned, two large box files containing the 405’s extensive history accompany the Bristol and detail the maintenance the car has enjoyed over the last sixty-plus years.
Better built than a contemporary Aston Martin – arguably Rolls-Royce or Bentley too – and certainly more individual, one only has to look at the rollcall of Bristol owners to realise you will be joining an exceptionally well informed group with outstanding taste and style; from Anthony Crook himself and King Hussein of Jordan via Sir Paul smith to even that most ‘individual’ of all individuals, Liam Gallagher.
Registration number: OKU 405
Chassis Number: 405/4193
Engine Number: 100-B2-4278