25 October 2023

Aircraft-standard Bristol cars featured in The Crown TV series tour Griffith

| Oliver Jacques
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Car owner with red classic car

Bristol Owners Club of Australia secretary Bob Leffler and his 403 model. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

Aircraft-standard Bristol cars made as early as the 1940s have been on tour in Griffith from Monday to Wednesday this week (23-25 October).

“The Bristol Aeroplane Company were the biggest manufacturers of aircraft in the UK at the end of WWII,” tour organiser John May said. “They wanted to give their huge workforce something to do after the war. The company received the rights to the pre-war BMW car designs, and BMW flew their engineers over to England to help Bristol develop cars they could sell.”

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The first Bristol car was the 400 model, built in 1947. It was a two-door, four-seat sports saloon with a wooden-framed steel body and sold for £2274. This is the equivalent of about $270,000 today.

Improved versions of the car were made throughout the 1950s as part of the 400 series. These vehicles could reach speeds of 160 km/h, which made them among the fastest in the world at the time.

purple classic car

Bristol cars were on display at Pioneer Park Museum. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

The luxury cars were showcased in Griffith by the Bristol Owners Club of Australia, which is made up of those who own either cars from the 400 series, or V8s and V10s, which were manufactured as recently as 2011, when the company ceased production.

Yenda’s Robyn Turner, owner of wine tour company Bella Vita Tours, took the club to Pioneer Park Museum in Griffith and various wineries during their tour.

“What I find really interesting is the details of the shapes – they’re very round but then there are really square points. It’s like being in a movie set,” Ms Turner said.

Bristol cars have featured in films such as The Great Train Robbery and The Crooked House, as well as modern-day TV series including The Crown and Peak Practice.

“Everything the company built was delicate and to aircraft standard,” club secretary Bob Leffler said.

Mr Leffler owned one of the 403 model cars, which were built between 1953 and 1955. Only 281 of this type were made worldwide.

The door opened with the push of a button, rather than a clunky door handle – a radical feature in those days.

403 Bristol door handle

No clunky door handle to open the Bristol 403, you just push this button. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

Car expert Mark Holgate, of automotive website Exhaust Notes Australia, said Bristol cars had been owned by the likes of Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson and rock stars Liam Gallagher and Bono.

“Bristol’s significance lies not in the fact that its 1950s models became iconic in later years, but in the way they were constructed by hand and limited to such small numbers,” he said.

“There were never more than two to three cars produced per week.

“Competing directly with the Jaguar and Bentley models of the day, the original Bristols were luxurious and borrowed heavily from late-1940s BMW designs, even running the same straight-six engine.”

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The last Bristol car produced was the Fighter, which was powered by an eight-litre V10 Viper engine. It was classed as a supercar and could reach 340 km/h.

Griffith has been the focal point of classic-car tours throughout its flagship festival, Spring Fest.

Earlier in October, more than 115 vintage cars came to town as part of the National Veteran Vehicle Tour 2023. The oldest car registered was a 1903 Oldsmobile, closely followed by a 1904 De Dion-Bouton and several of the famous Model T Fords that brought internal-combustion automobiles to the masses.

All recent car exhibitions have featured at Pioneer Park Museum. For information on any future vehicle displays, visit the museum’s Facebook page.

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