This Bristol 402, the sixth one built, left Bristol's Filton factory in 1949 bound for its first owner, HRH Prince Varananda Dhavaj Chudadhuj, a famous RAF Spitfire pilot and nephew of King Vajiravudh Rama VI of Thailand. The 402 was the convertible version of the Bristol 401 and was built in very limited numbers until 1950 after 24 had been sold. These Convertibles were nicknamed 'The Hollywood Special' after a pair of identical 402s were ordered by film star Stewart Granger for himself and his wife Jean Simmons. This 402 Convertible is the car that followed that famous pair off the production line. Bristol was famous for the build quality of its bodywork, with a lightweight 'Superleggera' steel framework supporting all-aluminum panels constructed on a very rigid chassis. Due to the company's experience making aircraft, it significantly reduced the weight of the car without sacrificing strength or rigidity.
The Bristol automobiles were designed in a wind tunnel meaning there are no exposed door handles; rather push a large button in the door and it opens. The body was constructed of a steel tubular frame with an aluminum body. The Bristol Cars Company was created by the Bristol Airplane Company which is evident by the quest for aerodynamic designs. With their experience in designing airplanes it was only natural that the technology and mechanics utilized their aviation experience. The first Bristol automobile was the Bristol 400 created in 1946. The Milanese designer, Carrozzeria Touring, had inspired the Bristol's body. He had also been instrumental in creating pre-war designs for the BMW 328, the very car on which all early Bristols were closely based upon. The early Bristol models used a BMW 326 chassis and a BMW 328 engine. The bodies were similar in design to the BMW 327.
The Bristol 400 was produced from 1947 through 1950. It had very strong similarities to the BMW models, even imitating the radiator grille. The second series, the Bristol 401, was created from 1948 through 1953. The 402 was a convertible built on the 401 chassis and designed exclusively for the rich and famous. The convertibles hoods conveniently stowed behind the seats out of eye's view and the trunk provides ample cargo space, regardless of the room taken by the convertible top. The windows were wind-up rather than side curtains. The 2+2 configuration was sporty, but the rear seats provided little room for their passengers. The interiors were plush with leather interior, ivory buttons and a curved dashboard. The two-door sedans had wood for the dashboard. The transmission is operated through a floorshifter. Under the hood lurks a powerful 2 liter, six-cylinder BMW engine with 3 downdraught Solex carburetors and pushrod-operated overhead valves. During the production run, there were around 23 convertibles created with only 13 accounted for in modern times.
The Bristol 403 were built from 1953 through 1955. They are distinguished by a long, flowing hood with four lights mounted cleanly on the front of the vehicle. The body is complete and the lines are clean. The round wheel arches continue the sculpted body design, free of gaps, and gently covering the large wheels. The Touring design is amplified in the Bristol 403 and draws strong inspiration from the early BMW pre-war models. The long hood quietly hides the 2-liter BMW straight-six engine. With its 100 horsepower output, the 403 could go from zero-to-sixty in around fourteen seconds with a top speed of around 80 mph. These performance figures are not astounding, even the Bristol 401 was quicker. The aerodynamic body and potent engine were not enough to combat the weight of the vehicle. Still, the Bristol 403 was a magnificently designed vehicle in regards to artistry and aerodynamics. With around 281 examples of the 403's created, their exclusivity is forever guaranteed.
Ultimately, the Bristol is the result of a superior German BMW engine, Italian coachwork and aerodynamic efficiency. By Daniel Vaughan | Sep 2007