Browsing the High Street – Kensington Style

With no news at all to report on Bristol Cars, we just give the pot a little stir.

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Citroen, Lancia, the Toyota Crown … those who visit this site frequently will notice that some subjects recur more often than others. One that, surprisingly, doesn’t (at least not since last June) is another of our one-time fixations, Bristol Cars. In November 2010, I spent a very interesting half hour with Bristol’s then head, Toby Silverton, in Bristol’s Kensington showrooms. His enthusiasm for the Fighter was infectious, and I still imagine it would be a worthwhile car to have.

But, at the time, I still held the innocent opinion that, in some way, Bristol had managed to carve a permanent niche for itself, where the received economic wisdom of the motor industry didn’t apply. Four months after my visit, Bristol were in administration. Since April 2011 they have been owned by Kamkorp, specialists in EV powertrains. In 2014, Bristol’s spiritual figurehead, Tony Crook died, although his actual link with the company ended 7 years previously.

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Working in London, I frequently pass the showroom. Despite all the changes. it’s still seems just the same on the outside, set in a corner of the Olympia Hilton, with its blue fascia and the red ‘Bristol Cars’ lettering that, I seem to remember, once lit up but now doesn’t seem to. The other day I took the trouble to stop and look in the window. There were three nice-looking used cars on offer, an early 400, a 407 and a 411. But what wasn’t there was the Pinnacle. At one time we were promised this for 2015 though, bearing in mind the prolonged gestation of the Alfa Romeo Giulia, the delay from a company that has a fraction of FCA’s resources might be forgivable.

Despite my natural scepticism, I do hope that they do come up with something that honours the brand, even if I’m not sure I’d want a Bristol any more. I don’t want to be a cliche and, when I first got the desire, I flattered myself that I was outside the normal owner’s demographic. In hindsight I was just fooling myself but, even more so now, I am now just the sort of old codger who you’d expect to find in a Bristol. So, fun though it was, I’m pleased that I decided against buying that used 412 and I’m still enjoying my Cube.

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But will the Pinnacle turn my head if it ever appears? How can I tell, since apart from waffle about hybrid power, or maybe not hybrid power, and an obscure teaser shot, I know nothing about it. I gain consolation that, since by the time I could afford one they will probably have taken my licence away, it’s all a bit academic.

8 thoughts on “Browsing the High Street – Kensington Style”

  1. They do seem to have gone quiet on the Pinnacle if a glance at the Bristol website is any indication. Maybe they would have been better off designing an EV range extender conversion kit for existing Bristols instead of trying to develop a completely new car.

    The Bristol showroom was interesting. Because the firm had created such an aura of not suffering fools, loiterers or the casual interest of the motoring press during Tony Crook’s tenure it felt like an act of foolhardy bravery entering the place without a Bristol Owners Club membership or at least a referral from an existing owner. Yet back in 2010 it did seem like Toby Silverton was happy to entertain enthusiast visitors to the showroom and talk about the cars -too late for the company’s financial wellbeing.

    Where is Bristol supposed to fit in the motoring landscape? Is it an Aston Martin equivalent for those who like expensive British GT cars, a Morgan equivalent for those who like traditional-looking British handcrafted vehicles, or something else? I’d be interested to see what Bristol-enthusiastic readers think.

    1. It’s a hard job reviving companies. Yes, you can take a charged name like Bugatti, fling millions of Euros at it and manage to produce something that taps into some group’s zeitgeist (if not mine), And you can take a name like Mini and restore it to being young and desirable rather than archaic and desperate. But these are very rare exceptions. For all these there are all the revived ACs, Jensens, Pegasos, etc, etc, that people dream up, but never take off.

      My own feeling is that a major part of Bristol’s appeal was its continuity and its oddness. The idea of ‘brand’ having value in itself is anathema to Bristol’s old client base and the name is as relevant as ‘Argyll’ to any other possible market. Unless they came up with something very interesting in the way of hybrid power (which is doubtful) why will anyone be interested?

  2. Bristol was a thing unto itself. They didn’t set out to be a fossil. That some people liked its formula of peerless quality, hefty power, comfort and inept design was inevitable. That doesn’t mean it was a formula that could be understood a priori. You would not set out to design a Bristol as Bristol’s cars mostly were. A lot of the things one would do to “improve” it would wreck its limited appeal. If you ditch V8s, BOF and try to make them nice looking you compete with experts in all that. The only feasible change is to hire a good, sympathetic stylist, some crafty engineers and stick with hand-made, low volume cars. Much more than that is like trying to fly to the moon in a Cessna.

  3. Much as I admired Toby Silverton’s enthusiasm and the reasoning behind the Bristol Fighter, Bristol’s attempt to break away from the Blenheim, history has shown that it was an answer to a question few people asked. It’s a pity because, during its 7 year life, a lot of people spent a lot of money on far more superficial and less worthy cars. If I’d wanted a car to get me, a passenger and some luggage from Calais to Menton in speed and comfort, the Fighter made sense. But that’s a requirement from 50 years back. Nowadays people prefer to spend their £235,000 on something to pose in and potter around in on track days or, if they really want practicality and speed, buy an AMG estate..

    In terms of Kamkorp’s other ventures, the 2009 Frazer-Nash Namir, a Giugiaro designed and built one-off, was intended to showcase Kamkorp’s then current hybrid technology which, presumably, is intended to have been developed into the Pinnacle drivertain.

    Also, after legal battles, the hybrid Metrocab is now promised for production.

  4. Yes I’m surprised that Bristol has not figured more often in discussion. I have always hankered after one and regularly would press my nose against the windows in Kensington High Street; knowing Tony Crook’s fearsome reputation I never crossed the threshold. As Richard said the essential thing about Bristols is that they were what they were. This is a marque that should be allowed to die but be fondly remembered (and could we say the same about Saab).

    Our next door neighbour had a beautiful 401 and in 2009 he drove our daughter to her wedding in it, both she and her new husband were transfixed by its elegance although they knew nothing of cars. Sadly he died shortly afterwards and the car was sold. Yes, I was tempted but it’s the V8 models that really appealed. Now way beyond my budget.

  5. Bristol and Saab in the same paragraph – puts me in mind of the delicious thought that, in a different reality, Bristol could have been the English Saab.

    Both aircraft manufacturers (as distinct from car manufacturers who turned aircraft manufacture in wartime), both based their first cars on pre-WW2 German technology. Bristol via AFN bought the rights to the BMW 328 engine, and the services of Fritz Fiedler. I think Saab just copied a DKW engine. Both now inhabit the twilight world of the automotive undead.

    Perhaps Bristol should have gone for volume. Actual numbers are undisclosed, but the received wisdom is closer to 2000 than 3000. Then again, Bristol’s ‘exclusivity’ kept GM – and others – claws away.

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