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British Car Day Preview: Bristol 403

Jay Ramey June 17, 2013 Car Shows, Cars You Should Know 7 Comments

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Your typical summertime British car show is always full of rubber-bumper MGBs and Triumph TR6s that had sat out in the sun too long. But British Car Day at the Larz Anderson Auto Museum is not your typical British car show. And every year it never fails to surprise, with rarities that you’d normally only be able to catch at a top tier national concours event. And last year, one of those rarities was this Bristol 403 saloon from 1955.

Bristol is not marque we see often in the US. Last year I had spoken to an owner of a Bristol 406 sedan, and he told me there were only about a couple dozen cars in the US and Canada. That’s of course not counting the Arnolt Bristol Bolide, which trade hands at major auctions pretty regularly. And of those Bristols in the US, very few are the later models from the 1970s and 80s. In fact, it may surprise you to learn that there is not a single Bristol Blenheim the US. Those Blenheims, however, are relatively plentiful compared to what we’re going to take a look at today, as only 275 examples of the Bristol 403 were made.

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It’s no secret that the earliest Bristols to come out of the factory located in the town of the same name were cribbed from pre-war BMWs. The 403 seen here, for example, used the basic body design of the BMW 327 saloon, right down to the kidney grille. The engine was based on the BMW 328, though in the 403 the engine was detuned from the version that appeared in the earlier, and visually similar Bristol 400.

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This particular 403 is one of the last four examples built, and actually incorporates some details which appeared on the later Bristol, as a transitional model of sorts. This car spent most of its life in Switzerland, and was brought to America relatively recently when it was purchased by the late collector Martin Swig. This 403 then passed into the hands of Keith F/ Carlson, himself a noted Jaguar collector, who took it to British Car Day last year. And it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that this Bristol, still wearing its livery from the California Mille, pretty much stole the show last year.

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This year’s British Car Day will take place on  Sunday, June 23rd, at the Larz Anderson Auto Museum located in Brookline, Massachusetts, just a few minutes southwest of Boston. 

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Browse the full gallery from last year below:

[Images: Copyright 2013 Hooniverse/Jay Ramey]

  • 'Oo doesn't luv Bristols, eh?

  • craigsu

    The underdash radio seems out of place.

    • Jay_Ramey

      Yeah, that's an odd detail, but I find that with Bristols the usual rules just don't apply. Even now the company will retrofit older models with newer components, and at the end of the day there really isn't a concours judge who will go "hey, that's not original" because every car is different to the point that you can't really even swap body panels without some serious fit issues.

      For instance, one can't say that that Tatra isn't supposed to have that siren system, or that a Blenheim isn't supposed to have a later GM transmission. They're just that special category of cars where retrofits and functional updates don't really detract.

      Bristols get a pass in my book, as do Tatras, ZiLs, and other handmade things.

      • craigsu

        Certainly gives added meaning to the term "hand-made", doesn't it? I read somewhere recently (BaT?) that there was so much difference among the same models that even having a parts car didn't necessarily help you, such that you couldn't even swap out a glovebox door.

        • Jay_Ramey

          For which car, the Bristols?

          Yeah, same with even cars like Daytonas actually, all those panels were handbeaten and now when some "lucky" owner who's restoring one or what not gets a fender, the panel can be like a quarter inch off just about everywhere. And they get into a situation where "boohoohoo, I have to use original parts where possible" So one cant really get 1 Daytona out of 2 crashed ones even if one has all the panels one needs. They're just 2 diff cars. ZiLs are notorious for this, cant plug and play.

          So sometimes when that original part is smaller(!) than the space its replacing, what do you do? : )

  • marmer01

    What is that round thing under the dash, some kind of vent? Or speaker?

    • Jay_Ramey

      Speaker, and not one that matches the interior well : )