Tuesday 16th July 2019,

Bristol 401 & 402 1948 – 1953

The next car out of the Filton factory was the wonderful Bristol 401. George White had established a philosophy at Bristol Cars that gave quality the priority over cost and production numbers. True to his word he built the 401 regardless of cost. He engaged the Italian designer, Carrozzeria Touring of Milan, to design the body.

Touring were the inventors of the `Superleggera` or `super-light` system. The reader may well have seen that name on the Aston-Martin DB5 and DB6. The system allows an alloy body to be mounted on a light frame-work made of steel-tube, rather than ash-timber. Light and strong but horrendously expensive to repair, it went out of use when US Federal law would not approve it`s crash-resistance performance. The reason makers used ash-timber from the early days of the car-industry was a seemingly insurmountable problem… galvanic corrosion.

Galvanic corrosion occurs when aluminium is fixed to iron or steel. The result is the equivalent of rust at the joint area. Aluminium `rust` or oxidization is manifested by the presence of a white powder deposit. Touring`s patent system got round this problem, although it is fair to assume that with it`s vast aircraft-building experience, Bristol already had the answer to it. The one area where Bristol`s experience was a little thin was car-body design, so Touring got the commission to design the 401.


The chassis was, as the Bristol 400, steel box-section, 6.5 inches deep with an alloy floor. The suspension was unchanged, transverse leaf with double wishbones at the front and a live-axle with torsion-bars at the rear. The wheel-base was as the 400 (114 inches) but the rear chassis was extended a little to accommodate the slightly longer body. Overall the 401 was larger but not noticeably.

Rack & pinion steering was fitted and `one-shot` lubrication was employed. This was a popular fitment on prestige cars at the time. A pedal/pump lived in the passenger`s foot-well and needed to be pressed every 70 miles or so. This would pump oil from a reservoir into the king-pins and steering rack. Used properly it was effective but the car would leave little puddles of oil when it was parked. This would make the driver very unpopular these days! When it eventually failed (which it would) normal grease-nipples were the easy substitute. Another advantage of grease-nipples was that they didn`t need a passenger to press a pedal! The brakes were Lockheed 11 inch drums.


This was a work of art. Touring`s Superleggera frame-work was shaped to order and the alloy panels fitted perfectly. It was a truly beautiful shape, reminiscent of the 400 but more sleek and even more aerodynamic.

The exterior door-handles were replaced by a simple push-button that `popped` the doors open. The windscreen was still in two bits but wind-up windows had replaced the miserable sliding ones. The `double kidney` radiator grille was narrower and less BMW. Headlights were moved inboard to snuggle up to the kidney grille nicely.

The interior was beautifully appointed, leather and walnut everywhere. The cabin was a little more spacious, allowing three passengers to be comfortably accommodated in the rear. The 401, like the Bristol 400, was only available as a two-door coupe although there was an option, the Bristol 402.

The 402 must not be forgotten! It was exactly the 401 but a convertible. Production ran simultaneously with the 401 though not many were made. Many convertibles look better with the roof down but the 402 was beautiful wherever the roof was. The only people that were left unimpressed by the 401 and 402 were those without a soul. The true mark of a classic car is it`s ability to turn heads and to be admired. The 401 still does it.


Once again, the early 401s had the same 1971cc engine and specification as the 400. The later models were uprated to 100 bhp with triple Solex carburetors. Performance was improved with the later engine. 97 mph was available with a 0-60 time of 15 seconds. 97 mph may not sound very fast these days but remember, there were no motorways at that time.

Fuel economy was very good for the time, around 21 mpg. The same brilliant gearbox was used, 4-speed synchromesh with the `freewheel` option on first gear.

Production ceased in 1953. 611 models of the Bristol 401 were made, and only 24 examples of the 402 were produced. According to the owner`s club, only 13 of the 402s are accounted for. There might well be one or two of these fabulous cars languishing under a tarpaulin somewhere, but where?

Bristol 401 & 402 1948-1953 Specs
Body Type5 seater 2 door coupe
Engine PlacementFront
Drive TypeRear wheel drive
Cargo VolumeLarger than the Bristol 400
Engine2.0 Bristol 12V OHV Hemispherical
Cylindersstraight 6
Displacement1971 cc120.3 cui
Power63 Kw85 bhp4500 RPM
Torque145 Nm107 ft. lb3500 RPM
Power/weight69 bhp/t
Top Speed151 km/h94 mph
Acceleration0-100 km/h - 0-60 mph18.9 s
Fuel consumptionl/100 kmImperial mpg
Gearbox4 speed manual
Weight1225 kg2701 lb
Engine2.0 Bristol 12V OHV Hemispherical
Cylindersstraight 6
Displacement1971 cc120.3 cui
Power75 Kw100 bhp5000 RPM
Torque156 Nm115 ft. lb3500 RPM
Power/weight82 bhp/t
Top Speed156 km/h97 mph
Acceleration0-100 km/h - 0-60 mph15 s
Fuel consumptionl/100 kmImperial mpg
Gearbox4 speed manual
Weight1225 kg2701 lb
GD Star Rating
Bristol 401 & 402 1948 - 1953, 10.0 out of 10 based on 4 ratings
Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on LinkedInShare on TumblrShare on StumbleUponShare on RedditEmail this to someone

About Bev Roberts

Speed, the smell of hot oil, the roar of a straight-through exhaust and the scream of an engine at max revolutions. They have all been a large part of my life for almost 50 years. It is time to share my experiences with you, dear reader. Do you want to know more? Read on through my `Full Bio` and many articles.

View All Posts

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.

Enjoy Inopian… it is constructed and written for you.

Leave A Response