The Bristoliste’s Bristol? The 411 turns 50.
The Bristol Motor car, from its 1948 inception has always proven to be a rarefied and somewhat piquant recipe. Because for every individual who admires and covets the earthbound products of Filton, there are those who find them ungainly, crude and overpriced. But even amongst the former group, there are Bristols and there are Bristols.
Like so many articles of faith, aficionados of the marque tend to split down the middle, dividing their loyalties, not to mention their critical faculties between the six-cylinder cars (400-406) and the later-generation eight-cylinder models. Of these however, the 411 remains perhaps the definitive variant. Certainly, for those of a certain age, it remains the model which immediately springs to mind when the subject of the former South Gloucestershire carmaker is raised.
Introduced in 1969, the 411 combined the familiar bodyshape, chassis and suspension layout with a larger capacity 6.3 litre Chrysler B-series V8 engine, producing a claimed 335 BHP. To cope with the additional torque, a limited slip differential was fitted as standard. The jump in performance (said to have been in the region of 30%) meant that the 411 became a 140-mph automobile, described by Autosport’s veteran scribe, John Bolster as the “fastest true four-seater touring car” of the day.
Certainly, whether or not one cleaves to the LJK Setright theory which stated that odd-numbered Bristols were invariably superior to their even numbered equivalents, the 411 was not only a notable improvement upon the previous 410 model, but a cogent argument could also be made to suggest that it represented peak-Bristol in overall desirability terms.
Over its lifespan, the 411 was continuously revised and improved – the 1971 Series II adding self levelling rear suspension, while the Series III of the following year received a sleeker four headlamp nose, which is said to have lent it the most powerful lighting of any production car at the time. The tail lamps were also revised.
Two years later, the series IV was released, which was fitted with a larger capacity 6.6 litre Chrysler V8 (400 cubic inch), producing a more realistic 264 bhp at 4800 rpm, the result of a dramatically lower compression ratio, but more torque and lower emissions, in line with tightening economies being enacted in the US.
The Series V, produced for the final year of 411 assembly (1975-6) was visually and mechanically as before, but came with additional safety features – inertia reel seatbelts, fog lamps, rear head rests, while a black-finished grill and optional alloy wheels provided visual differentiation. 1976 saw the introduction of the 603 model, the last all-new bodystyle to be offered upon the traditional Bristol chassis.
However, such was the timeless appeal of the 411, that in response to customer demand, the carmaker rather belatedly offered a Series VI version – essentially a remanufactured 411 employing the chassis, 5.9 litre engine and running gear from the contemporary Blenheim model – very much the best of possible worlds for the tastefully well-heeled.
Arguably then the Bristolian platonic ideal, the 411, combining as it does a more harmonious overall style with relatively contemporary dynamics, still maintains its power to seduce. And with less than 300 built, you’re unlikely to encounter another on the weekly shopping run. So by way of marking its half century, we invite you to revisit the definitive 1969 review of the model from legendary motoring scribe, Archie Vicar.
Editor’s note: No Bristols were (seriously) harmed in this report.