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Bristol Article in Octane June '11 issue

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Old 11-05-11, 01:07 AM
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Default Bristol Article in Octane June '11 issue

There's a four page article on Bristol in the June 2011 issue of the Octane mag, which was obviously written before the acquisition by FN was announced. The article is headed;

'Has the recession affected you?'
'Not at Bristol Cars, sir...
We don't do recessions'


Approx a third of the text briefly outlines the history of Bristol Aeroplane Company, Bristol Cars and the White family starting in 1854.

The rest of the article is really a collection of anecdotal stories, most of which we have heard before. It seems the aim of the article was to identify what makes Bristol special, but some of the stories could be off-putting to some, depending on your point of view.

For example Richard Levine's account of his visit to the showroom for a test drive and Tony Crook saying "You write me a cheque for the full price of the car before the drive and we'll put right anything that is wrong."

The author says "Bristol's attitude to customers was sometimes amusingly anachronistic in Tony Crook's era", as though this was a positive trait. In my opinion if probably contributed to their demise.
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Old 11-05-11, 02:36 AM
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Originally Posted by Kevin H View Post
The author says "Bristol's attitude to customers was sometimes amusingly anachronistic in Tony Crook's era", as though this was a positive trait. In my opinion if probably contributed to their demise.
Kevin,

While I acknowledge your views on Bristol in an attempt to point out over the years that the King has no clothes, I would say it was mortality not attitude that got Bristol to where it is today... which BTW is technically not in demise, but transition.

Mr. Crook realised his daughter had no interest in taking over the company, thus he needed a succession plan. If Mr. Crook had been immortal, I believe he could and would have kept the company running with the minimum and least expensive variations required to keep the doors open. While the 1950's style showroom was eccentric, it also was cheap. It did not cost much since all the furnishings had been amortised back when we were in primary school. When he was forced to create a web site, it looks like he hired a college student and paid chips for it. It took the company years even to accept credit cards. As long as customers bought parts, needed service and a very few of them kept buying new cars (perhaps as few as one or two a month), he was able to keep his low-budget business operating. Far from the typical service centre of a Mercedes dealership, his shop looked like a dark and dusty grease-monkey shop, but the staff kept the cars running and their knowledge-base (as opposed to a computer database) in their heads was huge. Compared to the competition, the prices of parts was fair and they stock them far longer than the statutory 10 years.

Bristol's attitude toward customers worked because Bristol was a custom-build shop - they did not need to be nice to customers because they never built to sell, rather they sold prior to build. Mr. Crook had the luxury of being brusque because his business plan did not include "the customer is always right" or "the customer is number one". Rather in his world, the car was number one, and it did not have to be a car that competed with other cars (which is why he also did not need car magazine journalists). Number one did not mean what it does to you, but what it meant to those few, exclusive people who parted with six figure cheques in his shabby showroom. Even the Richard Levine comment makes sense in the context of that business plan. I would love to have taken a Bristol for a test drive when I visited Mr. Crook, but I would not have been a serious prospect as a buyer. Crook did not include a demonstrator in his portfolio; that too was part of his business plan. Obviously, enough new car customers were willing to accept this or Mr. Crook had sufficient discernment to know when to offer a drive in whatever was his company car for the moment. While Mr. Crook's business seemed to be contracting every year, I tend to suspect it avoided debt. If sales became sparse, it simply did not matter, except that the resale value of the company kept getting smaller. Because the car was number one, not the brand, Crook probably turned down brand-offers that would have made him and his daughter comfortable. He was Bristol and Bristol was him. In this world of everything monetised, frankly I admired that. It's just this inconvenient mortality that gets in the way. Imagine what would have happened if the CEO and chief salesman appears before that nice young judge who takes his driver license away because he is deemed to old and frail to drive any more. Age caught up with him as it does to all mortals who live a full life.

When Mr. Silverton came in, it seems to me, if we judge it on the face, he failed to understand that Mr. Crook actually had a sound business plan; thus Mr. Silverton sought to turn BCL into a more conventional car business. That proved fatal. He used debt. That suggests he used projections of ROI on a spreadsheet. He spent more money making the web site look good, hiring PR types and that not insignificant new capital investment of designing a whole new super-car from scratch. Of course, alternatively, it could be that Mr. Silverton had a sound business plan that included forced administration, where the investors would take a haircut if the sales did not hit the spreadsheet projections. The only fly in that plan, if it existed, would be that it did not count on a competitive bid trumping him.

In any case, the company is not in nor ever has been demise (even if it did come close), Mr. Crook is now in retirement, and it is beginning to sound like Mr. Silverton may stay on for a while. If funds allow it, I would love to have my 411 converted to electric motors, especially if I can sell my freshly rebuilt 400 w 383 heads for a pretty penny.

Claude
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Old 11-05-11, 04:43 AM
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Although very new to the Bristol scene, having first become aware of B only 3 years ago, I feel Claude's comments as pertaining to Mr. Crook make a lot of sense. An entrepreneur, for better or worse, is his own man.

Thank you for your reasoned comments.

It's too soon for mortal man to know/understand the changes that began following Mr. Crook's decision to see his business.
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Old 11-05-11, 05:04 AM
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Can I add to Claude's list of ludditism

- fax machine instead of email address, well up until TS took over
- typewritten letters, certainly long after the rest of the world abandoned them
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Old 11-05-11, 12:31 PM
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Originally Posted by Claude View Post
Mr. Crook actually had a sound business plan;
Mr Crook's business plan may have been sound in the 50s, 60s and maybe even the 1970s, but business plans have to change with the times, otherwise the company will get left behind by the competition. That's business management school 101.

Okay, let's drop the demise word and replace it with decline. It's hard to argue that BCL has not been in decline since the 1980s, selling fewer and fewer cars each year. In the mean time there are wages to pay, and if not rent, at least rates, insurance, maintenance and those costs just go up each year, without growing the workforce. You actually have to make more money each year, not less.

I believe that had Toby Silverton (and his father-in-law) not bought into BCL when he did, that Mr Crook would have either had to sell to someone else, or the company would no longer exist today.
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Old 12-05-11, 08:53 AM
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[quote=Claude;5128]. As long as customers bought parts, needed service and a very few of them kept buying new cars (perhaps as few as one or two a month),

For some reason people seem to have fixation on BCL having been a car manufacturer for the last twenty years; I find it baffling that this should be the case. If indeed BCL had been producing 'one or two cars a month' since 1991 where exactly are the 500 Britannias, Brigands and Blenheims that would have been made?

In reality BCL made one to two cars a year, the real income coming from servicing, sales of parts to existing owners (one of the reasons for maintaining such a large stock of parts) and renovation work. The 'business plan' saw the company trying to sell a model that was falling further and further behind the products of manufacturers that had once been seen as competitors.

The exact reasons for Tony selling out to Toby when he did remain shrouded in mystery, as with most things that Tony did; one can only summise that finances had deteriorated to the point where it was sell or fold. The fact that Toby actually tried to turn BCL back into a manufacturer of cars, which he succeeded to some extent with the Fighter seems, to some at least, to be a reason to demean his efforts and long for the 'good old days'.

"you can't please all of the people all of the time" never rang so true....
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Old 12-05-11, 02:01 PM
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[quote=TBC;5136]
Quote:
Originally Posted by Claude View Post
. The 'business plan' saw the company trying to sell a model that was falling further and further behind the products of manufacturers that had once been seen as competitors.
I think the last new car group test of a Bristol was in 1979 in What Car? of all places. The rather eclectic group was:
Rolls Royce Silver Shadow
Aston Martin V8
Bristol 603
Porsche 911
Mercedes 450SLC

Although the Bristol was praised for the usual luxury car accoutrements (comfort, engine, equipment etc) I think it was voted the least desirable even by the landed gentry guest testers who were hauled in to try them out.
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Old 12-05-11, 03:42 PM
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[quote=jimfoz;5137]
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Originally Posted by TBC View Post

Although the Bristol was praised for the usual luxury car accoutrements (comfort, engine, equipment etc) I think it was voted the least desirable even by the landed gentry guest testers who were hauled in to try them out.
The people that did the test were wrong -- If they did the test again today they would find that the 603 is the best to live with for day to day driving and running costs except for maybe the Merc. Quite a few ex Aston owners now run a Bristol :-) Seen the light..

I think it was Autocar that voted the 411 S1 as their car of the year at one point, so these tests can be very eratic ! Although correct on that occasion.
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Old 12-05-11, 04:06 PM
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Eclectic indeed. As to their general character, these five cars have next to nothing in common.

Regards,
Markus

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Originally Posted by jimfoz View Post
Rolls Royce Silver Shadow
Aston Martin V8
Bristol 603
Porsche 911
Mercedes 450SLC
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Old 13-05-11, 03:21 AM
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[quote=GREG;5138]
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Originally Posted by jimfoz View Post

The people that did the test were wrong -- If they did the test again today they would find that the 603 is the best...
Took a pair of new friends out for a half hour ride in the 603 today; we climbed over and swooped down a variety of twisting, turning hills, sped over rough roads, and, near the end, raced down a highway after he asked me if I could put my foot in it...but I had to back off at about 95 mph as we began nearing some traffic ahead of us.

Fans of all kinds of cars, they absolutely loved it - smoothness, power, comfort, l'essence de l'experience.
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Old 13-05-11, 03:27 AM
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The people that did the test were wrong -- If they did the test again today they would find that the 603 is the best to live with for day to day driving and running costs except for maybe the Merc.
That was 30 years ago. It's not relevant to Bristol's survival today. Besides, if Bristol was confident of their product they should have arranged other, more meaningful tests with other contemporary cars at the time.

If the test was done today with equivalent current model cars, the outcome may be far worse for Bristol.

What would today's comparative cars be from Mercedes, Rolls Royce, Aston Martin and Porsche? (in the same price range as the current Blenheim), .... although why the 603 was compared with a Porsche 911 and a V8 Aston is a mystery.

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Quite a few ex Aston owners now run a Bristol :-) Seen the light..
"Quite a few" ? exactly how many?
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Old 13-05-11, 05:54 AM
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"Quite a few" ? exactly how many?
I know of three - so a few :-) but probably more , and of course Victor Gauntlett drove a 411 !

But seriously , I have been in the Blenheim 4 quite a bit and it does stand up to modern stuff, especialy with the LPG economy and less gadgets to go wrong. Not sure about the fighter as I haven't been in many super cars.

Looking forward to electric offerings..
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Old 13-05-11, 07:03 AM
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I thought it might be interesting addition to the discussion to revise and resubmit much of the content of an older posting of mine (originally on a different topic).

My views on the historical management of BCL are mixed. No one can fail to admire Mr Crook's firmness of purpose which allowed BCL to survive, almost uniquely in this day and age, as a small manufacturer of cars for so many years. The essence of that survival seems to have been a lack of hubris and determination to stick to what one did well, despite what others did or aspired to do, coupled with a realistic assessment of what was in fact possible and what I suspect was a real pride in, and affection and sense of responsibility for, the company, its history, its products and its employees.

There is another side however. As the car division, the marque had a distinctive approach to the design and manufacture of cars and stood for unique values of innovation, performance, design and quality. The division appears to have had a confidence about its products and its unique design focus that contrasts strongly with the subsequent period of operation under Mr Crook. From about the 411 onwards, the company became increasingly less open about its products, their design and their performance. The marketing message shifted from a distinctive design and quality focus to notions of exclusivity and undifferentiated "differentness". One suspects that, lacking the ability and funding to innovate and to carry the torch for the original Bristol values, new values were invented which lay within the company's more limited abilities.

The Crook years represented the creation and building of a new Bristol image. The "exclusive and different" image was cultivated by secrecy about the cars and the company. Development and modification was hinted at but the details never disclosed (and the claims therefore could neither be verified nor disproved). The motoring press were increasingly kept away from the products. Historical mythology regarding Mr Crook's role in the initial creation of the marque in 1946 was created and fostered.

Withdrawal of the cars from the motoring press and the cultivation of a press reputation for avoiding press exposure was arguably a masterstroke of marketing - the cars were no longer portrayed as advanced designs of distinctive quality and were instead talked about with reference to having a "Saville Row" image. The strategy minimised the "Emperor's New Clothes" risk of exposing the cars to outside scrutiny and the adverse conclusions which might have been drawn from revealing the actual production activity (or lack thereof) over many years. The same sensitivity may also account for the strange treatment of potential customers who were refused test drives until after purchase. It may well be the case that BCL's survival required this form of rebranding and secrecy but it was certainly not a message that those of us who admired the original Bristol values could relate to with pride.

Against that background, the activities of BOC were inevitably counter-productive and de-mystifying (as the activities of any owners' club acting in the interests of its membership would be) and the rather strange historical tension between BOC and BCL is understandable for that reason alone.

The subsequent change of ownership and management had seen the marque undergoing another, and, for me, very welcome, change in image and projected values. BCL seemed to realise that it actually represented the overlooked benefits of traditional values and methodologies brought up to date, in the same way that current manufacturers of valve (or, for North American readers, tube) amplifiers, full-range single driver speakers, vinyl LPs and turntables represent those values so successfully in high end audio today. That is what makes my 411 so special to me and why I enjoy owning it alongside a Nissan GTR. Under the Silverton ownership, the differentness started to be revealed as having substance and tangible benefit (other than merely in vague allusions to snobbish exclusivity) and the new values were demonstrated and advocated by BCL in products (Speedster, Series 6, Fighter) which it was not afraid to show off. BCL had started to manifest confidence in what it did and was not afraid to show how it was different rather than just behaving unconventionally and secretively and claiming to be different.

It will be interesting to see what values are adopted in the future.
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Old 13-05-11, 08:08 AM
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Originally Posted by Kevin H View Post
What would today's comparative cars be from Mercedes, Rolls Royce, Aston Martin and Porsche? (in the same price range as the current Blenheim),
There are no comparative cars from these companies.
A Bristol is completely different from all of them.

Regards,
Markus
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Old 13-05-11, 10:31 AM
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Eclectic indeed. As to their general character, these five cars have next to nothing in common.

Regards,
Markus
My mistake entirely - it was a 928 not 911. Although still quite eclectic.
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Old 13-05-11, 02:35 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Markus Berzborn View Post
There are no comparative cars from these companies.
A Bristol is completely different from all of them.

Regards,
Markus
The traditional Bristol product is a large two door four seater saloon/coupe with a large displacement engine. Sounds familiar?

if we don't limit ourselves to 2 doors as indeed the testers didn't then we have:

Mercedes-Benz CL
Rolls-Royce Ghost
Aston Martin Rapide
Porsche Panamera

then there is the:

Bentley Mulsanne
Ferrari 612/FF
Jensen Interceptor R
Jaguar XKR
Maserati GranTurismo

the above list might also include the new Morgan Eva GT (not sure of the interior space) and, if Audi give the go ahead, the Lamborghini Estoque.

Not the shortest list in the world, and had BCL updated the Blenheim, I seem to recall someone mentioning plans for a new 4-seater with irs, then all could be considered competition, albeit across a fairly wide price spectrum.
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Old 14-05-11, 05:32 AM
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There are no comparative cars from these companies. A Bristol is completely different from all of them.
You could say that about almost any car in a literal sense, but it would be foolhardy or arrogant to think that your potential customers would not consider anything else.

While it might be said that some of the cars in that particular road test should not have been compared with one another, it should be pointed out that it was not a typical technical road test but more a gathering of impressions from possible potential customers - that is five people who could very likely afford to buy one.

The testers were the Marquis of Ailesbury, the Earl of Denbigh, the Earl of Cardigan, Lady Jane Hudson & Lady Bean, chosen because they were "used to such sybaritic pleasures".

It could be argued that such a test is more meaningful than a typical technical test because at the end of the day people usually buy cars like this based on their overall impression.

The best ranking the Bristol received was 3rd from Lady Bean the other results were two 4th places and two 5th places (bottom).

From the tester's comments it was clear that Bristol was already falling behind the times compared to the other manufacturers represented, and that was in 1979!
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Old 14-05-11, 06:55 AM
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From the tester's comments it was clear that Bristol was already falling behind the times compared to the other manufacturers represented, and that was in 1979!
No , It was only clear that a few posh people preferred some of the mass produced cars on offer at the time.

Keep in mind that Lady Bean must have been married to Mr Bean ! :-)

Bristol
Rolls Royce
Bentley
Jensen
Aston Martin

Which of the above went bust or taken over ? Bristol have never had government financial support / grants, unlike many other British and German manufacturers.

We all know that a Mercedes S class and similar are probably better in every way than a Bristol, but I thought this site was about shared rose tinted glasses and supporting a manufacturer we are all fans of ? Plenty of other sites slag them off !

Was Kevin Clarkson refused a test drive ?
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Old 14-05-11, 08:17 AM
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No , It was only clear that a few posh people preferred some of the mass produced cars on offer at the time.
I've heard of a few aristocrats owning Bristols. These people are much more likely to buy a new Bristol than some petrol head writing for car mag.

Quote:
Which of the above went bust or taken over ?
But Bristol were effectively taken over more than 10 years ago and I am sure they would not have survived until today had they not been.

Quote:
Bristol have never had government financial support / grants, unlike many other British and German manufacturers.
How do you know?

Quote:
We all know that a Mercedes S class and similar are probably better in every way than a Bristol, but I thought this site was about shared rose tinted glasses and supporting a manufacturer we are all fans of ?
We are simply debating Mr Crook's business strategy, and we don't all agree. You can be a fan of a brand without rose tinted spectacles, just try taking them off.

As for supporting the manufacturer, you can do that by either buying new cars, having your old car serviced or restored by Bristol or by buying parts from them, rather than going to great lengths to find out where the part came from originally so you can buy it elsewhere and save a few quid.

There are a lot of people who take great pleasure in doing the latter, including yourself if I'm not mistaken!

Quote:
Was Kevin Clarkson refused a test drive ?
Every other notable car manufacturer gave their cars to Clarkson to test drive, almost certainly because of the massive marketing value. Whatever the outcome of the test, you can bet Bristol would have ended up at the sub zero end of the "cool wall".

Why not take a Blenheim 4, or better still a Fighter T, make absolutely sure it is perfect in every way and let Clarkson play with it. What could possibly go wrong?
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Old 14-05-11, 08:43 AM
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Originally Posted by Kevin H View Post


Every other notable car manufacturer gave their cars to Clarkson to test drive, almost certainly because of the massive marketing value. Whatever the outcome of the test, you can bet Bristol would have ended up at the sub zero end of the "cool wall".

Why not take a Blenheim 4, or better still a Fighter T, make absolutely sure it is perfect in every way and let Clarkson play with it. What could possibly go wrong?
Tony Crook willingly gave Top Gear magazine cars to try on several occasions and they were given good appaisals. Clarkson either had no interest in testing them or wasn't allowed. I don't think a Blenheim would have been given a very sympathetic view on the TV show, but the Fighter probably would. James May would have possibly given a fair view of the car because he isn't so juvenile as the other two!

But to be honest in Bristol's case bad press or good press has been irrelevant for years. The (few) people who bought them knew why they bought them and cared not for the press views. They just wanted something that did the job unobtrusively and was comfortable without being flash. The same people who have ancient Roberts radios in the kitchen. Unfortunately these customers have been dwindling without new blood replacing them.
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