To back up the words, Crook and Silverton showed a one-fifth scale model of a sleek-looking car rather reminiscent of a Mercedes 300SLR, with proportions quite different – higher and narrower – than those of rival coupés.
The car was a two-seater, designed to be compact and fairly light, and the dominating feature was an elegant pair of gullwing doors. It raised a huge kerfuffle for a while and, it has to be said, some scepticism, because this was the first all-new car from Bristol for at least 40 years. Could the company still do it?
There were delays, which didn’t help. But at the Goodwood Festival in 2003 the company showed a complete rolling chassis designed by the race-car engineer Max Boxstrom, whose previous work includes the creditable Aston Martin AMR-1 sports/racer, which finished 11th at Le Mans in 1989 with nothing more than private backing.
The original promise had been an all-aluminium chassis, but the reality was a massively strong box-section structure in steel, with aluminium honeycomb flooring and a couple of mighty roll hoops. This and the suspension – coil-sprung double wishbones with anti-roll bars front and rear – gave the whole thing a believable, professional air.
When this structure appeared, clad in a graceful aerodynamic skin of hand-beaten aluminium (wings, roof, bonnet) and carbonfibre composite (door, tailgate) it drew every eye. And again, when it emerged that the coefficient drag factor was a low, low 0.28, and at 1540kg the car’s kerbweight was 400 to 500kg below its heaviest competitor.
Trouble was, nobody was allowed to drive it. This car, with a 525bhp, 8.0-litre V10 engine and six-speed gearbox always seemed to be undergoing development.
The top speed was claimed to be somewhere between 205 and 220mph, the 0-60mph sprint had been timed at 4.0 seconds, a price had been set at £229,000 — or £256,000 for the S with a ‘Bristolised’ V10 under its bonnet packing an eye-watering 628bhp – but if you weren’t buying one, you couldn’t drive it. And that’s how it was, until a couple of weeks ago.
Enter Simon Draper, one of the UK’s most dedicated car collectors and boss of London-based Palawan Press, publisher of some of the most beautiful and expensive automotive titles ever produced. He’d bought a Bristol Fighter in December, and after a few teething troubles had set about running it in.
When that was done, he agreed to make it available for an Autocar test, knowing that if we couldn’t test his car (chassis number eight) we’d stand little chance when the company had just built its 10th Fighter, and several of those were prototypes.
"You’ll have to take the car as you find it," said Draper, as we opened the garage the Fighter shares with at least a dozen other cars at his place on the south coast. But it soon emerged that like Draper’s other cars, this one was immaculate.
The moment your eye falls on the Fighter, you know it’s different; it’s several inches taller than other GT cars and narrower – in fact a full 115mm narrower than the Dodge Viper which provides the most important mechanicals.
Bristol, once an aeroplane manufacturer, has always seen things differently to other fast-car manufacturers. It wants nothing to do with downforce, which brings implicit drag, but designs for stability and streamlining and an absence of lift, so the car’s performance above 120mph puts others in the shade.