Looking for a Bristol 411 or 412? We understand completely.
Apologies for heading straight into a cliché, but a Bristol really is the archetypal ‘gentleman’s express’. A car for the discerning motorist if you will. And the models we’re covering here fit into that category very nicely indeed. Stylishly understated on the outside, what goes on beneath the long bonnet is much the same, with performance that is subtle but effective thanks to the use of low-revving V8s, engines that imbue a Bristol with an impressively smooth shove in the back when the throttle is planted, while filling the cabin with a lovely burble. Hooked up to the slick-shifting Torqueflite transmission, it all makes for a relaxing drivetrain that ideally suits the long-distance cruising credentials. There’s also powerful, twin-servo brakes and hydraulic power assistance for the steering to round off the package, both of which contribute to the effortless feel of these distinctive cars. The ride and handling impress too, a Bristol able to soak up bumps with little commotion reaching the occupants and all the time remaining impressively planted and roll-free when the going gets twisty. But there’s even better news as all of this can be enjoyed from one of the finest cabins around, and it’s perhaps here more than anywhere where a Bristol’s hand-crafted, luxury feel really shines through. The amply-sized front chairs are comfortable, and there’s enough room for two in the back, but it’s the richness of the materials that really boost the feel-good factor. With most of the interior surfaces covered in leather, and the fascia and door cappings making use of nished wood, it’s a lovely place in which to be cocooned, and there’s a robustness to everything you touch that speaks of long-lasting quality. The large, well-shaped boot means a Bristol is a practical way to enjoy luxury travel too. And choosing a 412 means all of these attributes come with the added bonus of being able to enjoy fresh-air motoring as well. At the end of the day though, any of these cars will provide a unique style of classic car ownership, and that’s certainly something to relish.
Engine 6556cc, V8, OHV
Power 264bhp @ N/A
Top Speed 140mph
Gearbox RWD/three-speed auto
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
The potential for serious – and therefore costly – corrosion is the most worrisome aspect of these cars, so a specialist inspection is vital. The outer panels are aluminium, but fitted over a steel panel framework that can rot away unseen, and there is the obvious risk of galvanic corrosion between the two as well. There are several layers of metal that can trap rot, and the extent of the problem isn’t always apparent until you start digging further, so you need to be absolutely certain of condition before parting with any money.
Depending on the model, some replacement panels are getting rare – if available at all - and the hand-built nature means used ones are unlikely to fit properly. And having new ones made will be ferociously expensive. Chrome trim strips and bumpers are pricey too, while sourcing items such as replacement light units for early cars can be difficult.
The steel chassis will also need careful checking for signs of rot, paying close attention to the legs and outriggers and the areas around the fuel tank and rear shock absorber mountings. The rear uprights can corrode internally, so any sign of bulging in the metal is bad news. And while underneath get a good look at the sill area as corrosion here could well have spread, with the potential for eye-watering repair costs. Lastly, check inside the front wing compartments – the battery and brake servos are in the offside one, the spare wheel in the nearside – as failed seals will allow water ingress, leading to rotten floors.
There’s better news on the engine front, as the low-tech, Chrysler-sourced V8s – available in ious capacities and power outputs – are under-stressed, and pretty much bullet-proof with proper maintenance. Regular oil and filter changes should see them exceed 200,000 miles with ease and it’s mainly a case of checking for general wear and tear. Watch for leaks from the rear main oil seal, and ensure the cooling system is up to scratch with no signs of leaks or murky coolant. Poor running can be caused by a carburetor in need of a rebuild – likely to be a Carter or Edelbrock item – but it’s a fairly straightforward fix.
The ‘Torqueflite’ automatic transmission is long-lasting too although it’s worth checking for oil dripping from the bell-housing which signifies tired torque converter seals. Parts for the ‘box and for the engines are generally plentiful and not especially expensive, and there’s a good supply from the US. Worn prop shaft joints will cause a vibration but any problems will be obvious on the road, as will any whines from the Salisbury rear axle.
Bristols are on the heavy side so it’s worth checking the condition of the brakes - although an overhaul is straightforward - while twin servos are fitted and brake fluid can leak into them, so check the level in the reservoir. Sagging springs and worn bushes are likely to be the extent of any suspension problems although it’s worth examining the mountings for corrosion, and aside from general wear the hydraulically-assisted steering should be trouble-free.
The interior is a real high point and the richness of the materials means the cost of complete renovation can easily exceed five figures. Check the condition of leather and wood veneers carefully. Completeness is also essential as some trim parts are scarce, and pay close attention to the electrics. Old wiring can be a problem and not all circuits on the 411 were fused so make sure everything works as it should. And if the wing compartment seals fail it can allow moisture to play havoc with the fusebox. The convertible/targa roof arrangement of the 412 wasn’t as water-tight as it could have been so check for signs of water ingress and make sure the folding section and lift-out panel are undamaged. The rollover hoop that supports the roof can also corrode and repairs are far from easy.
British craftsmanship and torquey V8 engines are an appealing combination but care is needed. Complete restoration could swallow tens of thousands of pounds which is somewhat sobering, so an expert inspection is vital. Buy well though and you’ll own a unique slice of luxury motoring, and once experienced the charm of a Bristol is very hard to resist.
Good 411 models are sought after and as the values here demonstrate, entry to this particular club isn’t cheap. But the 412 and 603 are a little more affordable, with the best topping-out at around £40,000 and £30,000 respectively. And both of these are underrated at present too, so prices probably have a way to climb yet. Bristol values are rising generally so a good example should prove an investment, but think very hard before taking on a restoration project.