Bristol Bullet (Part II)

Quite some time has elapsed since I mentioned I’d write a little about the Bristol Bullet. 

2016 Bristol Bullett: cnn.com
2016 Bristol Bullett: cnn.com

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.

2016 Bristol Bullett detail: cardesignnews
2016 Bristol Bullett detail: cardesignnews

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.

Author: richard herriott

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

15 thoughts on “Bristol Bullet (Part II)”

  1. I’m ambivalent to it. It’s pleasing enough and looks as though a competent designer has refined it and, aided by the fact that they could realise curves in composite mouldings that Bristol could never have done economically with pressed metal, it looks more sophisticated than the two or three previous vehicles that it’s clearly derived from. But it makes no attempt at all to suggest what a 21st Century Bristol should look like.

    For all I know, Kamkorp are busy creating something clever with a hybrid powertrain, practical accommodation and distinctive styling that gives a nod to Bristol’s past, yet isn’t the retro pastiche this appears to be – though in view of its extended genesis over maybe 30 or more years, I suppose it is more correctly evolutionary, in a Coelacanth sort of way.

    If so, then the Bullet is an entertaining enough way of saying ‘watch this space’. Otherwise it is irrelevant.

  2. Sam the Eagle made a remark referring to irrelevance as well. Now I have two reasons to wonder whether relevance is relevant? I don´t mean to be relativistic here.
    In some cases relevance matters. If I am discussing the Chinese economy a point about the Belgian beer industry would be irrelevant (unless poorer Chinese were drinking less Trappist ale). In cars, what does relevant *mean*? It´s a circular kind of criticism. The Ford Focus sells by the boat load. It´s relevant I suppose. Is that relevance relevant to anything other than the fact a lot of Foci are bought. Bent Flyvbjerg is a Danish academic who wrote about the importance of single examples and case studies. He cited Galileo´s experiment which by one instance demonstrates something important. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galileo's_Leaning_Tower_of_Pisa_experiment
    The Bullet´s not the best car there ever was or will be. Relevance though doesn´t really come into it.

    1. So what you’re saying is that the moment Bristol couldn’t find at least one buyer for their cars sometime in the last decade, they didn’t stop being relevant? That’s one way of apprehending things around you I suppose, but I’m not entirely sure it is helpful in this case.

    2. Richard. Strictly semantically, of course, very few cars are actually relevant. Arguably only one is truly relevant. If we could find it we could dispose with all the rest. On a personal level, at the moment, a Nissan Cube is the most relevant car in the World. Were I to move to the Darien Gap, it would become much less relevant.

      So, for the same reason, I tend to look at a particular market and judge whether the maker has hit its personal target. Were I to be transformed into an elderly playboy tomorrow, this might be just the car for me to add to my stable. However, I wonder how many people the Bullet appeals to who would put up the money. I also wonder if the Bullet is the start of a model line that I could see carrying on to see successors. My own answer to all these questions is reasonably pessimistic so, based on that, I judge the Bullet to be irrelevant to most of its supposed customer base and, hence, the healthy future of Bristol Cars.

    3. That would make the Bullet extremely relevant to the future of Bristol, but in a negative way…

  3. That´s quite a dense salvo.

    The Bullet is relevant to the people who like that kind of car. It´s not an important car in the way the Golf or Mazda3 might be. It looks nicely made and sits somewhere between Bristol´s past and future. What I didn´t feel inclined to do was to dismiss it out of hand merely because the design had a retro theme or it lacked a roof. I think I have explained why I think the car does what it sets out to do, even if it´s an acquired taste. The interior is especially pleasing in the light of the small volumes involved. If someone doesn´t care for the car at all then I quite understand

    1. In theory the Bullet should appeal to someone – it appeals to me as did its Speedster predecessor, but then I’m not in the market nor, more relevantly, do I seem to find that my taste concurs with that of the wealthy too often – which is probably fortunate. I’d far prefer it to an open Lamborghini for instance. If the production models match the perceived quality, then maybe it will have a Swiss Watch appeal to it. I find the flat touch-screen a bit incongruous. Doesn’t anyone do a touch-sensitive circular cathode ray tube?

  4. The screen looks fine to me – is it really necessary though? Can anyone say if there are a lot of roofless cars around? It seems to me to be the bigggest single demerit, that they think there are 70 people who want a car you can´t drive in the rain. But maybe just as there are naturists and free-climbers there are people who like being exposed in some way when they drive.

    1. My main worry about driving it in the rain is what it would do to the leather. The original Austin Healey 100 had a variable height screen which might be a practical compromise. Otherwise, you can always try this.

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