Curbside Classic: 1968 Bristol 410 – Not Your Ordinary Hybrid

I’ve been hinting at this one for a while in my regular Singles Outtakes posts and its day (or rather its week) has finally come. As you may or may not know, in my general area of north Tokyo lives one a rather famous classic Bentley / R-R specialist. The Bentley S3 we saw yesterday was from his stable. But this man’s guilty pleasure is Bristols. Because Bentleys can feel too common?

We’ve seen a couple of Bristols from his collection – namely a 401 and a 406. Those are considered part of Bristol’s first era, when the marque was still a branch of its aircraft maker namesake and its engine technology was directly derived from pre-war BMWs. The 410 we have here represents the second era of Bristol Cars, where the automobile business became truly independent and the valiant but ageing 6-cyl. was traded for a Mopar V8.

With hindsight, the switch to a big American V8 was the only thing that made sense. Bristol, as a carmaker, were able to do the whole car – engine, chassis and body – with great care and at great cost, but they simply did not have the means to develop a completely new home-grown engine.

And by the late ‘50s, it was clear that a 2-litre 6-cyl. was just not going to cut it for the decade ahead. Nor would any British engine, with the possible exception of the Aston Martin straight-6, the Daimler 4.5 litre V8 or the R-R/Bentley V8. But those were not available for Bristol to use, so a foreign supplier was the only way to go. Jensen came to the same conclusion around this time as well.

The 410 was the last model of the 5-litre era, i.e. the first run of V8-powered Bristols. Unlike the contemporary Facel-Végas and Jensens, which packed big-blocks under their long hoods, Bristol opted for the understated Plymouth 318ci (5211cc) “Poly” V8 to motivate their 407 coupé in 1961.

Said 5.2 litre V8 was going out of production by the time Bristol were launching the 410 in the summer of 1967, but I guess Chrysler had a few in stock to ship over to Filton. As fitted to the Bristol, the Plymouth small-block provided 250hp to the torsion bar-suspended live axle – via Chrysler’s excellent 3-speed Torqueflite, naturally.

Up to that point, said Torqueflite had been operated by push-buttons. For the 410, Bristol resorted to fashioning a floor shifter, marking the push-button era’s official end (with Chrysler transmissions, that is). The 410 was the last Bristol to feature the classic two-spoke Bluemel steering wheel that had been on every model since 1946. It was also the first Bristol model to offer power steering as standard from the get-go.

The car’s 114-inch (2740mm) wheelbase is substantial, but must accommodate the famous spare wheel mounted inside the right front fender (the left side has the battery). There is still enough space for a rear seat worthy of the name, though.

It’s a little difficult to differentiate the “late 400” Bristols (i.e. 406 to 411) unless you have an identikit sheet – even then, you can’t see every detail change. The 406 (1958-61) and the 407 (1961-63) were nearly identical, save for the grille trim and the fact that the engine was completely different. The 408 (1963-65) came in two series, sporting yet another grille and new taillights off the Hillman Super Minx. The 409 (1965-67) had a more tapered grille shape, but most of its differences were under the skin.

Externally, the 410’s front end was revised yet again, the side trim got a bit busier and the wheels shrank from 16 inches to 15. Said wheels also now featured Girling discs all around with dual hydraulic circuits.

It’s also a bit confusing to figure out the Bristol family tree because the firm was not exactly consistent in how they named (or rather numbered) their models. Throughout the ‘60s, it seemed as if any small modification called for an extra digit on the car. But for whatever reason, once they reached 411 in 1969, this practice was halted and we were instead treated to “series” of the 411 for a spell. As a result, it may seem to the casual observer that the 411, which lasted till 1976, was a runaway sales success (for a Bristol), when it actually sold a bit less well than its predecessors.

The 410 was only marketed for around 18 months, from about September 1967 to the early weeks of 1969, so it’s no great surprise that these are very rare cars. But Bristol were always rather secretive about exact production numbers, so there are several floating around. Some reckon 102 units were made, others go as low as 79. It seems the most often quoted number is 82, including three LHD cars, which would explain the previous number.

In 99 out of a hundred possible universes, Bristol Cars should have gone under circa 1975, or even earlier. Yet in this reality, they managed to cheat the Grim Repossessor until 2011, putting a halt on a production run that had become Schröndingeresque. There are now murmurs of re-birth (aren’t there always?) with a new EV sports coupé. Time will tell, but I guess it would make sense: as a long-time Anglo-American hybrid, the only way to go now is full electric.


Related posts:


Curbside Classic: 1972 Bristol 411 (and Bristol History) – The Last Great British Eccentric, by Roger Carr

Automotive History: British Deadly Sins (High-Brow Hybrids, Part 2) – Bristol 603 / Britannia / Blenheim: Arrested Development, by T87