1957 Bristol 405 Sports Saloon

  • 1957 Bristol 405
  • Fully restored during the 1990s
  • Famous 2-litre straight-six engine
  • Exclusive 1950s sports saloon

Finished in white with a red leather interior, OKU 505 is a very handsome example of the Bristol 405. Chassis number 405-1-4193 was first registered on 6 May 1957 to Kellett, Woodman & Co Ltd – a manufacturer of cotton and wool linings in Bradford, Yorkshire. It then passed via Camden Motors in Leighton Buzzard to John Sulman in Wimbledon, and by 1966 it had been acquired by Roy Nelthorpe, who was based in Norfolk.

The history file contains well-thumbed copies of the instruction and workshop manuals, as well as invoices and receipts from marque specialists and from Bristol itself – testament to the quality of care this 405 has received over the course of its life. There are also dozens of photographs from the restoration work that was carried out in the 1990s.

Within the past few years, the Bristol has been treated to a full rewire, the engine and overdrive have been rebuilt, as have the suspension and steering, and the braking system has been renewed. The brightwork has also been rechromed and any minor bodywork imperfections have been tidied up. The original radio and roof-mounted speaker are still in place, and the interior has acquired a beautiful patina.

Among the sensible modifications are an oil cooler, seatbelts, and conversion to negative-earth electrics along with the fitment of an alternator. Pirelli Cinturato radial tyres are fitted all round.

The combination of the crisp 1971cc straight-six engine and overdrive gearbox – which was standard fitment – made the Bristol 405 a superb high-performance saloon in period. Since its restoration, OKU 505 has reaffirmed those credentials by taking part in the Liege-Rome-Liege Rally. Now being offered for sale by the Classic Motor Hub, it’s ready to tackle its next adventure thanks to the recent care that’s been lavished upon it.

Model history

Launched in 1955 – 10 years after the Bristol Aeroplane Company had created a car division – the Bristol 405 was offered in saloon form and a much rarer drophead coupé. Along with the short-wheelbase 404 two-seater coupé, which had been introduced two years earlier, it marked a departure from the styling of previous Bristols, and replaced their upright design with a much more contemporary ‘jet age’ look that evoked the company’s origins in the aircraft industry.

Beneath the skin lay a separate steel chassis with box-section main members and a wheelbase of 9ft 6in, while the aluminium body panels were mounted on a steel and ash frame. Lockheed light-alloy drum brakes were used, while front suspension was by a transverse leaf spring and wishbones, and torsion bars were used at the rear.

The engine was the 100B development of the famous BMW-based straight-six, with overhead valves that were operated by cross pushrods. With triple Solex carburettors, it produced 105bhp at 5000rpm, and period road-testers delighted in both the quality of the gearchange and the calming effect of the overdrive – operated via a lever near the driver’s right hand – on longer journeys.

The sporting nature of that six-cylinder engine was complemented by the luxuriously trimmed interior, which allowed 405 drivers to cover considerable distances in comfort. The gauges, meanwhile, were neatly arranged in a binnacle ahead of the driver. Along with the traditional two-spoke steering wheel, that arrangement became a Bristol ‘trademark’ that was carried over to subsequent models.

Only 308 Bristol 405s left the Filton factory on the northern fringes of the city. Of those, 265 were saloons. All were largely hand-assembled and fell into the ‘reassuringly expensive’ category. Including purchase tax, a new 405 cost £3586 in 1956. By way of comparison, the V8-powered BMW Type 501 cost £2458, and in 1954 an Aston Martin DB2/4 would have set you back £2621.

Bristols have long existed outside the motoring mainstream and have an identity that is all their own. The 405 falls very much into that category. As Bill Boddy wrote in a glowing report for the February 1956 issue of Motor Sport after a trip to the Lake District: ‘If, in addition to the qualities and amenities described above, you crave an exclusive car, there you are – in all those miles we didn’t encounter another Bristol!’

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