Quite some time has elapsed since I mentioned I’d write a little about the Bristol Bullet.
This reminds me of the legendary Archie Vicar taking several months to decide what he thought about the Peugeot 505. You can read the general outline here: big engine, light car, Italian retromod styling, carbonfibre body and a big price tag (£250,000). My first reaction is to welcome the existence of the car even if it’s not something I’d want to buy were I to have more of the world’s money than I do.
Also welcomable is the appearance of the car – it has many charming aspects. What’s there is very well done. It’s even more impressive when you realise that it was carried out by a company whose last new car dated from 2004 and whose last new car before that had roots in the mid-60s.
Bristol is very good at making cars but every time it designs a new one it has to learn all over again how to do it. Even if they hired outside consultants to handle every last detail, someone still had to make Bristol choices: engine spec, chassis spec, body material, suspension settings, tyres, colours and material. Though this is not the car you might personally want, it is conceivably a car someone might want, more than a few.
Most if not all small-volume makers fail to consistently apply a coherent vision to a car and as a result the final results are patchy – usually so very patchy as to fatally cancel any particular area that might gleam like the morning sun.
Almost always you can can see it in the press photos, let alone when sitting in the thing. A Pagani Zonda might be one of the fastest road going cars there is yet its form has been decided upon by someone unable to decide on form. The same applies to Spyker. Hideous. The same also applied to Bristol Cars’ penultimate model – Tony Crook seemed to despise aesthetics. Much as I loved the Blenheim, it lacked finesse. The same applied to the Fighter: rough, brutal, coarse (impressive too).
Going back to 1974 we find a car smattered with mis-steps. Faster than a Rolls-Royce, better made than a Maserati and more comfortable than a Ferrari, yes. But also very homespun; slower than a Ferrari, not as well made as Rolls-Royce and more costly than a Maserati.
The reason this photo (above) is here is because it shows all the panel gaps and shutlines relating in a way that would do VW proud. Actually, the line running around the bonnet, doors and boot is quite brilliant. That’s exactly what you would try to draw. Celtic monks used to decorate the underside of chalices because they knew God could see the jewels.
That can be translated as doing something because it is intrinsically right, things one would do even if one were the last person alive. That shut-line is executed in that way even if it can only be seen from a gantry or from heaven.
I expect LJK Setright would not have approved of the Bullet. It’s a car that looks back, isn’t it? But Exceptional as he was at writing and explaining the meaning of engineering, Setright wasn’t so good at ambiguity or consistency. A champion of Modernism but not progressive, his favourite Bristol cars had separate bodies-on-a-frame and engines that, by the 1970’s, were distinctly antediluvian.
He might have said that the results justified the methods employed – that’s not immoral in engineering. The Bullet is the reverse of this and you could also see it as a step forward. That’s ambiguity for you, polyvalent shades of grey. The car looks like a Bristol might have done and is also made the way they should have been made all along. A designer has shaped the car so as to signal the car’s abilities and qualities just as the appearance of a fine meal should reflect its deliciousness.
I see the Bullet as a way for Bristol to explore and understand its past (and respect it) while moving into the present and the future. We can say goodbye to reciprocating internal combustion engines and hello to electric propulsion. If the cars are as refined and as delightful to drive as Bristol cars are meant to be then the ends will justify the means.
Apart from all that, I wish it had a roof.