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BRISTOL SIX-CYLINDER CARS

By Christopher Balfour

2024 review by Autolycus

This small softback book of only 94 pages is nonetheless an important one. Christopher Balfour has the finest credentials as a Bristol historian, having already written Bristol Cars: a Very British Story (Haynes, 2009) and having owned Bristols for many years. For those who know about Bristols, this book fills an important gap in the history: the true story of Bristol’s aims as they started up the car division after World War II. Many enthusiasts assumed that Bristol just focused upon using the excellent engine and chassis designs of the pre-war BMWs to develop its six-cylinder cars; this book corrects that misunderstanding, showing that Bristol always intended to build an advanced car with innovative engine, chassis and suspension design – based on the 220/240 and 225 projects – to compete with BMW and Mercedes. The 400 and its immediate successors were only ever stop-gaps – albeit effective and well-built ones.

The book usefully starts with a brief history of the Bristol Aeroplane Company and how Sir George W. White Bt. drove the creation of the Bristol car after the war, convinced as he was that Bristol could make an excellent product. It then tells the story of how contacts with BMW, through the Aldington brothers, made possible the development of the first six-cylinder Bristol, the 400. But Christopher Balfour clearly explains that it was George W. White’s plan from the start to create a 3-litre ‘World Car’ – and only to use an existing design in the interim if one was available. So, as the 400 developed into the 401, 403 and its derivatives, work started on this World Car. After chapters that succinctly relate the story of those derivatives, including the 404, 405, Arnolt and racing 450, perhaps the most fascinating chapter of the book goes into the projects known as 220/240 and 225. There were problems with the projects, but they were being overcome, when the Comet disaster intervened and forced Bristol to shed its car division and hand it over to George W. as a separate entity – without the possibility of having the World Car.

The rest of the book relates the development and undoubted success of the 406, the last six-cylinder Bristol; it is highly informative on a car that might otherwise be considered as a mere last-gasp evolution. It was far better than that, and of course formed the basis of the Chrysler-engined 407 and its successors.

As can be expected from Christopher Balfour, the text is concise and well written. Anyone wanting a first look at Bristol car history will be be well served. Longer-term Bristol enthusiasts will not be disappointed and will learn many new facts. The only minor criticism of the book lies in the choice  and quality of images: often they are ‘snaps’ from Christopher’s journeys with his own cars, and when they are historically important (such as those illustrating the advanced Alex Moulton ‘Flexitor’ rubber suspension on the 220/240) they could do with a bit more guidance in the captions. But these are quibbles about a highly satisfying history that adds significantly, despite its few pages, to the early story of Bristol cars.

Publisher: Amberley Publishing amberley-books.com

Price: £15.99 plus postage.

Description: softback (231 x 163mm), 94 pages; colour and black & white images.

ISBN: 978-1-3981-1974-1 (print)

           978-1-3981-1975-8 (ebook)


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