Street-Spotted: 1956 Bristol 405

1956 Bristol 405.

1956 Bristol 405.

1956 Bristol 405.

1956 Bristol 405.

1956 Bristol 405.

1956 Bristol 405.

1956 Bristol 405.

1956 Bristol 405.

You could go to a hundred classic British car events, and not see a single Bristol. And we have certainly been to a hundred classic British car events without seeing one. But this doesn’t mean they’re not out there.

If you’re not familiar with Bristol, there are plenty of good reasons for that. As a number of other long-lived automakers, Bristol Cars grew out of an aircraft manufacturer that dates back to 1910. At the end of World War II the Bristol Aeroplane Company had a slight deficit of orders, as one might expect, and turned its attention to cars to keep its workforce employed in the lean post-war years. The end of the war provided the perfect kick start to the plans: Bristol acquired BMW designs in addition to acquiring all of Frazer Nash, which also placed it in the same group as EMW, if you want to think about it that way. That’s right: EMW and Bristol have something in common.

The company’s early models were slightly altered pre-war BMW sedans like the 328 that debuted in 1936, even keeping the kidney grilles, but they didn’t have great export potential. A successor to the 328-based Bristol 400 line was the 404/405, which was one of the first independent designs. The 404 and the 405 are largely the same car, but the 404 is a two-door coupe. The 404 debuted in 1953, while the 405 sedan, seen here, debuted two years later.

 

1956 Bristol 405.

Powered by a 2.0-liter inline-six engine, the 405 featured such advanced items as aluminum body panels, but it’s most impressive trick is hidden in the front wings, behind the front wheels. Obscured by a piece of trim the lower half of the front wing opens upward, revealing a full-size spare tire positioned behind the front wheel arch. That’s why the space between the front wheel arch and the door appears so long — there’s a whole ‘nother tire in there. And the 405 was by no means the last model to offer this feature; most later Bristol models had it as well.

Another reason you’re unlikely to have encountered a 405 is because their production was by no means mass production, unlike their BMW ancestors. These cars were made by hand just like Bentley, Aston Martin and other luxury automakers, and just a couple of hundred left the factory each year. Bristol 405 production topped out a 308 sedans, while just 52 examples of the 404 coupe were produced. Fast-forward 70 years and the total number of 405s in existence doesn’t amount to much. It helps that these were always expensive and exclusive cars so the attrition rate has been pretty low, but 308 cars is tiny number even for Bentley models of the era.

How many Bristols are in this country? Not counting the Arnolt-Bristol Bolide there are just a couple of dozen examples of different models, and most happen to be earlier BMW-based coupes and sedans. And that’s about it. The latest ones we’ve laid eyes on were the two examples of the Bristol 408, but those are still 1960s cars. We’ve heard there’s a Blenheim from the 1980s in British Columbia, but it could well be the only Blenheim in North America. You still have a better chance of seeing a Bristol in the U.K. but not on the street — you’d have to be a pretty significant British car gathering to spot one of these in its home country.

 

1956 Bristol 405.

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