1947 Bristol 400
A very significant Bristol; pre-production car; The Motor and Autocar Road Test history; engine no 6....is this the most historic 400?
As part of Germany’s war reparations, Bristol obtained a set of blueprints and plans which had been drawn up by BMW in 1939 to update their own model range. The first fruit of this windfall was the 1947 Bristol 400 which used the best features of three outstanding pre-war BMWs, namely the engine of the 328, the body of the 327 and the chassis of the 326. Modified by Bristol’s own engineers to their own exacting aircraft industry standards, all the parts came together beautifully and a most elegant sporting saloon was born. The six-cylinder 2-litre engine featured an ingenious cylinder head design incorporating hemispherical combustion chambers and inclined valves without recourse to overhead or twin camshafts. Machined from the highest quality materials, it produced 80bhp and could propel the car to a top speed of 95mph with acceleration to match. To keep weight down, boot, bonnet and doors were in aluminium. Suspension was independent at the front with a transverse leaf spring, and a live axle at the rear with torsion bars. The gearbox was a four-speed manual with synchromesh on the top three ratios and freewheel on first, quite a novelty at the time. The 400 had a fair degree of competition success and successfully completed the Mille Miglia in 1949.
Exact production figures are uncertain but it is thought that perhaps 420 examples were made between January 1947 and December 1950, a fair few of which went to Australia. Today perhaps half this number are thought to survive worldwide, fewer than 60 of which are currently registered with the Bristol Owners' Club, making them a very rare sight on the roads.
The lovely example of the 400 series offered here is without doubt one of the most historic Bristol 400s, and arguably one of the most historic Bristols of all. KHU 303 was built in early 1947 as the 9th production 400 and carried engine number 6. It was registered in April 1947 to the Bristol Aeroplane Company itself and remained their property right through until the mid ‘50s. It was the engineering department’s development car upon which modifications were tried prior to production and it also doubled as the publicity and demonstration vehicle for the sales dept. It was also the first car to carry the improved and larger luggage boot with the external spare wheel under a stylish cover and was the car upon which the stronger, later type bumpers were tried, having been built initially with the original tubular type. As part of its role as a demonstrator, KHU 303 was lent to the “Autocar” magazine in January 1948 for a full road test and then in May 1948 to the “Motor” for an extended 2000 mile continental road report. Unsurprisingly both magazines were impressed with the car, both as to build quality and its performance and handling.....it was truly the “state of the art” as regards road cars in 1948, but then it did cost the equivalent of an average suburban house at the time ! Copies of both these tests are with the car’s paperwork, as are copies of several historic photographs taken at the period. KHU 303 was also tested by well-known personalities who were thinking of ordering a 400, probably the most illustrious being the Shah of Persia, a photograph of whom about to test the car at Filton is seen with these details. He tried to buy this car, but was told that even he would have to wait for delivery of a production example ! KHU 303 remained on the Company’s books as a demonstrator until around 1950, by which time the subsequent 401 model was in production. It was also used as a company car by the BAC Chairman Sir Reginald Verdon-Smith for a long period, finally passing to his wife for use by her. Its ownership however remained with the company. When BAC finally decided to sell it off, it was granted a full overhaul by them, for by then a great many miles had been covered. Ownership for the next few years is unknown, but an old style buff logbook from 1958/9 survives showing only a handful of owners in the last 60 years to date. The car spent many years in storage, but was finally purchased circa 1998 by Peter Osmond, who undertook a meticulous and comprehensive restoration of all aspects including a strip down to a bare bodyshell....photographs of this are with the papers. The correct triple downdraught SU set-up was reinstated, and a remote control gearchange from a later Bristol was incorporated, a common and worthwhile upgrade. Also added has been an overdrive conversion which makes for relaxed 70 mph cruising at 2,800 revs, plus a brake servo and, at considerable expense, discrete front seat-belts. The original 1947 radio set is still in place and although not working, can be internally converted to a modern system. Orange flashing indicators have been installed, but the original semaphore type remain working as well. All instruments and controls work correctly, although the clock is erratic....aren’t they all ? A functioning original heater is also a bonus. A complete and correct set of tools are with the car, and an impressive box has been built to fit in the boot to contain several additional items. The original driver’s handbook is also included and four excellent Michelin tyres are fitted, plus a new and unused spare. The car was re-finished in Rolls-Royce Garnet, a deep maroon that approximates its original colour, though as no 1940s colour photographs are known, this cannot be certain. In a nice twist of fate, the son of Sir Reginald Verdon-Smith was able to purchase his father’s old car from Peter Osmond in 2015 and added several thousand enjoyable miles while continuing to maintain the car in top order. Many invoices totalling multi thousands of pounds are on file and attest to the fact that KHU 303 has been correctly cared for. The present vendor purchased the car last year, but subsequently he and his wife have resolved to downsize and move to the South-West and will no longer have adequate garaging available to keep KHU 303 in the manner in which it is accustomed. As a result, he has reluctantly decided to offer this lovely and historic car to a new custodian. Ready to use in all respects and benefitting from a long MOT certificate (even though not actually required), this stylish Bristol is set to provide a lucky new owner both with many years’ enjoyment plus “blue-chip” investment potential over the long term and represents a rare opportunity to buy into the history of this most esoteric of car manufacturers.
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