Posted on: Feb 20, 2013
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Cars That Won't Die: Bristol Blenheim 3


Considering the overall design and mechanics of the Bristol Blenheim 3 haven't changed much since 1976, it's no surprise the automaker was recently bought out due to financial issues.
Even for a boutique British carmaker, Bristol is an eccentric company. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as its reputation for quality work has earned it a loyal following over the years, and that’s how it prefers things. But its peculiar habit of actively avoiding any kind of publicity whatsoever is the kind of thing which makes Morgan look downright mainstream (more on that later in the series). And as you would expect from such a company, its models have very long lifespans.

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Much like BMW, Bristol started off as an airplane company, but unlike BMW, it wouldn’t be until after WWII that it would get into building cars. In fact, it could be said that WWII played an important role in the move to car-building for Bristol. In 1945, one of Bristol’s directors, a man named HJ Aldington, used his military connections to visit the bombed BMW factory in Munich. He then... we’ll call it "liberated" some plans for prewar BMW cars and took them back to the UK. With these, he established a car division at Bristol, which would eventually make a complete break from the aircraft company in 1960.

Early cars were a sort of hodgepodge of copied BMW components. The first car, the 400, used a 326 chassis, a 327 body and a 328 engine. Nobody got all that upset about anything having been taken from Nazi Germany, and with Bristol trying to sell prewar designs in a postwar world, it had really put itself at more of a disadvantage than anything else. But this didn’t last forever, and Bristol was soon using its own designs and from 1961 until the present day, its engines have been supplied by Chrysler. Its cars are hand-built, but Bristol is incredibly secretive about things like horsepower figures and even prices on some of its models.

The Blenheim, currently in its fourth generation, is essentially an updated version of the 411, which started production in 1976. It has received some updates, but is essentially the same car it was 37 years ago. And that’s only part of what makes the $250,000 base price so shocking. The other is a joke which has circulated among those familiar with Bristols, that the only two man-made things which can be seen from space with the naked eye are the Great Wall of China and a Bristol’s panel gaps. Their customers defend Bristol vehemently, though, and considering that the company doesn't allow test drives, that'll have to suffice.

That’s not to say the cars aren’t amazing. They very well could be, but objective information is not easy to come by. There is also a performance version of the Blenheim 3, known as the 3S. Bristol says that it has "bigger camshafts, that sort of thing" which makes the car faster, and that it costs "considerably more" than the base model. Presumably you see the problem with getting that objective information. The name, like the names of many of Bristol's cars, is actually a recycled name from one of the company’s earlier aircraft models. In this case, a light bomber which saw service in WWII.

Bristol recently ended up in the toilet, financially speaking (shocking, we know), and has been bought out by a bigger company. It’s possible that things will begin to change under new management, maybe even to the point where it’ll answer a damn question or two. Of course, this might risk alienating its tweedy clientele, so don’t get your hopes up. For now, the Bristol Blenheim is one of the oldest platforms which you can still buy new in a first-world country, and if that’s going to change anytime soon, nobody is telling the press.


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by Jacob Joseph
Cars That Won't Die: Bristol Blenheim 3
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