PH CARPOOL: BRISTOL 410
Fast and eccentric, Bristol ownership has more than lived up to the expectation for this week's Carpooler
1969 Bristol 410
The only classic I'd owned before was a Rover P6 that I still have. Other interesting cars that have come and gone since the Bristol came are a Tatra 613 and a Bitter SC, although they were in fact both bought to be daily drivers (the Tatra wasn't a such a good idea for a daily, but the Bitter was ace). Previous and subsequent daily drivers have mainly been Saabs and my current Mercedes 300SE.
Although I knew nothing about them, I'd always been aware of Bristols since I was a kid reading car magazines. But despite being one of the most expensive cars in the listings I'd never read anything else about them or seen one on the road. Then one day in 1999 I read a classic car magazine article (I still have it of course) comparing a Bristol 411, a Mercedes 300SEL 6.3 and a Silver Shadow. The Bristol just seemed so cool and aloof, not flashy or showy but discreet, fast and affordable. After a few years of endlessly banging on about Bristols, boring everyone I knew rigid, eventually a decent car, the money, and my 30th birthday all happened to come along at the same time. I initially went out looking for a 411, but soon realised that the 410 is rarer, has a nicer interior, is almost as fast, and I could get a much better car for the same price. I in fact went to look at a different 410 that broker Andrew Blow (www.amjblow.co.uk) had in stock, but this other one he had was clearly so much better, for so little more money, that I actually heeded the old "buy the best you can afford" adage. I've been told that there are few things more expensive than a cheap Bristol!
Before getting the car, I'd read the Brooklands book of period Bristol road tests obsessively, as well as any other magazine features as they appeared, so had picked up a lot of general info on all Bristols which probably paid off as there haven't been many surprises in ownership. I didn't join the Bristol Owners' Club (www.boc.net) until after I'd bought the car, which was possibly the wrong way round as cars are often sold just by word of mouth within the club so I may have had a wider range of cars to choose from.
Things I love:
It's a hand-built, British saloon, with an aluminium body and a massive V8. It's great to drive, fast enough that I find modern traffic is usually getting in the way, seats four with ease, and you don't see them on every street corner. What more do you need? I love the fact that it looks like a stately old bus but goes like stink. I love the torque which makes it quick off the line when you put your foot down, so you can surprise people at traffic lights who simply don't expect it. I love the long bonnet, with teeny fins at the back and very dark blue paint, and the red leather and dark wood interior, with almost anonymous toggle switches, and a foot switch for full beam headlights. I love the fact that wherever you go, you often meet people who know of someone who had a Bristol once, some distant relative or a local doctor or somesuch. Old Bristols carry a kind of mystique as there are so few around, and few people know much about them. The owners' club is also great, with events of all sorts and great people who have somehow managed to rope me in to editing their newsletter.
Very little! Hate is too strong a word, but I wish the seats went back further. 411s have more adjustment I believe, but if I've been driving all day my knee really tells me about it the next day. Maybe I'm just getting old (although I'm not as old as the car!). I don't mind the question "What sort of car is that?", but I am frustrated by how many people then ask "Where are they from?" and get confused when you give them the same answer again.
Routine servicing costs are quite reasonable. The engine and gearbox are Chrysler and are pretty tough, and should go on for years if looked after. There was a good deal of welding required last year around the back axle and suspension, all well known Bristol rot spots. My feeling, however, was that the car was 40 years old, was restored 20 years ago, and so welding it again now should see me through until about 2030. There are several Bristol specialists around and Bristol Cars itself also has an excellent service centre in London. All my servicing and repairs have been done by Spencer Lane-Jones Ltd in Warminster so fairly local for me. Although today he has retired from the day-to-day running of the company, Spencer used to own my 410 himself so several of the staff there have known the car for well over 20 years. Fuel costs add up obviously, and although I could fill it up for £50 when I first got it, it's a lot more now. Average consumption is about 17-18mpg, and a steady motorway cruise can be almost 20mpg, which I think is not bad for a 40-year-old 5-litre V8, driven by a lead-footed hooligan like me. The biggest cost was five years ago when I wrote it off by driving into a lorry one summer night. I retained the salvage from the insurers and luckily found a very rotten 411 that could become a donor. Mitchell Motors near Salisbury did a phenomenal job of putting it all back together.
All over the place! I've put over 50,000 miles on it since 2003. Mileage in the first year was almost 10,000, although a bit less thereafter. Sadly it fell to under 2,000 last year as fuel costs have risen and the family grown. It's been to the Hebrides, Land's End, Spain once and France numerous times, including twice to Le Mans. The Spanish trip was a three-week, 3,000 mile oenological and gastronomic tour with a couple of mates through France to Barcelona, Bilbao, San Sebastian and back and the car didn't miss a beat the whole way. It gets used for pottering around locally, weekends away, and even the odd PH Sunday Service. It had already been roped into providing transport for a few friends' weddings before doing so at my own wedding. Most memorable single drive so far is probably a solo trip from Wiltshire to Anglesey, leaving home at about 5am on a Saturday morning one June for a friend's stag do, and going direct, diagonally through Wales on some fantastic and deserted roads. Future plans involve taking it to Norway to visit family one day, and it would be great if we can get all the way up to the Arctic circle. Over the Alps and on to Greece would also be a good run one day.
I'm sometimes tempted to swap it for a more modern Bristol that I can use everyday, maybe a Britannia or Brigand with LPG, or even an early Blenheim, but whenever I think about it I realise that I can't bring myself to sell this one. Perhaps I need two! The next expenditure will be on installing rear seat belts as we have one child already and another coming next year, so if we can't all go out together the car just won't get used properly, and that doesn't bear thinking about.