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SNAPSHOT 158: 1972 Bristol 411 Series 2

The Snapshot here was taken in the mid-1980s – and this looks like a smart example.  It had just received a bare-metal respray, a re-chrome of the enormous bumpers, and some careful attention to the carburation.  But its fresh exterior still hid a multitude of sins: this is a car that had led a hard life.  It had been involved in at least two accidents – and only some of the resultant filler could be removed in its budget respray.  Several linkages in throttle and brake systems were seriously worn.  And, worst of all, there was the bane of all Bristols from the 406 onwards: rotting rear suspension mounts. Bristol prided itself in attention to detail in manufacture, but fatally forgot to enclose the tops of the brackets attaching the torsion bars to the rear of the chassis.  Water and road dirt always got in, with inevitable consequences.

And yet.  The moment you got in and turned the key, and the gigantic 383 cubic inch Chrysler V8 rumbled into life and its indestructible Torqueflite box slipped smoothly into gear, you felt totally captivated by this highly eccentric but tough and capable car.  Its hidden faults still couldn’t spoil its ability to accelerate, corner and brake with astounding agility for a 35-cwt machine.  It was like an old bare-knuckle fighter: creaking from a host of injuries, but still capable of a knock-out punch out there in front of the crowd.

And it was eccentric.  For a start it was very narrow – only 68 inches wide – which made it easy to place it in traffic and to press on with total confidence.  It had excellent weight distribution and accessibility, helped considerably by the totally logical but almost unheard of positioning of the spare wheel on the nearside and the battery, brake servo and fuse box on the offside, under lift-up covers between front wheels and doors.  And, because all this equipment was up front, and because the chassis stopped immediately behind the rear seats, it had a boot that Crocodile Dundee may well have referred to with the words: “No, this is cavernous.”

The 411 is perhaps the final flowering of the noble lineage that started with the 400 in 1946. From Series 1 to Series 5, all 411s had a magical combination of unobtrusive elegance and serious performance. Prices are now rising, those hidden faults can now be fixed, and a new generation can savour the unique qualities of the 411.

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