As the last of the six-cylinder Bristols before the advent of the mighty V8 cars, the rare and handsome 406 is a significant model that’s well worth seeking out...
It may lack the swoopy, aero-inspired lines of the earlier 401 and 402, but the 406 pushed Bristol into rarefied top level luxury car territory. It was bigger, heavier and more powerful than any previous Bristol, and – at close to £4500 – easily the most expensive. It wasn’t, however, all that fast, and struggled to break the all-important 100mph barrier.
It marked a sea-change in styling, too, with a new front sporting an open air inlet covered by a recessed mesh grille. But how does it stack up as a classic proposition today?
Power (bhp@rpm) 105bhp@4700rpm
Torque (lb ft@rpm) 129lb ft@3000rpm
Top speed 107mph
Gearbox 4-speed manual + O/D
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
BODYWORK & CHASSIS
Being largely handmade, no two 406s are ever identical, but the key rot-spots remain broadly the same. The most common areas to require attention on unrestored cars are around the wheelarches. An electrolytic reaction can occur where the bodywork’s aluminium and steel sections meet around the arches, causing inevitable corrosion that must be cut out and replaced.
It’s a similar story with the battery and spare wheel floors, and while replacement is straightforward enough, being part of a coachbuilt car means it doesn’t come cheaply.
The 406’s 2.2-litre Type 110 engine – first seen on the export-only 406E – is a broadly strong and unstressed unit that should manage 100,000 miles before requiring a re-build. It’s worth paying more for a lower-mileage or recently re-built engine, however, as you’re looking at a bill for at least £10,000 to re-build a worn engine.
Contemporary publicity releases may have promised 100mph-plus speeds, but the reality was the car actually fell short of ‘the ton’ by a good two or three mph, despite having various innovations such as re-profiled pistons and a timing chain tensioner. Peak torque was developed at lower revs than previously, and the torque curve itself was much flatter, but early cars earned an unfortunate nickname, ‘tea kettle’, due to their propensity to overheating.
Sporting a steel block, the engine’s main weakness concerns its aluminium cylinder head – which is prone to corrosion – particularly around the water jackets and holes, and is known to warp. This latter issue has a knock-on effect on the head gasket – if the head is skimmed once too often following warping, the gasket can no longer maintain a tight seal between the block and the head. Thicker cylinder head gaskets are still available from Bristol, although repeated subsequent skimming will eventually lead to a new cylinder head being required.
The four-speed overdrive gearbox is pretty tough on the whole, although it’s not unheard of for the ball races to whine at tickover. If simply depressing the clutch makes the noise disappear, than replacements will be required.
The 406’s suspension, meanwhile, is unusual in that rather than relying on grease nipples, it uses a ‘one-shot’ lubrication system. This is operated via a plunger inside the car, which distributes oil to the front kingpins and rack-and-pinion steering.
Bristol recommends that the driver operates this system every 100 miles or so (and even more regularly in wet or muddy conditions), and failure to adhere to this regime can instigate blocked channels, or a non-return valve that jams in the open position. Ignoring this problem will obviously have consequences for the front suspension and steering, so it’s wise to check it works properly and that there’s no play in the kingpin and bushes.
The 406’s interior was extremely luxurious when new, with sumptuous leather seats and high-quality bound Wilton carpets. Most of these items can be repaired in sections by experienced upholsterers, which is good news since a full refurbishment would involve non-original materials (exchange seats are not available) and a lot of money.
Wood features heavily in the 406’s cabin, and the section beneath the windscreen is exposed near-constantly to the sun, which eventually damages it.
Fascia controls and gauges are broadly reliable and long-lasting, but the oil/water gauges in particular can require work on higher mileage cars. Reassuringly, exchange units are still available from the factory, although they’re hardly cheap.
Think Bristol, and many people immediately think either of 1950s aero-styled pioneers, or large, squared-off V8 saloons from the 1970s and 1980s. The 406 was very much a transition car and while it wasn’t particularly quick, it’s a rare, elegant, beautifully engineered and very luxurious tourer. They’re good value too, and enjoy an enthusiastic owner’s club following.