Jay Leno shows off the most British of British cars

There is a hierarchy within just about every sub-culture in the automotive community. The wildest cross-brand mash-up? Shelby Cobra. The Dodge Charger seems to sit atop the muscle car pyramid, and according to Jay the most British car is the Bristol 403. This week on Jay Leno’s Garage he backs up this declaration using his beautiful 1955 model as an example.

Jay fell in love with Bristols after years of reading journalist L.J.K. Setright, and determined he needed to have one. He wanted one bad enough to ignore his own advice and buy it over the phone, sight unseen. He crossed his fingers that Setright was not using hyperbole when he stated “only the finest gentleman buy Bristols.” The gamble paid off, and the car that arrived in Jay’s shop smoked a little from the two-liter straight-six, but the rest of the car was quite nice.

The car borrows parts and construction from the BMW 328 sports car thanks to war reparations. Following the end of WWII, Bristol was offered the ability to pilfer some technology from a German manufacturer. The brand left Volkswagen alone and instead elected to take technology from BMW. The straight-six engine was good, but Bristol took the design up one notch when it redesigned the piece to aircraft-grade construction, which absolutely made sense because Bristol was an aircraft company during the war.

Overbuilt and elegant, the 403 is a delight to drive. Despite its German heritage, the engine has that burble that only British cars (and Mazda Miatas) seem to possess, and when accelerating through the four-speed manual it just sounds right. Like most cars at the top of their respective hierarchies, the Bristol might not seem to be the top dog at first blush. However, much like how, as Jay point’s out, the top-of-the-line Buick would often be a nicer car than most Cadillacs just without the flash, the Bristol is understated. Jay thinks there isn’t a better car for fast two-lane cruising, especially for extended periods of time.

There aren’t many Bristols to be found, so Jay sharing his gives us a great insight into a world that could otherwise be easily buried. Honestly, watching him motoring about makes me want to go drive a British car–and that a good thing.

Read next Up next: Rides from the Readers: 1961 Chevrolet Corvette

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