During World War II the Bristol Aircraft Company was kept very busy producing engines and complete airframes for the war effort. Amongst the aircraft created by the company were the Blenheim bomber, the Beaufort torpedo bomber and by no means least the Beaufighter twin engined two seater aircraft, which saw service in multiple roles such as ground attack, fighter, night fighter, and torpedo bomber. However at the end of the war, like so many other engineering companies, they were left with large premises, and a highly skilled workforce, but with not enough orders to keep them busy. It was time to seek other markets. The decision was made to build a top quality car.
Building a car from scratch, however, is not an easy task! The company needed to be up and running as quickly as possible and fortunately war reparations meant that they could get hold of detailed blueprints for German cars. One of the best of these was the BMW 327; Bristol not only got hold of plans for constructing not only the engines but the chassis too. The engineer responsible for the design of the earlier 326, Fritz Fiedler, was also made available to them as a consultant. Everything was ready for Bristol to create a top-quality car, based on the327.
Another key ally was Harold John Aldington. A pre-war racing driver who was a leading light at sports car manufacturers Frazer Nash, Aldington had imported German cars during the 1930s and so was very familiar with them. With the assistance of these two luminaries the 400 was born and two years later it was ready for introduction to the public at the 1947 Geneva Salon.
car did indeed look very much like a marriage between a BMW and a British aircraft! Build quality was excellent, which was to be expected from a workforce which was used to building highly stressed aircraft, and despite a retail price of more than £2700; and this was in 1947; it stayed in production for three years, during which nearly 500 of the cars were manufactured.
The chassis was right up to date. There was an independent transverse leaf front suspension; to the rear longitudinal torsion bars were linked to double acting shock absorbers. the car was powered by a slightly modified BMW 328 engine; this 1800 cc six cylinder single camshaft power unit could push out 80 brake horsepower which gave the car a top speed of 92 mph.it was a good, solid, reliable engine which stayed in manufacture right until 1963, powering vehicles from other manufacturers and proving it's worth on numerous race tracks.
Bristol has always been a small scale manufacturer; throughout its entire lifetime as a car manufacturer it has probably produced less vehicles than many of the larger manufacturers can create in an hour! It has had a bumpy ride, like most small companies, and the company is currently dormant, having been bought out of bankruptcy in 2011, although there are hopes that it can restart production of top-quality sports cars in the future.