Here’s a little information about the beautiful 1953 Bristol 404 Coupe which was on display at the 2022 Concours of Elegance. What a beautiful looking car. What lovely lines. A very odd fin at the back of the car. Have you ever seen a car like this. You can see more Concours of Elegance news, reviews, videos and galleries here.
Created in parallel with the Le Mans class-winning Bristol 450, the 404 was a showcase for the best technologies of the day and a rolling showcase of Bristol’s engineering principles.
Just 52 Bristol 404s were made and this is the first – the original prototype. Prior to the current owner, there have been seven stewards of this fascinating car: the first, Sir George Stanley Middleton White, Chairman of Bristol Cars, who retained the car as his personal transport for over a decade. He insisted that the fin remained in place, even though it was judged “a little too flamboyant” for Bristol’s typical clients. Indeed the current Sir George White fondly remembers being driven to and from prep school in RAE 345, with its huge rear fin, recalling that it dramatically elevated his kudos and street credibility among his schoolboy peers.
RAE 345 played a key role in testing the aero fin potential for the 450 racers and road-going 404s that followed. The lower body mixed aluminium and steel, with a honeycomb sandwich construction for the rear floor, while the upper structure formed a canopy from a wooden framework and door pillars, with the whole encased in aluminium. The design for the nose of the car itself taken from the air intakes of the Brabazon Airliner – behind which sat eight 2650bhp engines, rather more than the 105bhp in the road car.
Aero engineering and racing nous found their way into the road cars – Bristol’s trademark installation of the spare wheel and battery in the front wings, first seen on the 404, were prompted by the desire to centralise mass, occupying the space created for the fuel tanks in the 450 racers.
This vehicle became a very familiar sight across Bristol’s huge Filton site because as well as Sir George’s daily transport, the car was used as a test bed and experimental platform. It went to and from Bristol’s aeronautical and automotive engineering departments for engine upgrades, braking enhancements and other tweaks. All these developments were documented in the factory service records and many of the innovative parts fitted, such as the short-ratio gearbox, remain on the car to this day.
When the car eventually left the family in 1965 the fin was removed. Fortunately the mounting brackets and internal structures remained, so with reference to many period images and drawings, and with the benefit of modern CAD technology, the fin was reinstated and constructed by hand in the traditional manner.