Theme : Facelifts – Bristol Cars and Facelifts as a Way of Life

For the very rich there are two modes of consumption.

1958 Bristol 406
1958 Bristol 406

One is to buy the latest thing and replace it as soon as something better comes along. The other mode is to buy something that lasts forever like a castle or a Bristol. The Filton-based firm was a small one and prided itself on the quality of its vehicles. And they are cars that last, being capable of almost indefinite service life, much like a castle, as it happens.

For practical reasons, the firm introduced only a very few new models. Most were based on the concept of the 1958 406 and from then on, barring the Fighter of 2004, all their cars were revisions and facelifts of the 406. The 406 had an in-line 6 engine and was a conventional-looking four-seat, two door car built using body-on-frame construction.

While this construction method died out in Europe in the late ’60s, it soldiered on in the US until this decade, underpinning the Ford Crown Victoria and Mercury Marquis. The format allowed Bristol to continually upgrade the car without the kinds of investment needed for unibody construction. Thus, it allowed Bristol to soldier on using face-lifts and modifications.

The 407 saw the introduction of the Chrysler V-8. The 408 was a complete reskin of the same basic vehicle. The 603 of 1976 had another new body and a revised engine offering 140 mph top-speed but a manageable 28 mpg if driven carefully.

2000 Bristol Blenheim 3

With the Blenheim, the final iteration of the line, the lamps front and rear were changed and the body smoothed somewhat. But these facelifts could not conceal the fundamentally archaic machinery underneath. And while the previous cars looked coherent, the smooth forms of the 90s cars did not gel with the boxy architecture over which they were draped.

What we might have here in this case, is an example of the world’s most face-lifted car (though perhaps the Mini and Beetle might count as examples). If you read the reviews of the 406 and its successor, you read essentially the same review, decade after decade. By this means, gradual change, Bristol stayed in business until eventually the realities of the car business caught up with its hand-made, low volume production methods. Bristol ceased car production in 2011 (officially).

Author’s note: we get a steady trickle of Bristol enthusiasts stopping by here. Please feel free to leave a comment, especially if you own one of these cars. Thanks. RH


Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

17 thoughts on “Theme : Facelifts – Bristol Cars and Facelifts as a Way of Life”

  1. Thanks to all the Bristol enthusiasts who are stopping by to take a look today, Sept 4, 2014. We are very appreciative of Bristol here at DTW, even if we haven´t written so much about the firm yet. I have a lot of time for Bristol´s engineering approach and regret the fact that gentle evolution was not enough to keep the wolf from the door. Given the very large amounts of money directed at high-end cars, it is astonishing that even just one or two percent of that market didn´t find Bristol to be their preferred choice. In all likelihood, it was not Bristol´s fault at all. Rather it was down to what we might call a dearth of good taste among the customers for 145,000 GBP cars. There is only one very expensive car I feel I could drive without any sense of discomfort, and it’s from Filton. The others are just a shade too ostentatious. And too uncomfortable.

    We hope you enjoyed your visit and you are all more than welcome to offer comments or otherwise participate in our colloquium.

  2. The blue car shown is the last car actually made at Filton, being the only Blenheim 4 ever produced. To date it is the last Bristol, having taken 14 months to build; it was collected from the factory by its proud owner in March 2009.

  3. Meanwhile the Bristol Owners Club ( – celebrating its 50th anniversary this year – actively offers great opportunities for those who like Bristol cars to meet other enthusiasts and their families, join trips and events, share knowledge etc. We recognise the history, unique character, and indeed the touch of ecentricty associated with the cars and club, while having fun and laughter too.

  4. Thanks for those responses. I´d like to ask what Bristol owners would have accepted as the price to be paid to keep Bristol acceptable to enough people to keep it running. Evidently, there are not enough people of refined good taste out there to support a firm with Bristol´s ideals. I liked the body-on-frame concept and that of the relaxed, large engine plus the package which allowed four people and their luggage to be whisked about nicely. But others put extravagant styling and cramped cockpits ahead of space and refinement. Was there a compromise? I would love to hear what Bristol owners themselves could imagine would have been a model for a 2014 Bristol that would satisfy them but also allow what are often called “conquest” sales from Bentley, Lamborghini, Ferrari and Rolls-Royce.

  5. I see Bristol are now selling merchandise. You can get Bristol model cars and some clothing. How unexpected. I want a model of a Bristol Beaufighter convertible

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