Iconic Cars Of The Past

Some of the most beautiful machines ever built

No. 1 - The bristol 401

Bristol 401

During World War II the Bristol Aeroplane Company manufactured, amongst other aviation products, the Blenheim light bomber and the Beaufighter night fighter aircraft. However after the end of the war there was not a lot of call for bombers or night fighters so their car division was created.

First off the production line was the Bristol 400; this was a luxury car based on many of the better features of prewar BMWs but in 1948 the 401 replaced it. This was a well made, luxurious motor car for the day; manufactured to similar exacting standards to those they had to use on aircraft. It was soon recognised as a fast, high quality car that could carry a driver +4 passengers in comfort.

Bristol had the advantage of gaining the rights to the technology of the BMW 326, 3 to 7 and 328, which were given up as part of war reparations. Several prototypes, each using different design features in these cars, were built by early 1946.

The 400 was not a huge success, partly because of the difficulty in keeping the engine properly tuned; so by 1948 Bristol were finally ready to launch the 401, to pretty near universal acclaim. It was fast with a top speed of 97 mph and acceleration of nought to 60 in around 17.5 seconds; not exactly dragster type performance but not bad for a large and comfortable car. The two litre, six cylinder engine was quiet and reliable; and the vehicle could cruise at high speeds for very long periods. This was exactly what well-heeled buyers looking for; and they had to be well-heeled too, with a selling price of around £2000, which was very expensive at the time. However, the sheer quality of the car put it in the same category of many of the finest and most expensive cars of the era.

The experience that Bristol had had designing and building aircraft came in very useful. The 401's body shape was a result of extensive windtunnel testing; which was very new in the day; and this assisted both speed and fuel economy, a major advantage in post-war Britain. The bodywork was designed with maximum rigidity to help with stable handling on the roads, and extensive use was made of light alloy to keep weight down.

It very soon became clear that Bristol had successfully utilised their extensive experience in building high-quality aircraft, to build similarly high quality cars.


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