There was always something delightfully British about Bristol Cars. A stubborn reluctance to conform. The eccentric Brit giving a two-fingered salute to global car companies driven by shareholders, legislation and marketing departments.
You sense that marketing was never discussed in a meeting at Bristol Cars. Why do today what you can put off until… well, never?
On more than one occasion, this stubbornness and touch of arrogance led to its downfall. A winding-up order in March 2020 came nine years since the company went into administration, only to be bought out by KamKorp Ltd. From the outside, the company always looked like it was hanging on for dear life. Like a marooned castaway watching the tide roll in around it.
This is the company that famously banned James May from its showroom for being a friend of Jeremy Clarkson. “If you come in here you might tread in some dog s–t,” he was told by Anthony Crook, the man who bought the company in 1960.
“Well that’s what this place is full of, according to your colleague,” he explained. James May wasn’t allowed to drive a Bristol because Clarkson said something negative. Come on, can you think of any motoring journalist better suited to Bristol Cars than James May? LJK Setright, perhaps? Unfortunately, he’s otherwise engaged.
In 2016, Bristol unveiled the Bullet: a speedster powered by a BMW 4.8-litre V8 engine and armed with a price tag of £250,000. It was to be the first all-new Bristol since the V10 Fighter of 2004. Despite high hopes, the new Bristol never took off.
Sourcing press photos is part of my job as a freelance motoring writer. They provide an insight into the trends and styles at the time of a car’s launch, not to mention how much time was spent getting the best shots. In the case of Bristol Cars, it wasn’t a lot.
As these press photos highlight, ‘wasting’ time on photography wasn’t a priority. ‘The blasted media will be here in 10 minutes, nip out and take some photos using Ken’s Instamatic, would you? Give the car a quick going over with a damp cloth while you’re at it.’
Need an evocative backdrop for a car with an 8.0-litre V10 engine and a pair of gullwing doors? A race track? A fast bend on a country road? Maybe a row of expensive shops just down the road from the showroom in Kensington? Not for Bristol Cars.
The photo of the Bristol Blenheim 3S outside a house is a particular highlight. There’s a real sense that the management had to interrupt a boozy lunch to grab that photo. Nothing says ‘we’ve planned this shot’ more than a passenger door left open and the car not quite in the centre of the frame.
It’s all so wonderfully eccentric and a touch pompous. Which is why these photos are the subject of the latest 10 of the Best feature. Goodbye, Bristol Cars, and thanks for the memories.