Launched to public acclaim at the Earls Court motor show in 1948, the Bristol 401 was a radical departure from the much admired Bristol 400 which it replaced. A car built with motoring connoisseurs in mind, it stood apart from its contemporaries with its forward thinking design, standing outside of the automotive norms of the era.
Based on the design of special bodied prototypes produced by both Pinin Farina and Touring of Milan, the Italian styling was clear to behold, although the Car Division of the Bristol Aeroplane Company simplified and refined the designs for the production vehicles.
All superfluities were omitted, becoming the "epitome of the clean body; all that was visible was smooth." The door handles were push-buttons, flush with the body and the bonnet, boot and fuel filler were operated via push and pull buttons on the inside of the vehicle.
This eliminated bonnet and boot handles and aided security, as the only external lock was found on the driver's side. At the front and rear, one found integrated bumpers with rubbing strips that were very advanced for the time.
With a rigid chassis to build on, Bristol Cars elected to build a "superleggera" lightweight framework that could support an aluminium skin of their bodywork. When clothing this framework they elected, as an aircraft manufacturer would, to grade the thickness of the bodywork according to its placement.
Thus, the aluminium alloy used for the front wings was a heavier 16 gauge than the 19 gauge sheeting used for the sides of the car. This fastidious attention to detail allowed them to significantly reduce the weight of the car without sacrificing strength or rigidity.
A Drophead variant of the 401, the 402, was launched simultaneously and showed Bristol's typical attention to detail and craftsmanship.
Along with the spacious interior, the 402's removable top added to the feeling of great space and utmost class for a grand touring model.
The folding hood was smoothly-contoured to be able to fold completely out of sight and maintain the vehicles clean lines. The 402 was marketed in limited numbers and production lasted until 1950, with only 22 having been made. They gained the nickname the 'Hollywood Special' after a pair of the early cars was ordered by film star Stewart Granger and his actress wife Jean Simmons.
A 1953 road test conducted by The Motor magazine concluded that the Bristol 402 was "a car in a class of its own."
OPV 706 left the Filton factory in October 1949 and was the 6th 402 built.
It was sent to James H Galt of Glasgow, a well-known Bristol distributer who supplied the car to its first owner, HRH Prince Varanand Dhavaj Chudadhuj, a famed Spitfire pilot and nephew to HM King Viriravudh Rama VI of Thailand. Having been used at his Berkshire residence, OPV 706 stayed with the prince until October 1956 when it was purchased by Mr. Thomas R Anderson, who took it to Belfast, where it remained until its return to England in January 1984.
Over the past few years the car has often appeared at Bristol Owners Club events and is very well known within the club. It currently sits in good usable condition in the period correct shade of surf blue complimenting the cream hide interior. In good order overall with a glorious patina, it is ready to be enjoyed as it is and would make a great addition to any serious collection.
Equally, given its rarity and royal connections, this presents a unique opportunity to purchase a vehicle which, with some sympathetic restoration, could grace the lawns of the world's finest concours events.