British carmaker Bristol reaches the end of the road

In a car world dominated by big guys, one Britain’s little guys has run out of runway. Bristol Cars, the low-volume British automaker known for its chic hand-built luxury cars from the 1940s and ‘50s, is kaput.

According to numerous media sources, Bristol shut down its operations in Surrey, UK, and its assets are being liquidated. The 73-year-old automaker, which boasts a cult-like following, was rescued from insolvency by Frazer Nash Research in 2011, but this time around it was unable to weather the storm.

Britain’s Daily Mail newspaper reported that “failures in both engineering innovation and brand management” led to Bristol’s demise.

Among the celebrities who have proudly owned Bristols are Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson, singer-songwriter Liam Gallagher, pop superstar Tina Turner, and fashion designer Paul Smith.

Bristol Cars was founded in 1945 as the automotive division of Bristol Aeroplane Company to offset the dramatic drop in the demand for aircraft as WWII ended. Its first offering was the 1946 Bristol 400, a curvaceous two-door saloon powered by a 2.0-liter BMW inline-six that produced 80 horsepower. The Bristol Car division later became a private entity after its parent company joined other British aircraft companies to form the British Aircraft Corporation (BAC).

Bristol manufacturer history timeline
Bristol manufacturer history timeline

Over the years, Bristol earned a reputation for creating shapely, luxurious, and reliable automobiles (check out this gorgeous 1949 Bristol 402). Its most recent offering was the 2004–11 Bristol Fighter, which featured a 525-horsepower V-10 engine. Only 9–13 were built.

Bristol had big plans for a new sports car called the Bullet, which the automaker unveiled at the 2016 Goodwood Festival of Speed to celebrate its 70th anniversary. The Bullet was to be powered by a 4.8-liter V-8 generating 370 hp and 370 lb-ft of torque. Seventy examples were planned, beginning in 2017, with a price tag of £250,000, or about $325,000. The car never reached production, however.

While the car community, particularly in Britain, is mourning Bristol’s demise, there is some potential good news. Jeremy Frost, director of the Frost Group Ltd., which is liquidating Bristol’s assets, told Top Gear, “We have already received numerous enquiries relating to the company’s assets, and we are hopeful that we will be able to salvage some value for creditors, as well as allow some memory of a former giant of British Industry to remain.”

So long, Bristol.

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