1994-2011 Bristol Blenheim S3: A Proper English Time Machine
2011? Bristol Blenheim
One of the things I remember most from my childhood in the 70’s and 80’s were trips to the barbershop. Once there I could catch up on all the news from the black urban community via JET magazine. JET had a look that was unchanged from the late 60’s all the way up to the turn of the century. I always wondered how a publication could survive stuck in the publishing trends of decades past, yet every trip to the barbershop would reveal a new issue of JET magazine (and the Beauty of the Week). Finding such staunch traditionalism with modern cars is a bit more difficult, but its out there if you look beyond the big boys of global sales. Common wisdom suggests that no car manufacturer could survive with that type of mindset, but as incredible as it might sound, Bristol Cars Ltd. of England might be such a company. America has its fictional time machine as automobile in the form of a DeLorean, while England has the real thing in the form of the Bristol Blenheim (if you don’t count the Tardis).
1977 Bristol 411 S5
Bristol was established after WWII and has built a short list of small sports and touring cars. The first truly modern product from Bristol may have been the Type 411 from 1969. The company has maintained a philosophy of building durable products with long-lasting appeal, as evidence of its continued reliance on the basic shape established by the Type 411. What was great then is now only acceptable when grading on a curve. Despite its links to older technology, the Blenheim still manages to be the gentleman’s coupe of Bristol’s line up.
The Blenheim is one of four cars that Bristol currently produces. Each with varying degrees of retro. The Blenheim comes from a line of cars that can trace its immediate roots to the Type 603 of 1976 and even further back to the Type 411 of 1969. The basic shape is the same with subtle refinements. That shape in the form of the current Blenheim looks a lot like a stretched version of a 70’s Capri II, but without the grace and spot on proportions. The Blenheim’s elongated shape is not without reason. All of the mechanicals including engine, battery and spare wheel are nestled within the wheelbase. This is an unusual approach to achieving a 50/50 weight ratio, but it a charming steam punk kind of way works for Bristol.
Bristol Blenheim Interior
Each new major change was usually named after a model from the Bristol Aeroplane Company, suggesting speed and power. The current Blenheim is derived from the 603 chassis and is currently the 4th series from that platform introduced in 1994. The big rear wheel drive coupe is still hand-built with few concessions to modern automotive technology. Bristol has been using Chrysler V8s consistently, even adding turbocharging to them. The 5.9 L V8 in the Blenheim is still a Chrysler engine, but now with multi-port fuel injection, a feature added in 1994. Bristol never seems to quote horsepower figures, but its been estimated at about 350. The transmission is a four speed automatic and is advertised as having self-adjusting disc brakes all around as if the feature were new.
At almost 4k lbs. the Blenheim is a heavy car, but the massive amount of torque available from the V8 helps it manage a 0 to 60 time of 5.1 seconds and a top speed of 150mph. Handling is lively thanks to unequal length wishbones up front and a 8 link rear with torsion springs. All Blenheim’s feature a limited slip rear differential and 16′ alloy wheels. This car is a grand tourer in the grandest sense of the word, with plenty of leather and real wood in the interior. Even with its lush interior, the Blenheim has been criticized for fit and finish problems and poorly designed ergonomics (like a 60’s era car).
As the only British luxury car maker still controlled by the British, Bristol has that distinction to promote in its advertising. Sales and production numbers are about 150 cars a year despite the bashing the Blenheim gets in the English motoring press. The JET magazines I grew up with finally recognized that change was necessary a few years back. Bristol did to with the release of the more modern Fighter sports car. As charming as the Blenheim (or the ideal of it) may be, to compete in the modern arena seriously, a make over is long overdue. Maybe there a reason Bristol remains the only British luxury car maker not in foriegn hands.
1995 Bristol Blenheim