Recent reports are suggesting that Bristol is going to return to car manufacture using BMW engines as part of a hybrid powertrain.
The photo shows one of Bristol’s earlier efforts. The new cars are going to be rather different, featuring a bought-in engine from BMW and electric power systems from Frazer-Nash engineering who now own Bristol. As a long-standing admirer of Bristol I am very intrigued by the prospect of the marque’s revival. Two things will be interesting to watch. One is how the new design will reconcile the futuristic or at least fairly modern concept of hybrid power trains with Bristol’s traditional ethos of pretty heavy and old-fashioned design.
For many a Bristol was about hand-stitched leather upholstery and proper wood trim, screwed in place and not clipped with weight-saving plastic. The engine concept was also out of the heavy-industry playbook: a Chrysler engine of five litres with stump-pulling torque. Will the new Bristol still look and feel like a Bristol? Or will they be tempted to make it look overly contemporary which is a risk in low volume cars of all stripes. Even the last Bristol, the Fighter, had a rather horrible interior of boxy-units draped with stitched suede.
The other point arising is that perhaps Bristol have picked the wrong technology. Tesla’s all-electric power system is not putting off prosperous purchasers and is in fact very much part of its appeal. Should Bristol not simply have a fully battery-powered motor, a system which provides very impressive performance and a range comparable with a mid-70s Citroen CX Turbo (rather dire by the standards of the time, it must be said)?
Of the two questions, it is the one concerning look and feel that is the most pressing. Ultimately, whether the power-train is hybrid or electric is less important than how it feels to drive the car and how it feels to sit in it. Much of the appeal of Bristol was in the idea of effortless performance allied to enduring build-quality, the idea that the car could live indefinitely rather than being a mere appliance in the manner of a 7 Series, S-class or even Rolls Royce.