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Old 24-08-08, 11:08 AM
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Default Article Found by Accident from late 2007

Sorry, the link is

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/1d3e77d6-6...nclick_check=1

and the text:

Flight of fancy
By John Griffiths
Published: August 23 2008 01:27 | Last updated: August 23 2008 01:27

The factory is reached through a labyrinth of
nondescript streets in a corner of Filton, on the
outskirts of Bristol. A sign proclaiming "Bristol
Cars" stands alongside gates of solid,
blue-painted steel. Beyond them lies the
production site of a car maker that is without
doubt the industry's most mysterious.

I have no idea what goes on behind those gates;
nor, so far as I am aware, has any other
journalist. We have been barred from Bristol's
factory from the beginning.

On this occasion, however, one gate has been left
ajar. Peeking through, I can see two workshop
buildings, each maybe 100ft long, two-dozen
parked cars - everyday ones, presumably belonging
to employees - and a couple of truck trailers
with blue curtains hiding their wares. There is
an air of 1960s industrial Britain. The
architectural elan of the headquarters of other
"supercar" makers is entirely absent. Even the
public face of Bristol Cars is low-key: a small
showroom in London's West Kensington. The company
sells directly to customers; there are no dealers.

No, says Richard Hackett, Bristol's de facto
marketing chief, not even the FT can go inside
the sanctum. When pressed, he cites confidential
defence contracts linked to Bristol Cars' origins
as an offshoot of the Bristol Aeroplane Company.

I should perhaps count myself lucky that Bristol
has allowed me to drive one of its products at
all. Anthony Crook, who owned the company until
his retirement last year, refused journalists
test drives, and not much has changed since his
longtime associate, Toby Silverton, bought the
company from him. As far as I am aware, Steve
Cropley, the editor-in-chief of Autocar, is the
only other journalist to have driven the Fighter
- and only by borrowing one from a customer.

By the end of the test drive - shunning the M4
motorway and traversing instead such picturesque
towns and villages as Marlborough and quaint
Castle Combe along the old A4 trunk road - I find
the Fighter as enigmatic as the company. It is a
car (with a price that ranges from 234,984 to
351,912 before options) in respect of which all
conventional yardsticks of value must be set
aside.
The details

A "supercar" like no other from Britain's most eccentric car company

How much: 295,395

How fast: Top speed 210mph (claimed), 0-60, 4 secs (estimated)

How thirsty: No data

How green: No CO2 data

Also consider: Bristol aficionados will consider nothing else

The Fighter was announced in 1999, with initial
deliveries scheduled for 2001. But not until 2003
did Bristol show even a rolling chassis. Since
then, Fighters have obviously been delivered to
customers, as Cropley's drive proved, but how
many is unclear. Bristol said it would build 20
Fighters a year. Surprisingly, given that FT
readers are more likely than most to be able to
afford one, the test Fighter is a 2005-registered
model with substantial mileage.

Some might pay out what is an almighty sum for
the Fighter's hand-crafted aluminium body alone.
That its curves and precision of fit are the work
of human hands, not computer-controlled
machinery, is something to marvel at. Only the
upward-opening gull-wing doors and the tailgate
are made of carbon fibre.

The Fighter's design is like that of no other
car. Its shape is unique, crafted to go very fast
but eschewing all the conventions of current
supercars. It is taller and narrower than rivals.
It bears some resemblance to a land-bound
aircraft, which is no accident: Silverton puts
great stress on Bristol's use of aerospace
principles to create its low-drag designs. The
claimed drag coefficient of 0.255 for the
highest-specified Fighter T model is
industry-leading.

The aerospace theme is echoed in the interior,
with some instruments mounted in the roof. There
is an extraordinary amount of room in the
"cockpit". You also cannot help but love the
clear glass section of the lower tailgate,
providing rearward visibility a tail gunner would
appreciate. The interior is beautifully trimmed
in Wilton and the leather bucket seats will take
their occupants across continents in comfort. The
tight turning circle would do credit to some
taxis.

And yet there is a feeling of the unfinished
about the Bristol. There is a delightful (but
1,751 optional) engine-turned surface available
for the flat metal dashboard, centre console and
roof panel. But the panels are fastened by
visible Allen screws and the dashboard appears
covered with a lacquer that makes it seem
slightly aged. The electric seat adjusters are in
plain aluminium panels I could replicate in my
workshop. Control knobs are hand-turned from
aluminium, and look it. Maybe such an
idiosyncratic approach is treasured by Bristol
owners as part of the mystique, but it is well
removed from the luxurious opulence of the
similarly priced Rolls-Royce Phantom Coupe or the
137,500 Bentley Continental GT Speed.

The Bristol's ride, despite sophisticated double
wishbone suspension all round, still feels
under-developed.

Consider, also, the Chrysler-based drivetrains
and some may struggle to see such high value in
the car. But Bristol is in its 63rd year and
presumably has a loyal following.

Even the "standard" Fighter, with its 525bhp and
relatively lightweight 1,500kg, goes hard -
Bristol claims 210mph. The 295,395 Fighter "S",
with a claimed 628bhp, goes harder yet. Quite
what is to be made of the new twin-turbocharged,
351,912 Fighter T, with a claimed 1,021bhp, must
await a serious test. Bristol claims a potential
top speed of over 270 miles per hour but to have
limited it to 225mph as being "more than
sufficient".

An appropriate response is, perhaps: "Prove it."

More columns at www.ft.com/testdrive
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