When is a Bristol not a Bristol? In the case of the Bristol car company, which started production after World War II, the answer is ‘when it’s really a BMW’. For though the sinuous Bristol 400 touring car did indeed bear a Bristol badge, it borrowed heavily from the prewar BMW 328, which the German company had actually exported as a rolling chassis to Britain, where it was bodied and sold by Frazer Nash.
In 1945 Frazer Nash formed a joint venture with the Bristol Aircraft Company (maker of wartime Blenheim and Beaufighter aircraft) to explore the possibility of manufacturing luxury cars. Representatives of the new consortium visited the wrecked BMW factory in Munich during 1945, ‘liberating’ plans and engines before the Americans managed to ship the remains of the factory’s contents and machinery Stateside. BMW chief engineer Fritz Friedel was swiftly recruited to continue developing the 328 engine and a prototype was constructed in 1946. BAC gained complete control of the venture in 1947, registered the name Bristol Cars and started production of the first series Bristol 400, which was replaced by the refined second series in 1948.
The BMW heritage was significant indeed. The rear suspension replicated that of the BMW 326, the body echoed the BMW 327 and the engine and front suspension came from the BMW 328, and even the distinctive BMW twin radiator grille was incorporated. The Bristol 400’s appealing aerodynamic body came in various styles. The standard saloon had bodies designed by Touring and Zagato, whilst there was a drophead styled by Farina and built at Bristol. One or two custom examples were also built, including an extraordinary ‘woodie’ estate car by Hyde. The long, sloping boot had a characteristic raised circular housing for the spare wheel.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
FIRST MANUFACTURED: 1947 (until 1950)
1,971 cc Straight Six
Top speed of 82 mph (132 km/h); 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 19.7 secs
YOU SHOULD KNOW: Developed versions of the splendid prewar BMW 328 straight six engine would continue to power all Bristol cars until the company switched to Chrysler V8 engines in 1961.