For the very rich there are two modes of consumption.
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.
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