This Rare Bristol 411 Series 2 Is A Beautiful British Ex-Pat Enjoying A Second Life In Southern California
Photography by Ian Wood
Like many manufacturers that survived World War II without major bombing damage, the Bristol Aircraft Company found itself with a large and seasoned workforce and a factory containing the latest manufacturing technologies. The aeronautics company was responsible for some of the great bombers and fighters on the British side of the war, like the Blenheim, Beaufort, and Beaufighter. BAC wanted to apply what it’d learned in making these crafts to the ripe civilian market, so the logical step was moving into the automotive industry, which was in a state of disrepair after the war. They had dabbled with the Monocar just after World War I however—a single-seater propelled by a motorcycle engine—but this time they went for a different market entirely.
They started building aluminum bodies for Armstrong Siddeley, which had released the Lancaster and Hurricane, the very same week of V-E Day, and then went on to purchase Aldington Frazer Nash (AFN), famous for chain-driven machine guns and the fact that it owned the UK rights to the BMW 328 engine (AFN is now owned by Porsche GB).
BAC also secured the tooling to manufacture the pre-war BMW 326, 327, and 328, which was the catalyst to consider the production of its own car. The lead BMW engineer (and later Chairman of BMW), Fritz Fiedler, spent three years at BAC, helping make that transition to automobile manufacturing. As a result of this, the Bristol marque was officially launched as the car-focused sub-brand of BAC.
Enter the Bristol 400 in 1947, a luxury touring car with styling similar to the BMW 328 that it was based on, with a frame developed from the 326 and powered by a 2.0L BMW straight-six. In fact, this pre-war platform was what all Bristols were based on until 2003. Later on a 5.2L Chrysler V8 was introduced with the Bristol 407 in 1961, and the 411 was introduced in 1969, ushering in literally a big change to the 400 series.
The Chrysler power plant was subsequently to a 6.2L capacity, with a 30% increase in power; and a three-speed TorqueFlite transmission and limited-slip differential helped push the luxury coupe to 143mph on the motorways. This made the 411 faster than its German competition, and more economical than a Rolls Royce at the time. Not a bad equation.
It’s too bad that the Bristol 400 series cars got progressively less attractive as the model years increased, but with that said, the 411 Series 2 is the sweet spot for me, more refined than the first, and certainly more so than the models that followed with increasingly awkward styling. The 411 continued production until 1976, with some 300 examples manufactured all told. To many Bristol enthusiasts, the 411 was the ultimate example of Bristol’s heritage, what with its unique and eccentric appeal—a high-quality, handmade British machine that sold to only a select few.
Asher, the ex-pat owner of this example, lives with the car in Los Angeles and was introduced to Bristols in general while he was a teenager growing up in the UK. It started when his dad brought home a 411 Series 2 and put the car through a full restoration. Better yet, that car had been personally recommended to him by L.J.K. Setright, a demigod of British automotive journalism. Setright was a passionate Bristol owner and club member, who once noted a small but important problem with the 411’s brilliantly-placed top dash ashtray: the size. His ambition was to keep a pack of cigarettes and a pack of twisted culebras in there at the same time, go figure.
Asher’s memories of his father’s Bristol remain vivid ones, especially the sound of the big V8 bouncing off stone walls on British B roads. For sentimental reasons, Asher wanted to find that exact car again. Unfortunately, he did not manage to locate it, but owning a 411 Series 2 was still a mission in its own right. After another round of searching, he found this car for sale, headed back to the UK to view it, bought it, and 20 days after taking it to the docks in the UK, it arrived in California. The DMV checks took just a few days, then it was driven straight to the Queen’s English Car show, where I immediately spotted its unique form and struck up a conversation.
Asher and I took the opportunity to do a proper shoot after that, and just a week afterwards the car was back in bare metal, embarking on a restoration. It will still be driven and thoroughly enjoyed though, a perfect weekend car for Asher and his family to enjoy just as he and his father had so many years ago.