One of motoring journalism’s enduring myths is the inability to test drive Bristol cars, enforced by the experiences of Top Gear hosts Jeremy Clarkson and James May. A Hungarian road test editor has beaten the odds.
There are road tests of cars and then there are road tests of Bristol cars. The latter are without exception exercises in pleading, begging and the abuse of op-ed columns with the single, inevitable conclusion of no press car. Bristol owner Tony Crook likes to keep it that way, which is perhaps understandable when you consider that the few people who do manage to gain fleeting access to Bristols via owners willing to face Crook’s subsequent wrath usually find that the cars are puzzling examples of shoddy construction sold for Lamborghini prices.
So it came as quite a shock to my friend Zsolt Csikós—road test editor of Hungarian car site Totalcar—that a call to Bristol’s headquarters resulted in Tony Crook himself on the line and the promise of a ride. This lovable geek who often shares Eeyore’s outlook on life managed what even Jeremy Clarkson couldn’t manage: he found himself behind the wheel of a brand-new Bristol. A Bristol Fighter at that, powered by America’s great offering at the altars of displacement: the Viper engine.
Although Bristol Cars is a post-WW2 spinoff of the Bristol Aeroplane Company, they eschew an important engineering principle which crossed over from the world of aviation to car construction: Bristol cars are neither unibodies nor monocoques but bodies over frames, like pickup trucks. It is perhaps fitting then that the Fighter’s V10 engine was originally a Chrysler truck engine. In the Fighter, the all-aluminum block is equipped with Bristol’s own cylinder head and exhaust system, good for 558 HP. Should the latter be found inadequate, turbochargers are available to boost output to beyond a thousand horsepower, coupled with similar amounts of torque.
Of course this being Bristol, the test drive was not a week of freeform excursion on B-roads but a leisurely crawl through London traffic. I shall defer to the author at this point, translated from the Hungarian:
What does it feel like? I gave the throttle no more than a percent of go, save for my rare instances of hoonage when I gave it two percent. It doesn’t really make a difference as 558 HP is so much power that a heartier sneeze will drop you across half of Europe. Why would anyone possibly need the 1026 HP of the turbocharged version? One cannot think of anything other than the potential for great pub tales.
The clutch is remarkably light, not Diablo-heavy at all, and the same is true of the steering. Even though the Fighter could certainly use more upper-class destinations, it is perfectly drivable on the side streets around Soho. The gearshift is American in feel, precision not its strongest asset, but it requires a steady and firm grip for operation. And even if I never exceeded 40 MPH in the Fighter, it was a wonderful experience. The interior, the engine with its endless reserves of power, the execution and the sea of dials combine to make even a crawling Bristol a memorable driving experience.
Bristol is a beautiful, rugged, romantic theory on four wheels. The same goes for the Fighter, with more power and a more professional feel. Take it as it is. If you can.
So there you have it. If you’re no fan of computer displays and like your cars with copious amounts of tech-ed spirit and the charms and personality of handmade construction, your new ride is ready. All you need now is upwards of $370,000—and catching Tony Crook in a good mood. Just make sure you don’t namedrop Jeremy Clarkson.
Photo Credit: Zsolt Csikós/Totalcar