Monday, 9 November 2009
"An Education": David's Bristol Car
Watching An Education at the Watershed last night reminded me of an unusual day out I had a couple of years ago. I'd been commissioned to write something about Bristol Cars, the Filton-based company run by the secretive Tony Crook. Geoffrey Herdman, who was then chairman of the Bristol Owners Club, offered me a spin in his car, which dated from 1956 or thereabouts.
So I drove in my lowly Astra to Frome, where the car in question was being serviced by vintage car expert Charles Russell. He downed tools to take me for a spin, which is about the closest I've had to a Top Gear moment since I was eight and rode in a Rolls Royce for the first and only time in my life.
Cars and driving are not subjects I spend a lot of time thinking about, but this was something different. This Bristol 405 Drophead Coupe was one of only 43 made, and the bodywork showed the telltale swirls and ripples of aluminium that has been hammered into shape by hand. Everything about the car - from the shape of the bonnet to the door handles - was distinctive. The engine sounded like a squadron of Lancasters.
The skills and knowledge that went into the creation of this car are now almost extinct. Making a car by hand was a quaint idea even in the 1950s, and now people like Charles Russell are as rare as old-fashioned wheelwrights. Perhaps it's time to add car making and other kinds of engineering to our vision of England in Particular.
I wonder what prompted the film-makers to give David the suave seducer a Bristol. Perhaps they were aware that this was Peter Sellers' favourite marque. In 1963, with his addiction to expensive cars already legendary, Sellers persuaded the company to make an abandoned prototype 407 convertible roadworthy for him – a one-off, in effect – and it became famous as Britt Eklund’s car of choice.