Deep in the woods in a special enclosure hidden from inquisitive eyes is the Festival of Speed’s most secret new car. It only leaves its enclosure for brief forays up the hill at speed, running in the First Glance category. And with its camouflaged speedster body a “first glance” is all anyone gets. Until now. GRR is first to get the full story behind the new Bristol…
JUN 26th 2016
WORLD EXCLUSIVE – In Depth With Bristol's Comeback Model
The car is the new, long-awaited, much-anticipated, slightly-late 2017 Bristol V8, the iconic all-British firm’s first new car since the Fighter of 2004. Driven at FoS by famed Frazer Nash pedaller Gillian Carr, the car aims to be an all-new and hi-tech reprise of the original “gentleman’s express”, with plenty of nods back in time to Bristol’s roots. It is timed to mark the firm’s 70th anniversary (actually in 2015) and funded by its new parent, the Frazer-Nash Group which took over in 2011.
So, what’s the car like up close?
Ian Wallace, Bristol’s marketing head, leads GRR down a narrow muddy track through the trees to a fenced off-enclosure where waiting for us is Project Pinnacle and the car’s programme manager Paul de Santis – one of few ingredients in the new car that’s not British.
Paul is an Aussie engineer from Holden – his last project down under was the VH platform that underpins another new car at FoS this year, the scarily powerful Holden-turned-Vauxhall Maloo ute.
From ute to speedster is quite some leap. But speedster is definitely what the new Bristol is: a big two-seater with aeroscreens and rollover cowls behind the seats. The car is launching first in this form, but a second model – something with a coupe – is promised to follow quickly.
“There are still some things to be done on the car and its interior but essentially the body is pretty much finished for production,” Paul tells us.
The car has been designed in collaboration with an Italian design house, unnamed but believed to be Pininfarina – Pf cues, like the door handles, abound. Pininfarina last bodied a Bristol back in the 1940s.
The disguise effectively camouflages the shape when it is speeding up the Goodwood hill, but up close the car has the most shapely forms and plenty of heritage Bristol details – though look for a spare wheel concealed inside the front guard and you will be disappointed.
The front of the car has a very three-dimensional look in the flesh, the nose based on the design of Bristol’s icon cars, the 404 coupe and 405 sedan of the 1950s. These were the first Bristols to ditch the previous BMW-inspired grille for one based on the shape of the engine cowling of a Bristol aeroplane.
The add-on driving lights are a nice touch, while at the back, fins – another Bristol design cue of old – are back with a vengeance. And there are the Bristol badges: traditional script on the bootlid and the marque’s roundel on the nose.
“Reintroducing some of the early Bristol design languages gives us a way of moving the design on in coming years. We had a wealth of design cues to choose from,” Ian Wallace says.
Inside something every Bristol fan will recognise is the instrument cluster behind the steering wheel. There is still some work to be done on the interior, including the addition of some carbon panels, says Paul.
The Frazer-Nash Group is big into alternative powertrains and a hybrid version of the new Bristol is coming, but the first new Bristols will all be V8 powered. Reprising another link from the past (the first Bristol engines were based on BMW designs) the engine is from Munich: a naturally-aspirated 4.8-litre bent eight with, says Paul, masses of low-down torque and something in the order of 400hp.
“There is certainly an ample sufficiency of power and the car is very light and very lively to drive, with a sub 5-second 0-62mph time. The car is beautiful to drive because the performance is so seamless. It makes a great GT car.” Handling? “Lively at the rear end but not too much.”
All of this is just a taster of course of a car taking its first public bow, and there is work to do yet – including confirmation of a price. That, says Ian, won’t be announced until later in the summer when the car is officially launched.
There will be 70 Anniversary editions of the car you see here (without the disguise!) with first owners taking delivery in 2017. Bristol Cars is based in Mytchett, Surrey, with a new manufacturing facility on site owned by Frazer-Nash in nearby Windlesham. Engineers are being recruited now to build the car.
In London, the iconic Bristol Cars showroom on Kensington High St will soon be joined by a new showroom opposite to display the new car – and the other new models that are promised to follow it.
Bristol is back? Seems that way. A Bristol 400 was the first car to drive around the new Goodwood Motor Circuit in 1948; how appropriate that the new car that marks the firm’s rebirth is being seen first at the Goodwood Festival of Speed!
Photography by Pete Summers