Bristol : The Crying Game

Steven Ward 

Steven Ward in happier times

Steven Ward in happier times

I’d accidentally left my mobile phone at home while I popped into town. Upon my return home, I saw my land line phone was flashing with missed calls. My mobile had dragged itself across the dining table as there had been so many missed calls and texts. The news was as devastating as it was unexpected.  Bristol Cars had gone bust. A Chrysler executive once wrote that the corner of Kensington High Street at the junction with New Holland Street was the last outpost of the British Empire. This news wasn’t expected. 

It had all being going so, so well. Toby Silverton had dragged the company forward. The Owners Club was enthusiastically onside. Used cars were getting the attention they deserved. They had a new web site and, horror of horrors, a part-time PR Man. The cars were selling themselves for full retail, new and used. There were waiting lists! The Press, now re-allowed access to the cars and the people behind them were raving over the revived company. Everything looked and sounded great.  There was a considerable range of cars to buy new and used. 

Bristol Cars has’ of course, had its up and downs. Mr Bristol, aka Tony Crook, had left the company under a cloud and was pursuing legal action. The body presses had been stolen from the Filton factory. Production figures still weren’t being released and there was the constant threat of Chrysler going under. 

However, last year a Bristol Blenheim 2 turned up at a mainstream auction as a finance repo. A virtually unique circumstance as far as I knew. Anyway, me being a canny ‘trader, I started doing some digging to see if could earn myself a wage by remortgaging my house. I knew the factory were actively buying up used cars of all ages for refurbishment and retail and this could be a nice little earner for me. 

Unfortunately, what I unearthed during my due diligence was somewhat disturbing. A small complaint about the Bristol workshops on a forum had spiralled out of control. The complainant had alleged a bodged repair, failed parts, a reluctance to accept responsibility and a rumour of unpaid bills surfaced. I put the allegations to one side as there was clearly a beef here. 

I then started to check out the used prices and resale values. I’ve followed Bristol Cars since I was a child and have a good idea of what has appeared up for sale both in private and at auction. I noticed was several thousands of pounds been slashed off the used cars the factory was selling. I believe as much as £10k was slashed off one particular example. On some cars, I had an idea of the selling price (pre-factory) and the reconditioning required. That didn’t tally with the newly reduced prices being advertised on Kensington High Street. 

I telephoned a friend ‘in the know’. He made another phone call to another person ‘in the know’.  Apparently the company had never been in such rude health and everything was fine. I was reassured, but decided not to pursue the Blenheim with a view of selling it back to the factory. I couldn’t risk my house on it, but I was happy as through actively looking to trade the Blenheim, I somehow felt closer to the company and closer to my personal ambition of owning one.  That, I know, sounds daft. 

Last week, I drove past the showroom en-route to see a fellow Bristol enthusiast. Ironically, for the first time since 1997, I never pressed my nose against the showroom window whilst visiting London. The company was going from strength to strength and I was mature enough not to insist on visiting at every given opportunity. I should have listened to my mother and lived for the day. 

You can imagine, then, just how much this evening’s news was gut wrenching to me. Like the demise of MGR and the overdue death of Setright, part of me has died with this news. Another hope, another comfort, another romance, another innocence, cruelly taken. I’ve strived to own a Bristol since I was a teenager, but have sought to climb the ambition by buying every bit of Bristol info wherever possible. I once took a day off work to attend an auction in Worcester and buy Bristol Cars and Engines by LJK Setright at considerable cost. 

I cannot begin to imagine the frustration and agony that Tony Crook must be feeling at this sad time. My condolences go to him and his former loyal band of employees. I hope the Administrators act with dignity and the company can be saved as a whole. 

I hope Silverton has a plan to restructure too.

Posted in: AROnline Blogs
Keith Adams

About the Author:

Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and watched it steadily grow into AROnline. Is the Editor of Classic Car Weekly, and has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, Classic Car Weekly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, and the the Motoring Independent... Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasable adventures all across Europe.

8 Comments on "Bristol : The Crying Game"

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  1. Simon Woodward says:

    That was a brilliant article, Steve. However, have faith as I am sure a buyer can be found. The marque has a huge loyal following and there is bound to be a enthusiast with a few quid ready to step in – just as long as it’s not a spotty teenage son of a Russian billionaire who wants a pet project for a few weeks like the pr*t who bought TVR.

    It was great to see LJK Stetright mentioned twice tonight – probably the greatest car journalist of all time.

    A Bristol feature would be a welcome addition to this site – your call Steve.

  2. Keith B says:

    A Bristol feature would be a welcome addition – please.

  3. Jonathan Carling Jonathan Carling says:

    @Simon Woodward
    Setright also had quite a thing about the engineering purity of three-wheeled cars with one wheel at the back.

  4. Simon Woodward says:

    @Jonathan Carling
    He did and he was also really keen on the Honda Prelude with 4 wheel steering. I must, at some point soon, get all my old CAR Magazines out and have a good LJKS reading session.

  5. Kevin Davis says:

    Sorry, but I never ‘got’ Bristol. Mind you, neither did 99% of the car-buying population. Bristols are far too left field for most buyers’ tastes and most people are amazed to hear they were even still making cars!

  6. Silas Denyer says:

    An interesting read which mirrors much of my own experience. However, why, pray, do you believe that LJKS’ death was “overdue”?

  7. Ianto says:

    @Simon Woodward
    LJKS rocked and CAR Magazine has never been the same since.

  8. Tony Clayton says:

    I can sympathise with all Bristol and Setright fans – two greatly missed names in British motoring history.

    Anyway, for the record, I have a 2nd Edition copy of Bristol Cars and Engines by LJK Setright which I bought new in 1975, is in immaculate condition and is for sale at £200 if anyone is interested. I can be contacted by email at tony@solbus-uk.com or on 07791 735224.

    Tony Clayton

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