GRR

Stunning restored Arnolt-Bristol sells for £355,000

15th October 2018
Bob Murray

A Land Rover Defender model entirely made of chocolate was one of the more unusual offerings at Bonhams’ most recent collectors’ car sale in, you guessed, that land of chocolate, Belgium. But it was another sweet treat at the annual Zoute sale that really caught our eye…

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This was a 1954 Arnolt-Bristol roadster, looking as smooth as the finest champagne truffle. “Jaw droppingly beautiful” was Bonhams’ verdict on the Anglo-Italian-American confection and with its perfect curves and elegant minimalism – few could disagree. Exquisite in peacock blue with grey leather interior after a concours-standard restoration, it went to a new owner for more than Bonhams thought it would make, finally selling for €391,000 (£344,725) including the premium.

So what is a ‘54 Arnolt-Bristol? A rarity, that’s for sure. Only 142 were ever made and of those 12 were destroyed in a fire. The car in the sale is thought to be one of only a handful of roadworthy survivors most of which are still in the market they were designed for: the US.

The Arnolt-Bristol was the inspiration of Stanley Arnolt, known as “Wacky” after he crossed Lake Michigan to his home town of Chicago in 1938 in nothing more than a 13ft rowing boat powered by a new sort of engine. Wacky Arnolt made his fortune by selling shed-loads of this engine to the US Navy during the war.

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And that allowed him to indulge his passion for British sportscars, setting up shop in Chicago selling mainly MGs, and eventually commissioning Bertone to build a run of custom-bodied MGs just for him. Spurred on by the success of the Arnolt-MGs with his Chicago customers, Wacky looked for something bigger, better and faster.

He toyed with the idea of an Arnolt-Aston Martin, then an Arnolt-Bentley before finding what he wanted in the Bristol 404, with its well balanced chassis and BMW-developed 2.0-litre inline six-cylinder engine. All Wacky had to do was add the magic Bertone ingredient.

That was provided by Bertone’s new designer, Franco Scaglione, who designed Alfa Romeo’s futuristic BAT cars around the same time. The result was a beautifully proportioned sportscar with a definite nod to BAT-style aerodynamic futurism but also some cues (like the cyclops middle headlight and raised bonnet scoop) from the 404. This United Nations of 1950s sports cars – British chassis, German-designed engine, Italian design – all came together for final assembly in Wacky Arnolt’s facility in Warsaw, Indiana.

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Chicago sportscar buffs liked the car for its good handling and performance, and with the engine tuned to give 150bhp it performed well in motorsport, winning its class at Sebring three times. The car didn’t sell well though, held back by its relative obscurity and a price for the Deluxe version of $5,000 – almost $2,000 more than a Corvette at the time.

The new owner of the car in the sale surely won’t care about that. As Bonhams says, the Arnolt-Bristol may be a footnote in the pages of automotive history, but it’s certainly a memorable one.

Photography courtesy of Bonhams

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