Over Fuelled
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Over Fuelled

AUTOMOTIVE HISTORY

A Different Kind of Hybrid

The Bristol 411

In the 1950s the term ‘hybrid’ had a very different meaning. In contrast to our present day, electric, eco-friendly connotations of the term, ‘hybrids’ were originally high-performance, European-designed sports cars with large, powerful American engines. They had all the European poise and refinement, but the brutal performance of a big V8— a sort of musical composer with a sledgehammer for want of an analogy. Numerous independent European brands went down this route — Jensen, Gordon Keeble, Iso and Monteverdi to name a few, yet none managed to survive for as long as Bristol.

“They had all the European poise and refinement, but the brutal performance of a big V8 — a sort of musical composer with a sledgehammer”

The secret behind the British manufacturer’s success? Well, in the 1960s, Bristol had a small, yet discerning. loyal customer base. This allowed them to continue selling their traditional, alloy-bodied, separate-chassis coupes more reliably than their counterparts. The 411 was no exception.

Dropping Bristol’s traditional inline-six engine configuration, the 411 used an all-iron Chrysler 6.2 litre V8 power plant. This, coupled with a relatively simple suspension setup, made the cars somewhat less balanced than their predecessors. Fast and impressive they were, well-handling British sports cars, they were not. Unwittingly, Bristol had created somewhat of a European muscle car.

Later models were treated to a host of improvements to try and regain their predecessor’s poise. Engines were mounted further back on the chassis rails in an attempt to improve handling. A limited slip differential helped put the power down, and a power steering system, reckoned to be one of the best in the world (manufactured by ZF), came as standard. On the outside, a lower ride-height, clipped fins and less bright-work gave the cars a smoother, cleaner look. Automatic, self-leveling suspension was also available, although it’s reliability was questionable.

“Fast and impressive they were, well-handling British sports cars, they were not.”

In 1972, the 411 received a substantial face-lift, giving the front end an entirely new look. A year later, an even bigger, 6.6-litre engine was introduced, giving 330bhp, along with minor mechanical updates.

The last 411s rolled off the production line in 1975. These latest models had a black grille, stiffer chassis and improved cooling. Despite their restrained, traditional looks, these later cars could touch 140mph (224km/h), and boasted true dragster-like acceleration that left heavier luxury machines wondering what had just left them in the dust.

Such performance combined with luxurious refinement, a bespoke ambiance and well-honed chassis balance (admittedly, after a few tweaks), gave these cars their unique charm. To this day, their appeal has not diminished one bit.

Holloway, H. and Buckley, M., 1999. The A-Z Of Cars. Godalming, Surrey: Colour Library Direct.

Daniel is a writer, senior teacher, and geographer based in Malta. His main passion is empowering students to fulfill their aspirations and reach their goals.

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Daniel Caruana Smith

Daniel Caruana Smith

Daniel is a writer, senior teacher and geographer based in Malta. His main passion is empowering students to fulfill their aspirations and reach their goals.

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