BRISTOLS IN OZ

BRISTOL LOVERS FROM ACROSS THE GLOBE RECENTLY CONVERGED ON AUSTRALIA FOR THE INTERNATIONAL RALLY, WHICH TOURED MUCH OF THE EASTERN SEABOARD. MEET SOME OF THE PEOPLE WHO CAME ALONG:

WORDS PHOTOS GUY ALLEN

1 - KEVIN BOWE (AUST) 1955 BRISTOL 405

“Rob van Wegen (in the Australian club) said this guy in Bendigo had two Bristols for sale and wasn’t prepared to split them, and suggested we buy them and take one each. His was roadworthy and this was stripped back to a shell. But he said all it needed doing was putting back together. Well, six and a half years later I eventually got it back together!

“I’ve been in a few rallies and car shows and have won a couple of awards along the way.

“These are really very good to drive – the 405 is probably the best driving of the Bristols, with a longer wheelbase and a better weight and balance. It was also the first year with disc brakes on the front.”

2 - PETER HUGHES & FRAN SPENCER (UK) 1955 405 DROPHEAD

“We bought it in 2001, and it was originally sold in Yorkshire in 1955 for 3000 pounds – at the time, that would bought a fairly decent semi-detached house in Chelsea. Later on it passed into the hands of a chap called Kevin Kennedy, who was the CEO of Philips Electronics.

“He spent a lot of money on it but passed away suddenly. The car was already on the water on its way to America, about ten days before 911, and we bought it from the estate.”

They’re clearly not afraid to get the car out and drive it. “We’re of the opinion the cars are meant to be used. When we got the car it was immaculate, but now it has various dents and scratches because it’s been driven all over the world, including places such as Argentina, New Zealand and South Africa.”

3 - ROB & PAMELA MANN (UK) 1953 403

“I came by it because I fell in love with the design of the car, but could not come anywhere near the price, when it was a 10 or 15-year-old car. This went on for years.

“I thought I was coming up for retirement soon and had waited long enough, if I don’t do something now I’m going to kick myself and will be too old.

“Around 11 years ago I had to look around for six to nine months as they don’t come up every week, and was very lucky to get one in good shape. I did not want a restoration job – I have done that on other cars.

“What’s it like to drive? It’s hard work at low speeds, but on the highway it’s very similar to a modern car except it hasn’t got the oomph – so you have to use the gears. It’s got an overdrive that’s been fitted since new, at 100km/h it’s only doing about 2500rpm, so it’s very relaxed.

“I keep telling people this car has done more miles over water than on land, as this is the fourth time it’s been to Australia. We got the bug about 10 years ago. My wife and I had had holidays here (on the Queensland sunshine coast) when we were children and we thought it would be brilliant to go there again and meet up with some fellow ‘Bristoleers’, as I call them.”

“WE LIVE IN A HOUSE ONCE OWNED BY THE ORIGINAL CHAIRMAN OF BRISTOL”

4 - DOUG & SUE HELLER (UK) 1955 405 DROPHEAD

“We live in a house once owned by the original chairman of the Bristol Aeroplane Company. His name was Sir Reginald Verdon Smith and we just had that feeling it was a nice thing to have that association with a Bristol car.

“We were looking for a 404, which we eventually bought. We phoned a Mr Crook, who was a manager for the company in the 1960s and he promised to find one for us. He knew Sir Reginald well and felt it would be good to have one in the garage of the house he once owned. It’s complicated!

“The 404 we ended up with was once owned by King Hussein of Jordan and is one of three Bristols (the other was a 406) we’ve owned over time.

“This 405 is the latest and we bought it through a local dealer (John Conroy Classic Cars) and will be taking it back to England with us.”

5 - GEOFFREY & HILARY HERDMAN (UK) 1956 405 DROPHEAD

Geoffrey joined the Bristol Owners Club in 1981 and has, over time, held several key positons on its executive. “Having reached a certain venerable age last year, I stood down as President,” he quips.

“About five years ago we met the daughter of the original owner of this car. We were in England and she came running across, exclaiming, ‘I learned to drive in that car!’ She told us her father took it to Morocco in the 1960s.

“The car ended up with a seized engine and sitting in a barn for years. In 1984 it was in quite a state and the previous owner pulled it out and started work. We bought it in 1999 and finished it off.

“Since we put it on the road in 2001, we’ve done 230,000 miles (nearing 400,000km). When we told our daughter we were to undertake a world trip in this car, she thought we’d kill each other within three months! After several months, Hilary said ‘I don’t want to go back, I just wanted to continue.’

“We only have one classic because if we had more we’d have to divide our loyalties.”

6 - ROBERT VAN WEGEN (AUST) 1954 405 FOUR-DOOR

“This is the only four-door they ever made – they were generally made two-doors. It’s almost the same wheelbase as every other one, it’s just they managed to squeeze another door in and the way it’s designed is a glasshouse. Some people say they’re ugly but they’re one of the best-driving Bristols of all.

“It was their association with BMW, both before and after WWII, that got me interested. They had already been talking to each-other pre-war, and it was ironic that Bristol aircraft probably ended up bombing the BMW plant. Post-war Bristol won the rights to the designs, which had Fraser Nash associations.

“Bristol saw a future in car manufacturing and the first two models had kidney grilles, like BMW.

“This generation came out with the distinctive air intake and the ‘fire lighter’ lamp in the centre, and the intake shape was meant to be reminiscent of those on the Bristol Brabazon airliner prototypes

“My wife and I were in Bendigo for a business meeting and I stayed back for the Mount Tarrengower hillclimb. One thing led to another, and I came across this and another car for sale as a pair.”(Robert and his partner Marilyn were instrumental in organising the rally. Some 37 Bristols rolled up, with a very strong international contingent. See bristolownersclub.com.au.)

PEKING TO PARIS

SEBASTIAN GROSE was bitten by the Bristol bug early on and when he migrated to Australia from Yorkshire in 1982, he brought with him a 407 model that he and his brother had restored. He joined the local Bristol owners club and has covered over 40,000 miles travelling Australia. One thing led to another for Kendall NSW-based Grose and he soon became the go to guy for Bristol restorations. In 2016 he and a friend finished 11th overall in the Peking to Paris rally in a Bristol 403. Following that was the Transamerica. The 403 has been rebuilt and will be starting the 2019 Peking to Paris rally on June 2nd and you can follow Sebastian’s exploits on his Facebook page – Bristol 403 Peking to Paris.