Bristol 410 and 411 Buying Guide

If you’re looking for a left-field grand tourer and your pockets are deep, we can’t think of many more desirable candidates than the enigmatic Bristol 410/411

How much to pay

• Project £10,000-18,000 • Good £29,500-42,750 • Concours £45,000-70,000 •

Overview

Practicality ★★★
Running costs ★★
Spares ★★★★
DIY friendly ★★★
Investment ★★★★
Desirability ★★★★

You didn’t even have to open the sales brochure to know exactly who the Bristol 411 was aimed at. ‘Dignified express for four six-foot persons and their luggage,’ it proclaimed in small type, beneath a photograph apparently taken in the front garden of one of its well heeled clients.

This understated sales pitch was typical of Bristol, which never made any attempt to market its cars. They were always a well kept secret for those in the know; an exclusive club only for those who could really appreciate the many qualities of the vehicles made by one of the world’s most enigmatic automotive brands.

While other exclusive handbuilt cars have focused on luxury or sportiness, Bristols have always bridged this gap. Offering space, comfort and refinement aplenty, they’re GTs in the true sense; vehicles that you can easily drive across continents without a second thought. That’s certainly the case with the 410 and 411, with their unstressed Chrysler V8s; these were cars for the connoisseur who didn’t need to shout about his wealth.

As with so many classics that were costly when new, these Bristols were worth very little for years. However, as the market has picked up in general in recent times, 410 and 411 values have increased significantly. A heavy thirst and high restoration costs mean you need to be committed to enter into ownership, but if your pockets are deep enough, buying one of these gorgeously understated hand-made British GTs can’t be recommended highly enough.

Your AutoClassics Bristol 410 and 411 inspection checklist

Engine

The powerplant fitted throughout 410 and 411 production is unstressed and will last 250,000 miles or more without murmur. The Chrysler-sourced V8 came in 5211cc (410), 6277cc or 6556cc forms (the latter two in the 411); they’re all durable as long as they’re properly maintained.

By far the most common malady that afflicts the engine is a gummed-up Carter carburettor, which is easily fixed with the right solvent. Updating to electronic ignition and fitting a modern starter motor will help get the best out of the engine, but even when the unit needs rebuilding it’s possible to find a healthy used powerplant and just do a straight swap.

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Gearbox

The Chrysler-sourced Torqueflite transmission was the best automatic gearbox available when these cars were built, and it’s still a superb unit, being especially tough. It should still shift ratios imperceptibly and kick down rapidly, but if the car has covered a huge mileage it may be that the gearbox needs a rebuild, so check for jerky changes. Everything is available to perform a complete overhaul, or you can convert to a four-speed ZF unit if you have deep pockets. This helps to reduce fuel consumption, thanks to the lock-up facility.

The differential is a Salisbury unit, taken off the shelf, usually supplied in limited-slip form and virtually indestructible. If it’s whining, a rebuild is due – and while this isn’t a problem, the exercise tends to be costly.

Suspension and brakes

As the front suspension is a classic double-wishbone set-up, it’s simple and effective. The most common malady is worn bushes, but these are easily and cheaply replaced. Rotten anti-roll-bar mounts are common, yet these can be welded up easily.

The front suspension is set up during the car’s build process, with the wishbones mounted directly to the chassis. The only adjustment available is toe-in and toe-out, so if the suspension is whacked and the geometry is knocked out, resetting everything is not a straightforward job.

While the rear suspension is complex, it’s also compact and works well if everything is in good order. Worn bushes are a common problem, but replacements are easy enough to source. If the self-levelling hardware (fitted from the Series 2 on) is still fitted, it probably won’t be functional and is best removed, as it doesn’t operate very well even when healthy.

The steering should be a joy to use – if it isn’t, it may be because the pump needs rebuilding due to leaking seals. Other reasons for poor steering feel are a low hydraulic fluid level, air getting into the system, or play in the mechanical linkage. Consequently, make sure these points have been checked before buying a refurbished pump.

Bodywork

The Bristol’s outer body panels are made of aluminium, so rot in the visible metalwork isn’t a problem, although electrolytic corrosion can be. This is especially common above the wheelarches and around the locker covers. The paint sometimes lifts or bubbles, but this is only cosmetic. If there’s any damage to a panel it’s possible to remove, repair, then replace it.

Of more concern is the prospect of serious corrosion in the underside of the car, especially behind the back axle. The chassis is extremely strong and rarely gives problems, other than the section directly over the rear wheels, which can rot badly. If caught early this isn’t expensive to fix; if left too long, the bill could be huge.

The steel shell over which the alloy panels are attached can corrode, so checks are essential. Lift the flaps in the front wings, where the spare wheel and battery are housed. They can rot profusely, although repairs are straightforward as access is good.

The floorpans are also rust prone, the usual catalyst being water ingress from the heater-intake box because its drainage channels get blocked. The underlay beneath the carpet then soaks this up and the metal corrodes from the inside out, although repairs are easy enough.

Interior

The Bristol’s electrics are simple, with surprisingly little in the way of extra equipment fitted as standard. Air-conditioning was never standard, and electric windows weren’t commonly used until 1975, so it’s just a question of checking that everything works. Most of the components are off-the-shelf Lucas items, which means they’re easily replaced from specialists.

Even the best heaters aren’t very effective, but they should throw out some warmth. If none is forthcoming it could be because the matrix needs rebuilding or the control flaps require some TLC. Either way it’s an involved fix, so bank on several hours to put it right.

The interior is trimmed with wood and leather, so it’s a question of applying the usual checks to make sure big bills aren’t looming. Delaminating wood and splits or cracks in the leather aren’t hard to find – but they are expensive to repair.

History

  • 1967: 410 supersedes 409 with 15-inch wheels (previously 16-inch), dual-circuit brakes and a 5211cc V8. Air-conditioning is available optionally and power-assisted steering is standard.
  • 1969: 411 arrives, without the vestigial rear fins of 410 and with less brightwork. The indicator repeaters are moved further back, there are wraparound bumpers front and rear, a bigger (6277cc) engine and a revised facia. A limited-slip differential is also fitted, along with revised suspension geometry.
  • 1970: 411 Series 2 brings larger (205) tyres and self-levelling suspension, plus slightly higher bumpers.
  • 1972: 411 Series 3 features a slimmer, full-width front grille, along with four headlamps. There’s also a quartet of exhaust outlets, and the engine has a lower compression ratio.
  • 1973: 411 Series 4 packs a 6556cc punch but looks the same as its predecessor, except for a flatter bootlid and different taillight clusters.
  • 1975: 411 Series 5 has alloy wheels, a matt black grille and several minor technical revisions.
  • 1976: 603 replaces 411.

AutoClassics says…

While hand built and exclusive usually means a sure-fire way of haemorrhaging large chunks of cash on a regular basis, that’s not the situation with the 411. Not only are the maintenance schedules far less punishing than you’d think, but replacement parts are also surprisingly affordable. However, these cars aren’t frugal; 17mpg is as much as you can expect on a run, although that’s not bad for a car that offers such effortless performance.

Few good cars come up for sale as they tend to be kept for years, often long after the owner has given up driving. While values have increased significantly in recent years, these cars are still under-valued relative to the cost of a full restoration. They seldom come on to the market, and people often spend a fortune restoring them – which they then fail to recoup on (eventual) resale. Bristols are enigmatic to the end.

Specifications

Bristol 410
  Power 250bhp
  Top speed 130mph
  0-60mph 8.8sec
  Economy 15mpg

Bristol 411 S1
  Power 335bhp
  Top speed 138mph
  0-60mph 7.0sec
  Economy 13mpg

Bristol 411 S2
  Power 335bhp
  Top speed 138mph
  0-60mph 7.0sec
  Economy 13mpg

Bristol 411 S3
  Power 335bhp
  Top speed 138mph
  0-60mph 7.0sec
  Economy 13mpg

Bristol 411 S4
  Power 264bhp
  Top speed 140mph
  0-60mph 8.8sec
  Economy 12mpg

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