Most people’s attitude to the announcement of Bristol Cars’ demise seems to be regret, but from where I stand — and I’m one of a tiny group to have driven the current models — the time for this passed years ago.
My view is that an unfortunate phase has ended at last, and the administrators’ stated aim of keeping Bristol running by finding new owners represents a good opportunity for an open-minded group of car entrepreneurs, provided they understand the business, are well-founded financially, are realistic about what Bristol owners need, and what a tiny manufacturer can achieve.
Though the departed Bristol bosses were anything but transparent about the company’s recent activities, there is strong reason to believe Bristol Cars hadn’t done anything but restore service and trade in old cars for years, with ever declining success. It was, in effect, a classic dealer in its own cars. Any new team must not only resurrect an expert group that can keep the old cars running, but must then contemplate putting new cars back into production. This is an extremely difficult job. I always admired the late Peter Wheeler, owner of TVR, for his immaculate timing: he sold his sports car company at the precise moment in history that legislation, pressure from owners about reliability, and competition from desirable big-company models like the Porsche Boxster made it next-to-impossible for sales of his cars to continue at a viable level. He was admirable for many things, but mostly as a realist. Bristol’s people have it even harder. The competition is now ultra-tough. Buyer expectation is sky-high, especially at the £150,000 Bristol will expect to charge. The new owners’ only real assets are a deserted, run-down Filton factory and the rights to a couple of models that don’t drive well enough to cut it in today’s market.
However, the new team does have a uniquely exclusive marque with an image and heritage that is easy to understand. Everyone can tune into that 'gentleman’s GT' idea, and there might even be enough potential buyers to create a modest demand. But producing a car good enough to lift them out of their Astons and SLs and BMW 6s looks a mighty task. The best opportunity surely lies in updating the Fighter. The Chrysler Viper that provides its basis is still around, and bits are cheap and robust. The Fighter has a tough and competently designed tubular steel chassis-frame. Gullwing doors are fashionable again. The styling even looks half-decent – or could do if a Stevens-level designer were allowed to refine away the awkward bits and fill the yawning wheel arches with rubber. But making the car look decent is still a long way from making it sell. I really don’t know how I’d tackle that one. But I’m still eager to see someone else have a go, and I’ll be delighted if they succeed on merit. But it’ll be months before we start to find out.