A nice pair of Bristols? We go in search of shutline nirvana – by air and by road.
Earlier in the week, we spent a fair amount of time examining shutlines and the lengths to which some carmakers will go to engineer solutions to the issues left by the stylists, not to mention the depths to which the marketing team will descend to cast them in the best possible light.
So it is perhaps timely that we return to the subject today. In some ways, we might be accused of being a little harsh to single out a specialist carmaker like Bristol in this manner, the storied marque having been more akin to a cottage industry – especially in production engineering terms. Bristol, owing to their modest circumstances, had to made do and mend, and for the most part they succeeded in masking their inherent deficiencies.
But as time wore on and both customers and the wider industry became ever more sophisticated, the products of Filton looked increasingly like something from a previous epoch – arguably for some at least, a intrinsic component of their appeal.
Today, courtesy of Driven to Write co-founder, and former fellow-scribe, Sean Patrick, we revisit an article which formed part of a DTW monthly theme devoted to the subject of those difficult body-in-white transitions we autophiles call shutlines.
A shorter piece than he was generally known for, it nevertheless showcases his keen eye for detail, his broad knowledge, his razor sharp wit and languid writing style. We miss Sean around these parts.
We are enjoying something of an impromptu Bristol-fest this weekend, but the festivities can only begin if you click on this link. Should this further whet your appetite for the fine products of Filton, we can also recommend this alternative piece from the same author, examining Bristol’s 2016 resurrection – which if we’re not mistaken seems to have gone rather quiet once more.
11 thoughts on “Summer Reissue : Another Country”
The mainstay of the Bristol range for many years was the 603 and its numerous successors. When it was launched in 1976, the 603 was quite elegant and contemporary looking, and only mildly quirky:
Unfortunately, it was all downhill from there from an aesthetic perspective. Repeated misguided attempts to “modernise” it by adding black, then body-coloured bumpers, A variety of (ill-fitting) tail lights from different mainstream manufacturers and an incongruous plastic front grille and tiny headlamps led to this, the 2004 Blenheim 4:
If, heaven forbid, I’m told I’m told I have six months to live, I’d be tempted to blow my life savings on a 603. Damn the expense and the wonky panels, I’d just point to the imperfections and say proudly, “Hand-made!”
Bristol always did seem to have poor panel fit, compared to, say, Aston Martin where they also were hand shaping aluminum panels.
As for Bristol being body on frame – yes it is but, by not having the body isolated by rubber bushings, they missed out on the great advantage in noise and ride that body on frame provides for luxury cars.
The Bristol frame is really solid – 4 by 6 inch, 11 gauge closed section. And, even when the body is attached by rubber bushings, you still get (approx) 70 to 80 percent of the torsional rigidity of the body when measuring frame torsion.
Hi Angel. I wonder, does body-on-frame construction necessitate wider panel gaps and shut lines, due to more body flex? Regarding Bristol, I’ve noticed that the cars sometimes look to have less than perfectly smooth panels when photographed in oblique light:
Unfortunately, this makes me think of a poor quality crash repair job.
Uneven surfaces are extrely sensitive to lighting and colour.
That’s why there were no black original Gamma coupés, because Pininfarina couldn’t produce the panels in sufficiently high quality not to look rippled in black.
“… does body-on-frame construction necessitate wider panel gaps and shut lines, due to more body flex?”
Daniel, no it shouldn’t do. If you look at contemporary pickups and large BOF SUVs their panel gaps are just as tight as everything else. And there is little or no flex in those vehicles, especially the big luxury SUVs.
I think the reputation for flex for BOF cars is because they came from the era when almost everything had a lot of flex. And a lot of that was from design decisions like deleting the B pillar.
For example, when Jaguar created the XJ coupe without a B pillar, they turned a pretty solid car by 1970’s standards into something of a noodle. They ended up with a vinyl roof to cover up the stress cracks in the roof.
Thanks, Angel, and interesting stuff about the Jaguar XJ-C and its vinyl roof. I always thought it would look better without, like this absolute beauty:
(I don’t know if anything has been done to improve its structural rigidity though.)
You hardly see Bristols where I live (the Netherlands), so surprised to see the red car in the comments actually has a Dutch license plate. Wasn’t the 404 the first Bristol to have the spare tyre, battery and tools located behind the front wheels? They did a nice job on disguising the shut lines of the hinged panel there.
Body on frame for ride and noise isolation was rendered obsolete by the Jaguar XJ6 of 1968. Fifty one years ago! There is no great “advantage in noise and ride” to a separate chassis, rubber biscuits or not, unless your engineering horizon is about 1965 and you can’t be bothered to do a full engineering development — which sums up Detroit of the era. Yet you go on and on about it. Please, modernise! Read some of the scads of info on the various XJ6 incarnations and successors on this very website. And absorb.
As for Bristol, an antedeluvian chariot compared to the XJ6 in 1968, I never could understand why they used the cooking Chrysler 318 engine back in the late 1960s. Anyone there could have looked up from their handtools and keyhole files for five minutes and read about the 340 engine which was more befitting for a bolide of Bristol’s great expense and supposed performance. But hand-made retro was their calling card in full even then and forever remained as the cars grew ever more ungainly to behold. They were thoroughly past their Best Before date 50 years ago, and beyond LJKS not a soul of any authority paid them the least attention for decades. Fittingly, in my view. They advanced the state of the art in automotive styling and mechanical design not one whit ever that I can recall, beyond the aero of the first few models. About their only USP was that spare tyre on one side battery on the other rigamarole.
“There is no great “advantage in noise and ride” to a separate chassis, rubber biscuits or not,…”
I believe there are two advantages to BOF vs separate front and rear subframes.
1) BOF is a single large mass vs two smaller masses for separate subframes, so the BOF resonant frequency is lower and able to absorb lower frequency road vibrations and bumps.
2) accurate location of suspension attachment points. Subframes move all over the place and suspension alignment with it. Here is an example of a Jaguar X300. (But it is the same with every subframe car, even when brand new)
Old fashioned underpinnings and engine aside there is something strangely appealing in the understated styling of the Bristol Blenheim, the front end appears to be a vaguely subtle take of a Jaguar XJ minus the grille (unless other cars come to mind).
From reading Christopher Balfour’s book on Bristol Cars. Had different decisions been made early on Bristol could have fared much better than it did via the stillborn Type 220/225/240 projects along with the Jaguar XK6-inspired all-alloy Type 160 inline-6 Twin-Cam engine, amongst other things (without even mentioning Armstrong-Siddeley had the car divisions been merged akin to Rolls-Royce and Bentley, if not Bristol simply taking over Armstrong-Siddeley).