Bristol`s Archie Frazer-Nash obtained the plans for last pre-war BMWs and with BMW`s chief engineer, Herr Doktor Fritz Fiedel, set about building the instant `super-car`. We do not wish to express disrespect for the 400 which was a car that BMW never built. It was a hybrid of three separate models, using what Bristol considered to be the best parts from each of them. In itself, it was not a copy.
The steel chassis from the BMW 326, the ash-timber framed steel body from the 327 and the 1997cc engine from the 328. It sounds like a parts-list for a kit-car but it was much more than that. It was a recipe for a super-car.
The chassis of the Bristol 400 was very rigid, constructed from heavy-calibre steel box-section with an alloy floor. Independent front suspension was by transverse-leaf with a rear live-axle on longitudinal torsion-bars. Drum brakes were fitted to all four wheels. It was a long car, with a wheelbase of 114 inches. This chassis was ex BMW 326.
The body skeleton was built of traditional ash-timber, over-laid with steel panels. The door-panels, bonnet and boot-lid were of aluminium alloy. All later Bristols would have an all-alloy body. The 400 had a beautiful, sleek, coupe shape but would comfortably seat four people. Early cars had the spare-wheel housed in the boot but later cars had it mounted on the boot-lid under an alloy cover. The BMW-style `double-kidney` radiator grille was also retained (surprisingly). The Bristol 400 had a split windscreen with flat glass all round, with the exception of the rear window. The rear window was glazed with Perspex and hinged upwards for ventilation, this was a good idea because the door-windows were fore-and-aft sliders and allowed very little fresh air into the car. This body-design was ex BMW 327.
The Bristol 400`s engine was the most advanced unit of it`s time. It displaced 1971 cc and was an iron-block 6 cylinder with overhead valves. The cylinder-head was very advanced, made of alloy with hemispherical combustion chambers. This led to complications with the valve-gear.
A hemi-head demands that valves are inclined, not a problem with a twin-overhead-camshaft unit, like the Jaguar XK. This engine, however, had a side-mounted single camshaft operating the valves via pushrods and rockers. To transmit the camshaft action to the other side of the head, extra pushrods and bell-cranks were used. This added up to a total of 18 pushrods with 18 clearance gaps that had to be kept correctly adjusted to the correct tolerances.
It was complicated but in those days motorists thought nothing of `doing the tappets` on a Sunday morning, which was just as well. The clearances were critical to maintaining the tuning-balance and if left to their own devices would quickly slacken and diminish the power, also making the engine sound like a `bucket of bolts`.
However, it was a superb engine, made so much better by the efforts of Bristol`s engineers. Bristol constantly modified the 2 litre right up to it`s retirement in 1961, getting more and more power from it. One of the major modifications was to make the cylinder-liners out of a super-hard alloy called `Brivadium`. Bristol had developed this material for use in their WWII aero engines which were famous for their reliability. This allowed high engine revolutions without damage.
The early cars produced 80 bhp with a single Solex carburetor, later cars developed 85 bhp with triple SU carburetors. By the time it was retired in 1961, Bristol had doubled it`s power output. Whereas this engine originated in the BMW 328, by the time it arrived on the British market it had been much-improved by Bristol.
The gearbox was a cunning invention. It had four forward ratios and a very long gear-stick that disappeared down by the clutch-pedal. First gear had a `freewheel` option to save fuel. It had a slick, sharp gear-change that made it an exciting `driver`s car`.
Regardless of it`s origins, the Bristol 400 was exactly what George White had wanted to build. It was a high-class prestige vehicle capable of out-performing any of it`s contemporaries. The AC Ace (with the same engine) was a little quicker but was spartan by comparison. The 400`s handling put it in a class of it`s own. The level of luxury and finish, inside and out, established the great plane-maker as a great car producer. The Bristol rapidly became the `car-of-choice` for the wealthy enthusiast. The Bristol 400 was discontinued in 1950 with a total of 470 saloons produced, plus 17 convertibles.
Bristol 400 1947-1950 Specifications
|Body Type||4 seater saloon/coupe|
|Drive Type||Rear wheel drive|
|Cargo Volume||Larger than one would think|
|Engine||2.0 Bristol 12V OHV Hemispherical|
|Displacement||1971 cc||120.3 cui|
|Power||60 Kw||80 bhp||4500 RPM|
|Torque||143 Nm||105 ft. lb||3000 RPM|
|Top Speed||153 km/h||95 mph|
|Acceleration||0-100 km/h - 0-60 mph||18.7 s|
|Fuel consumption||l/100 km||Imperial mpg|
|Gearbox||4 speed manual|
|Weight||1151 kg||2538 lb|
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I was born in Hereford UK in 1948 and brought up in Gloucester UK. I played Rugby football internationally as a schoolboy. At the age of 17, a new and wet driving license in my paw, I entered motor racing. I was supported and financed by my parents and so my journey began.
In 1965 I bought a 1293cc Mini-Cooper `S` and campaigned it for a season. Having quickly made some good friends in the racing fraternity, several interesting opportunities came my way. I joined a sports-car team and raced in the Le Mans 24 hours in 1968 and 1969 in a Lola T70. Mechanical failure defeated both efforts. During that period I owned and raced a `D type` Jaguar and an AC Cobra. In those days cars like that were available and not too expensive, now they reside in museums and private collections. I had a chain of interesting cars through my youth including Jaguars, Minis, Mustangs and Lotus-Cortinas.
As a young driver I had my share of accidents too. Often the car would only be worth scrap-metal value by the time I got it home! I worked for an Aston-Martin/Jaguar dealership for a while, which enhanced my experience and gave me the opportunity to sample some very exotic machines, Ferrari, Facel-Vega, Iso and Maserati to recall a few of them.
At the end of 1969 I moved to South Africa to work on my uncle`s farm but the S.A. government had other ideas and drafted me into the army. After five years had passed I was thanked and released from the service. While I was there I bought a beige Cadillac Eldorado, previously the property of Marilyn Monroe. While I was away on a patrol my girlfriend had it re-sprayed pink! I was unimpressed by both the joke and the bill for the work!
When I returned to UK in 1974 I left it behind. On my return I found that the once-mighty British motor industry was in decline and was headed for oblivion. Motor racing was now very expensive so I turned to commercial transport. Driving large trucks gave me freedom and a chance to see some of the world. I don`t remember ever making a career choice but for the next thirty years a truck was my home. For about ten years in that period I owned two trucks of my own.
I also owned a famous MGB-GT, known as `Lucky`. If you`d like to read `The Story of Lucky` there is an article in Inopian`s archive. I finally retired, due to ill-health, in 2008. Since I had varied knowledge and many experiences on our subject I decided to share the stories of the cars I enjoyed (and hated) with the new generation.
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