A Photoseries for Sunday: 2000 Bristol Blenheim

We have something of a real rarity here: made in small in numbers in the first place and not merely because rust and lack of interest killed them by the thousand. It has to be a Bristol.

2000 Bristol Blenheim

Again, like so many of the photos I took in Dublin in Easter 2018, the grey light sabotaged my chances of getting as striking an image as one might find here.  (And many thanks to our Leinster correspondent for the use of the photographic  equipment). However, as with a sighting of Loch Ness Monsters, one does not put down one’s camera and wait until the sun beams at precisely the right angle before snapping. If you want to get an image of a car like this, one takes one´s chances when one can.

What we see here is the year 2000 Bristol Blenheim, an uprated version of a car launched in 1976 as the Bristol 603. The Blenheim name appeared simultaneously with an -ahem- … re-styling of the exterior. Wikipedia is sketchy on when this took place, noting only that the Blenheim featured a variety of improvements over the 603.

You have to visit the rather lovely homepage of the Bristol Owner’s Club and root around a bit to find out that Bristol made the change from 603 to Blenheim in 1994. In 1998 the Blenheim 2 appeared and just two years later came the Series 3 we are looking at now.

2000 Bristol Blenheim 3

Autocar heralded the car as “the most powerful version of its four-seater Blenheim coupe”. The new price sneaked in at just under £134,000, leaving fifty quid over for either a quite nice bottle of wine or half a tank of petrol. The changes improved the car’s aerodynamic stability by means of revised air intakes and front spoiler. Bristol also revised the cabin and handling. The extent of the improvement was not revealed. You can claim a 0.001% improvement is an improvement after all.

About the cabin, here is a case of what happens when you meet your heroes.

Previous Bristols I have seen in person have had more than enough leg room for the rear passengers . And one of Bristol’s biggest claims is that the car has room for four large adults. In the case of the Blenheim 3 this can in no way be said to be the case. The rather thick front seats gobble space. There remains between them and the rear seat bases just enough room to slide an After Eight mint.

2000 Bristol Blenheim 3

Further, the photos gracefully hide what I can only call an utterly ham-fisted bit of coachwork under the C-pillar. Bear with me because a photo  would have been better than the following verbal explanation: the C-pillar’s base is about a centimetre further out from the car’s centre than is ideal. This means it interrrupts the shoulder line here:

That leaves a really unsightly bulge interrupting the flow from front to back along the shouder line. Next time you see one, look at the base of the C-pilllar. Remember that.

And then there’s the rest of the detailing which is awful considering that the car was hand-made. The problem isn’t the craftsmanship but the design intent. In the much-lauded Far From The Mainstream series we saw how small firms make little savings by not employing a seasoned designer and then pay a big price for it. The pity with Bristol is that unlike many of the rather half-baked products occupying the space at the fringe of car manufacturing, Bristol is in every other way utterly excellent. A designer could have been hired on a contract basis so as to sort things out. I think engineers worked on this design.

Students of the marque need no reminding but, as we gain more readers here, there might be some not acquainted with the Bristol’s body-on-frame construction, its capable road manners and built-for-life assembly methods. It is pretty much a car for engineers and very much a car that insinuates itself into your heart via your head.

The Blenheim 3 used an adapted 5.9 litre Chrysler V8 with a compression increase, a modified inlet manifold  and a reprofiled camshaft. The latter detail meant what Autocar called “freer breathing at high revs”. This brought the power up to 350 hp and increased the torque.

The detail I like is that the engine had a very low RPM. At about 80 mph the RPM would be about 2000, meaning the car had a very relaxed and unstressed ride with commendable fuel economy. Bristol claimed about 30 mpg was possible if you toured at about 65 miles per hour. This sounds believable

Other changes to what was the last 8-cylinder Bristol were wider tracks and stiffer anti-roll bars. You’d have to ask an owner if this reduced the ride quality but to judge by the car’s weight, its BOF chassis and nicely fat, fat tyres, I don’t think anyone would lose their teeth during spirited driving.

It’s pleasing to see a Bristol in Ireland: it’s one of a small suite of cars I think are truly matched to the conditions there (Jaguar, Rover, Citroen, Peugeot, Buick are the others). The roads are awful (which the suspension deals with) and many of them are narrow. The Bristol is old-school narrow meaning it will feel more wieldy on local roads. Its moderate speed fuel consumption is in line with Ireland’s low-speed roads and high petrol prices. The available torque would make short work of the hilly bits of Ireland (of which there are many) and finally, the car is not that hard to fix which is a help in a country so short on specialist mechanics.

Lastly, the Blenheim is unobtrusive meaning it is not a car to generate ill-will the way a Rolls, Ferrari or Bentley might. Really, none of those three brands are right for Ireland whereas the Bristol could almost have been designed with Ireland in mind.

Author: richard herriott

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

13 thoughts on “A Photoseries for Sunday: 2000 Bristol Blenheim”

  1. Richard, I think you might have misunderstood how those older Bristols were made. They asked existing owners what they’d like improved and then provided it.

    They’re obviously Marmite. I love each and every one up to the 412.

    This was before the idiocy of Beaufighter onwards, culminating in the crash and burn of the “1000”.

  2. Good morning Richard. The C-pillar problem you describe is best illustrated from the rear:

    The glasshouse is just too wide and gives the car an unbalanced, top-heavy stance. Assuming the designers weren’t blind, I wonder if this was dictated by the need to use an off-the-shelf rear screen from another car, rather than a bespoke item? For small scale manufacturers such as Bristol, the need to scavenge parts from other vehicles often compromises their designs with unfortunate consequences. In Bristol’s case the 411 and its successors used tail lights from the Hillman Minx, Hillman Hunter, an unknown commercial vehicle(?), Opel Senator and Audi A4 Estate, none of which was particularly satisfactory.

    1. That’s a good photo. It shows the way the c-pillar meets the shoulder. It’s a proper botch job.

  3. I’ve just had a lightbulb moment and remembered the source of the tail lights I couldn’t identify above, as fitted to the Bristol Brigand:

    Anyone else recognise them?

  4. The styling of the Blenheim always reminded me of an overweight Lancia Beta coupé. I have a soft spot for late Beta coupés and think that it benefitted from one of those successful facelifts that you mention from time to time.

    I have to admit to disliking the Bristol. I like to think I would not spend that sort of money on something that was so stylistically challenged if I were in a position to have the choice. I do understand the great appeal of the whole concept though.

    1. Bristol Blenheim 3 reminds me of an oversized Ford Capri Mk3. If most of its components are collected from different car manufacturers parts and somewhat crumpled into a Blenheim, it gave an interesting result. So if some spares needed, than those could be sourced from the aftermarket!? Could not be compared with other (expensive) brands. It’s unique. I like it very much.

    2. Constantine: for me the Bristol seemed reminiscent of a Ford Escort Mk2. This semblance emerged most clearly around the rear three quarters and the C-pillar. I am a big Bristol fan; it´s the only luxury car I would ever want to buy (this does not affect my preference for the Trevi which is an another category) but I also recognise it´s a wilfully inept bit of “styling”. I know the part-bin items didn´t help matters – a function of cost-saving. A better designer would have integrated the borrowed parts more successfully. It is not as if they are very idiosyncratic items.

  5. I see an affinity with the Ogle-designed Anadol A1, but it’s probably mere coincidence.

    I’m also wondering if that that huge rear window was designed for the car, or if the car was designed around it.

    1. I don’t see any HRW wires in that rear screen, and one of the strange things Bristol used to boast of was the “optical quality” of their glass. It could be a custom made screen with tiny wires like the Ford quickclear system, they aren’t actually that expensive to commission.

      Of course if that is the case it doesn’t reflect well on the designers of this unfortunate looking thing.

  6. Constantine: I have often described them as rich-mens’ Ford Capris. Not as an insult, however, I love most Bristols and wish they could have made into the electric / hybrid era. If they had started on a level playing field with a new platform and bought in (BMW perhaps) technology they could have made a wonderful Grand Tourer.

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