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Bristol Cars go belly-up

2011-03-04 09:05

BRUTAL BRIT: The styling has never been particularly elegant, but the Fighter T is geared to do 386km/h. With aviation grade aerodynamics and nearly 750kW under the hood, is that surprising?

The world’s most enigmatic automobile manufacturer is bankrupt.

Bristol Cars went into administration this week after producing unique high-performance touring coupes and supercars for 65 years at its factory in near Bristol in western England.

The company’s rather peculiar business plan – it only has a single global showroom, located on London’s Kensington High Street – has come under pressure of late, with its rather pricey product portfolio and low volumes leaving little margin for cash flow issues in the wake of the global economic crisis of 2009.

Administrators from the firm RSM Tenon, Tom MacLennan and Trevor Binyon, have been appointed to oversee the company’s affairs.

MacLennan’s priority is to ensure Bristol customers – who are as eccentric and secretive as the cars they own – are looked after. "While there have been a number of immediate redundancies due to the financial position of the company, we are maintaining the sales and service operations so customers will continue to be supported.

RSM Tenon’s administrators are urging any interested parties to contact them with a possible bid for the company. "We would urge any interested parties to make contact with us as quickly as possible and are confident that we can secure the future of this iconic British brand."

Although most automotive enthusiasts outside the United Kingdom have probably never heard of  - much less seen – Bristol cars, the company has always been highly regarded for its aviation themed engineering solutions and true hand built quality finishes.

MERCEDES-BENZ SLS?: And you thought Mercedes-Benz reserved the right to do gullwing doors. Bristol Fighter looks odd, has a drag coefficient of only 0.225…


Bristol began as an aeroplane maker, before moving into the luxury vehicles after World War 2.

Before its bankruptcy Britsol was allegedly producing 150 cars a year, for the most discerning clientele imaginable - mostly titled British aristocrats.

The company’s product portfolio includes the Fighter, Blenheim, Blenheim Speedster and Series 6.

Although Bristol's cars have never been particularly striking or elegant to look at, they have always features the very best luxury trim and rather outrageous performance.

Employing impeccably formed spaceframe chassis technology and featuring aluminum surfacing long before it become standardized by mainstream manufacturers, Bristol’s cars have never been overweight - despite their luxury billing.

The company’s headline Fighter T supercar only weighs a touch more 1 700kg, despite the burden of its Dodge Viper derived twin-turbo V10 engine.

Indeed, Bristol has always had a penchant for oversized American V8 powerplants matched to transmissions with gearing calibrated for intergalactic cruising speeds.

The Fighter T, for instance, is geared to pull 80km/h per 1 000rpm in sixth gear; consider its peak outputs of 744kW and 1 400Nm and you get an idea of the performance on offer...

With its aviation heritage guaranteeing a philosophy that has always had seen Bristol build its cars to a standard, instead of a price, these secretive supercars offer unmatched high-speed stability, performance and even a cabin designed specifically to be ergonomically welcoming to drivers up to 2m in length.

TOURING CABIN: Okay, so it does not have inflatable crash protection. Build quality is peerless though and most switches are located, airplane cockpit-like, in a roof console…


For many, Bristol Cars will forever remain the real automotive representation of Cool Britannia; Aston Martin and Jaguar products appear crass and unoriginal in comparison.

Part of Bristol’s enigmatic allure had much to do with its rather non-existent relationship with the global automotive media.

The company consistently refused to make any of its vehicles available for testing. Even Top Gear could never get hold of a Bristol for evaluation purposes. Bristol's marketing was always done by word of mouth, or in the parking lots of palatial British country estates.

Although the narrow margins and limited cash reserves - always weaknesses in any niche manufacturing business - are being fronted are primary reasons for its demise, some industry analysts say increasingly strict emission regulations were a strong contributing actor too; particularly in view of Bristol's reliance on oversized American V8 engines to power its cars.

We sincerely hope a solution can be found to the company’s financial woes in the form of a buyer for the company. Kensington High Street will be just a little poorer if the small floorspace occupied by this proudly British company is rebranded and occupied by a retailer of more conventional wares.


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