“The perfect car for the discriminating enthusiast”
(‘The Autocar’, November 1948)
When Bristol created its own, highly aerodynamic 401 sports saloon of 1948 as a rapid and luxurious four-seater tourer, some ten chassis left the Filton factory for final interpretation by outside designers. Two carried bodywork by Beutler of Thun in Switzerland, while another received the attention of University Motors in London. The remaining seven chassis went to Italy, four to Carrozzeria Touring and three to Pinin Farina where they were turned into four-seater cabriolets in the contemporary Alfa Romeo idiom.
This car, chassis 401/208, was consigned on its sea voyage to Pinin Farina on 27 July 1948, three months before the 401’s formal launch at the London Motor Show at Earls Court. It returned to the UK by March 1949 for delivery to its first owner, Robert Lee of London, at a cost of £2500, five times the cost of the average car then being manufactured in England. In late November 1948 the car had already been illustrated in The Autocar, where it was referred to as a ‘Drophead Cabriolet’ and described:
‘A fine example of hand craftsmanship and possessing the beautiful lines, exceptional attention to detail refinements, and luxurious finish throughout, which have distinguished Italian coachbuilders’ exhibits at Brussels, Geneva and Paris. The combination of coachwork by leading Italian designers on this latest version of a thoroughbred high-performance chassis provides the perfect car for the discriminating enthusiast.’
Fitted from new with Alfin brake drums, close-ratio gearbox, and a remote gear change, there’s not a single unexplained void between any of the discerning owners during the seventy four years the car has been in and out of choice collections in England, Belgium and Holland. An attentive maintenance regime included a major overhaul in 1992, then a full engine and transmission rebuild in 2019 by leading specialist Stanton Motorsports. The rebuild included careful polishing of the cylinder head and fitting a ‘Fast Road’ camshaft that boosted power to 118bhp, with a torque curve more suited to fast, effortless driving; overdrive was fitted to complement the same. Not one single instance of damage was revealed during the strip to bare metal and repaint of the coachwork four years ago, with everything impeccably documented in a hefty history file together with its half-tonneau, tool kit, and original Bristol leather key fob.
Exhibited in 2021 at the Concours of Elegance Hampton Court Palace, toured on the preceding Tour of Wales, and accepted at the prestigious Villa D’Este (COVID restricted participation), this car is worthy of any serious collection.
Photos courtesy of Fluid Images