Live Auctions

1 Of 80: 1955 Arnolt-Bristol Bolide Roadster

When you set the imaginations of two legendary designers like Bertone and Scaglione loose on the design of a sports car, the chances are that the result will be a vehicle of absolute beauty. That is the case with this 1955 Arnolt-Bristol Bolide Roadster. It is a little-known classic that combines British engineering and Italian design flair with American ingenuity. This car has a racing pedigree, but it is now ready to hit the road once again. It is located in Tucson, Arizona, and has been listed for sale here on craigslist. The owner has not indicated an asking price, but we can speculate on that shortly. I have to say a big thank you to Barn Finder Ikey H for referring this classic to us.

Stanley H. “Wacky” Arnolt was a man with a dream. Like so many people, he was seized by the desire to see his name on a production road car. Unlike so many who tried and failed, the inimitable “Wacky” succeeded in his quest. After dabbling with vehicles based on the MG TD, Bentley R Type Continental, and the Aston Martin DB4/2, Mr. Arnolt struck a deal with Bristol cars. He purchased 200 examples of their 404-Series chassis, all of which were mechanically complete. Bristol then shipped the vehicles to Turin, where Carrozzeria Bertone fitted the bodies designed by Nuccio Bertone and Franco Scaglioni. Bertone then sent the completed cars to Arnolt’s warehouse and showroom in Chicago, from where they were sold. This is one of those cars, and it had a competition history during its early life. It underwent restoration in the 1980s and has only seen limited road use since. It still presents perfectly, with no signs of any body damage or rust issues. The vehicle has spent its life in drier climates, which has assisted with its preservation. The roll bar you see isn’t original but would have been fitted during the car’s competition life. It isn’t clear whether Red is this car’s original color. Since they were hand-built vehicles, this is possible.

There was a myth that the Arnolt-Bristol was supplied with a variety of different engines. The cavernous engine bay made it a prime candidate for a V8, but all vehicles were built with the 1,971cc Bristol 6-cylinder engine. This was based on an engine originally developed by BMW and produced 130hp. Those ponies made their way to the rear wheels via a 4-speed manual transmission. Performance figures were quite impressive in a 1955-context. It could accelerate from 0-60mph in 8.7 seconds, and reach a top speed of 110mph. A great deal of thought went into the design of the Arnolt-Bristol, which resulted in near-perfect weight distribution. The vehicle might not have had quite the power of some of its opposition, but point it at a few corners, and it could show them a clean pair of heels. This is a numbers-matching car, and the engine was rebuilt when the rest of the restoration work was completed. It has since accumulated 3,500 miles and has recently competed in the Italian Mille Miglia Retro. The owner states that the little engine makes sweet music.

The Arnolt-Bristol was available in three trim levels. The Bolide represented the middle-rung and was a step up from the cars that were generally used for competition. This is one of those cars, although the leather interior trim would usually be found in a Deluxe. As previously mentioned, the roll-bar isn’t original, and nor are the 4-point racing harnesses. Beyond that, everything else appears to be as it left the showroom, and it is in excellent condition. The glass on all of the Smiths gauges looks clear, and the markings are crisp. There is no apparent wear on the wheel, while all of the trim appears to be as nice as you would expect on a little-used restoration.

The Arnolt-Bristol was the most successful vehicle produced by the company, and 142 examples made it to the Arnolt warehouse in Chicago. Sadly, a warehouse fire damaged 12 of these beyond repair. Arnolt stripped these for useable parts, but the remaining 130 cars found buyers. The majority of these buyers were in the US, although a handful of vehicles found their way to other countries. It is known that around 80 cars still exist today, with their conditions varying enormously. With no price stated in the listing, that leaves us to speculate on what the owner might be expecting to receive. When new, it would have cost its original owner somewhere around $4,245. To put that into some perspective, a new Corvette would have set the same buyer back $3,149. This was not a cheap car then, and it won’t be a cheap one now. They don’t come onto the market that often, but when they do, the interest is strong. Given this car’s overall condition and history, the chances are good that the price will be somewhere in the region of $400,000. It could go even higher because identical examples have pushed close to $450,000 in the past. Makes you go weak at the knees, doesn’t it?


  1. IkeyHeyman

    Nice write-up, Adam. Love the “clean pair of heels” comment.

    Like 6
  2. Fahrvergnugen Farhvergnugen Member

    Updated price now shows $679 large. Still, why not list it on a site like BATcrazy? This beauty deserves more attention than from a random search.

    Like 6
  3. pebblebeachjudge

    Utterly a crazy price. These are below average driving cars of the period, and the center of gravity is to high, making them very unsafe to race or rally. I could not figure a way to lower mine. They flip over easy, and in period were known for it. Great engines, these prewar BMW type of kit. Although wild looking, the beautiful body was welded onto an industrial chassis and not really artful. Sort of a kit car done in period.

    Like 2
    • IkeyHeyman

      Ad says “price upon request” – the price in the listing title – $678,910 (get it?) – is meant to discourage deadbeats and tire-kickers. Nevertheless, it ain’t gonna go cheap.

      Like 5
    • CJinSD

      The Arnolt-Bristol won its class in the 12 hours of Sebring either two or three times, and was still scoring class victories well into the ’60s. How bad could it have been?

      Like 3
    • jon banquer

      This is a dishonest and untrue statement. I had one when I was 17 – 18ish and drove the wheels off it. They had absolutely *no* tendency to “flip over”. None. “Industrial chassis” is likewise ignorant and dishonest. Handling was basically neutral and flat, the engine happily spun to 7,000, and the gearbox was a delight. There were some drawbacks – that windscreen was useless in the rain, 16″ tires were hard to come by at the time (only Pirelli had them, and not cheap), and they do look a bit awkward due to being so high.

      But they handle great. People who claim otherwise have no idea what they are talking ab out.

  4. CCFisher

    Did they all ride this high?

    Like 1
    • RayT Member

      Every one I’ve seen — that’s maybe as many as 10 of them — did. A tall engine makes for a high cowl, and the engine is mounted high in the chassis. I remember watching one being raced in Cal Club events back in the early 1960s, and it sat up just like this one. It didn’t do very well, though that may not have been entirely the car’s fault….

      They look even stranger in person. Wacky’s one-off A-B Coupe was, well, interesting. His rebodied MGs were much prettier.

      Like 5
      • vintagehistoric

        There were 3 to 5 coupes built, depending on who one chooses to believe. I have worked on one coupe and one Bolide. Positively that one coupe (Lee Marvin was an owner) accounts for two of the 5 possible.

        Yes, they can be lowered and those two cars were. Doane Spencer did the Bolide just before he died. Many years later, after studying what Doane had done (so simple, so subtle; it was genius), I lowered the Coupe.

        Like 5
      • JG Simmons

        There were 6 coupes. 3120, 3121, 3123, 3124, 3127, 3137

        Like 1
  5. Steve R

    Why not, it turned up here. It probably has been or will be linked to on every relevant enthusiast website. The objective is to sell the car, you do that by putting it in front of as many eyes as possible until the right person sees it.

    Steve R

    Like 9
    • PRA4SNW PRA4SNW Member

      Plus, not having to pay a listing price, or any fees once it sells.

      Worth a shot.

      Like 2
  6. scott m

    Beautiful car, though I’ll stick with the Daimler 250, mainly bc price :^} Appreciate the comment of pebblebeachjudge as it returns my fantasy a little more earthward :^)

    Like 3
  7. 370zpp 370zpp Member

    My first thought when I saw it: pedal power?

    Like 3
  8. Dual Jetfire

    British racing engine and Italian continental styling. Hmmm, that sounds familiar. Because it was what the 54 Nash Ambassador Country Club Lemans was all about! And they are rarer than this, with less than 10 on the planet!

    • IkeyHeyman

      What? Less than ten 54 Nash Ambassador Country Club Lemans in existence? That’s a myth, I see them all the time. My neighbor had 2 of ’em, they ran fine but he couldn’t give them away. He took them to the crusher. ;)

      Like 2
  9. John

    Why would a “car like this” end up on Craigslist? Because it’s only $5 to sell a car on Craigslist! At the middle market (let’s say, run of the mill 911s) I think the venue matter and a’ auction house might be helpful. Lots of people go to auction with $50k in their pocket looking for something cool, but with no particular desired car. For a $400k car like this, the buyers already know they want one, and are seeking one. You don’t need to pay for the exposure to 911 shoppers who aren’t gonna buy your car anyway.

    I have a 53 Arnolt MG. Very pretty, and unlike the Bristol, not out of sight price wise. Record Arnolt MG convertible price is $140k, coupe $90k, most around $50k. Still probably the cheapest coachbuilt Italian car around! I’m not selling mine, but I’d recommend to others that the buy on sight!

    Like 1
  10. JoeBob396

    Interesting vehicle. Seems like being able to lower it would be a benefit. Curious that for $600k they couldn’t match three air filters.

    Like 1
  11. Martin Horrocks

    The whole Bristol Car Company was auctioned recently and I doubt (don´t know) if it fetched the kind of money asked for this.

    Nice cars, but….that´s Frazer-Nash Le Mans Replica sort of money.

    John, there are a lot of Italian coachbuilts you can buy for $50K. Fulvia Zagato in particular is a proper car! But there are also a lot of Vignale/Moretti/Lombardi/Ghia etc Fiats.

    Actually, when I say a lot, they are not very numerous and they are nearly all in Italy! But you can get a Vignale Fiat 850 for less than 10000€.

    Like 1
  12. John

    (Quickly googles what the hell a Vignale Fiat 850 is…)

    They are cheap! What a weird little car. I like it.

    Like 1
  13. oldtimer

    It’s always interesting to read comments on something you are very familiar with. Occasionally it’s maddening.
    In 1955 five Arnolt Bristols were entered in the under two liter class at the Sebring 12 hours. They finished first, third, fourth, and fifth. Not a bad showing against one of the best fields assembled. Popular legend is that Wacky Arnolt, not the least bit wacky by the way, insisted the cars be as delivered down to the standard tire pressures which for “high speed driving” were 26# front and 24# rear. In 1961 or
    1963 they won the class again with a private entry.

    As to the comments by the “Pebble Beach Judge” I will agree they are a bit long on ground clearance but that’s easily overcome. I may add at this point that Bill Watkins
    s who raced Arnolts in the 50’s and then again in Vintage in the 80’s and 90’s won
    The Monterey Historics in a class that included 3.4 liter Jaguars, 2.5 liter Lancia’s etc. Bill probably knows more about Arnolts and competition than anyone.

    Re the negative comments about the chassis. Once again nonsense. Bristol was an aircraft company during WWll. After the war they produced expensive sedans and the Bristol 404, known as the business man’s express. Which was the chassis used for the Arnolt Bristol. It is a rigid sheet metal box frame of aircraft quality and all though looks heavy is not. An all up Bolide weighed in under 2,000 pounds with
    1130 real horsepower out of 120ci. This was three years before the the 1957
    Corvette with F.I. made 283 bhp out of 283ci. This motor was a direct copy of the BMW 328 motor which was used to win the Mille Miglia in 1939. My friend Jim
    Profit found and restored that car and built it to 160 plus bhp. I rode in it before he
    sold it to BMW. It was quick to say the least. So much for the negativity re the
    Bristol motor.

    Finally re Vintage and Historics re lowering the car This was mine and at the time I
    also owned the Lee Marvin coupe which had about 9 plus inches of ground clear-
    ance. Scott and Urs Gretener reproduced what Doane had done and got the coupe
    down to approcimately 7 inches of ground clearance.

    There is more to be said but I have things to do. I would be happy to explain how to
    easily lower one of these really great cars and make it handle like it should.

    Like 1
    • CVPanther Member

      Thanks for setting the record straight, Oldtimer, sometimes (always) the uninformed drivel gets really old and it’s refreshing to see comments from people who actually know what they speak of.

  14. Dave Mazz

    If the folks who love old British roadsters miss out on this one, don’t be too upset!! I just read that Allard is coming back with a “continuation series” of their 1953-1955 Model JR roadster. And this new JR uses a “re-engineered version” the Cadillac 331 cu/in V-8 engine that the original Model JR;s came with! But the best thing is the new Allard Model JR will be a lot cheaper that this Arnolt-Bristol, with the first one expected to go for UKP180,000 – 240,000 :-) :-)

Leave A Comment

RULES: No profanity, politics, or personal attacks.

Become a member to add images to your comments.


Keep me in the conversation via email. Or subscribe without commenting.