Live Auctions

Big Price Drop! 1953 Bristol 403

UPDATE – We featured this 1953 Bristol back in January of this year, but it has popped back up on the market again. Interestingly, when he listed it previously, he referred to it as a Bristol 401. Since then, he has changed his tune, and he now indicates that it is the rarer Bristol 403. The big news is that the owner has slashed the price from its original $10,000 to a more realistic $4,500. If this is more your cup of tea, you will find the Bristol located in Loudon County, Virginia, and listed for sale here on Craigslist. I have to say a big thank you to Barn Finder Chuck F for spotting this relist for us.

The Bristol 403 luxury/sporting car was made in England between 1953 and 1955 by Bristol Cars, a Bristol Aircraft and Frazer Nash partnership. Only about 300 of these automobiles were ever built, and just ten are thought to be left-hand-drive (LHD) like this car.

Bristol’s vision was to develop a vehicle based on prewar BMWs. Their first model was the 400, which came out in 1947, and the improved 401 about a year later. The bodywork was created in aluminum and mounted on a steel box-section frame with an integrated firewall structure. The production worked out to be only about 100 copies a year. A 1,971cc inline-six powered the 403 with hemispherical combustion chambers, overhead valves, and triple Solex downdraft carburetors. In addition, the cars came with a 4-speed manual transmission, hydraulic drum brakes, independent front suspension, and rack-and-pinion steering.

We don’t know how long this Bristol 403 has been out in the woods where it sits, but given the other cars all around it, it may be years. Parts of the vehicle are buried frame-deep in leaves, so there’s no guessing how good the undercarriage is, although the seller says the chassis and body are good. We’re told that most of the critical trim is present, but does that include things like the grill? We don’t know the original color of the 403 as someone apparently was readying it for paint at some point, as the whole thing is covered in primer grey now.

The original engine flew the coop some time ago and has been replaced by a Triumph TR6 engine. Would that be considered an upgrade? We don’t know the specs of that motor or whether it can easily be made to run. No photos of the interior are presented, but it looks as though some of the glass is out of it, which is not a good sign. The seller says that more photos of trim and parts are available, so interested parties will have to reach out. What’s a rare car like this worth? Well, a really nice example was auctioned in 2020, where the bidding went to $65,000. Is this a project that you would consider tackling?


  1. Arthur

    Given that Bristol later used Chrysler engines later on, I see this car being fitted with a 5.7 Hemi and a Tremec TKO 5-speed.

    Like 13
    • Nick G

      Or perhaps 3 liter BMW in line 6.

      Like 19
      • Steve RM

        I like it. Or……a Jaguar in-line 6.

        Like 4
  2. Mike

    Jay Leno just did a video on his 1955 Bristol last week.

    Like 13
  3. Kurt Member

    The promised pics of trim will be critical to anyone taking this on.

    Like 5
  4. bobhess bobhess Member

    Don’t think even Jay Leno would pay 10K for this one. Interesting car but if you turned it upside down and filled it full of money you are still going to have to dig up some more to do this car.

    Like 5
  5. Martin Horrocks

    “Could this car be restored for the spread between $10-65,000?”

    It certainly could not.

    If it had the original engine, it would be a viable parts it is an engine in demand with historic racers. As it is, only a customiser could do much, but it is a very interesting and clever shape if you can look at it through those eyes.

    Like 6
  6. Glenn Reynolds Member

    The Bristol engine was very unusual in that it had a “hemi” head, but not overhead cam. It ran by a mind boggeling pushrod set-up and had triple one barrel carbs. The design was was reparations from BMW who used this design in their 327 and 328 prewar cars. Good luck finding one and someone who can do a proper rebuild.

    Like 5
    • Gerard Frederick

      War reparations — by BMW? It was outright theft, like the BSA 2-stroke models (DKW), the Arado jet liner, which was stolen by the Soviets, or the theft of the Jumo jet engine which formed the basis of the Rolls Royce engine division and the going on 7000 international patents including things like margarine, artificial gasoline, artificial rubber, or how about the process to age cheese in 14 days instead of the usual 90? Referring to these outrages as ¨reparations¨ is not only muddying the waters of history, it is justifying profound injustice. Aside from that, british Frazer-Nash had a close working relationship with pre-war BMW. Just imagine what could have been had politics, greed and jeaulousie not gotten into the way.

      Like 4
      • Laurence

        Gerard: I don’t blame you and others for thinking that the pre-war BMW two litre engine was a “war reparation”, because that has often throughout the decades been reported erroneously. Many years ago Road & Track had an interesting article which set the record straight on this subject. The BMW factory that had made the BMW 328 and 327 was contacted by another BMW factory in 1945, and told that the Americans were destroying all of BMW’s cars, engines, blueprints and tooling as they entered BMW plants. Therefore the plant that had just been warned hid a complete BMW 328 and its engine blueprints under a hay stack in a nearby farm. When the Americans pulled in they destroyed all the tooling, but the hidden car and the engine blueprints eventually wound up in the British sector, with a request by BMW that they be forwarded to their erstwhile, pre-war British partner, Frazer-Nash, as a present and sign of good faith heading into a post-war future. Frazer-Nash were too small to produce the engine, so they sold the rights to the Bristol Aeroplane Company, which was planning on building post-war cars, as its government aircraft contracts were drying up.

        Like 7
      • Jay

        Sorry, you want me to feel for THE NAZIs?!?

        Like 4
    • Kurt Member

      Bristol made a sleeve valve engine for aircraft; was this cars original engine sleeve valves?

  7. JolietJake Member

    Thank You, Mike, for the Jay Leno link. How cool to see that restored Bristol in that beautiful burgundy color. First time I ever saw one of these, looks like a candidate for the Monterey Concourse d’Elegance.

    Like 3
  8. Super Glide Member

    The BMW 328 was a remarkable car. Because BMW, in the mid 1930s, wasn’t the automotive powerhouse we have today, they came up with the goofy head design in the 328 motor. Within a couple of years they were cranking out thousands of Foke-Wulf 190 engines, which raised millions of Reichmarks using 50,000 slave laborers of which and average of 80 a month died. BMW admitted to this and regrets it’s past.

    Like 6
  9. Kenn

    Beautiful car, and again the big question: Why does anyone leave a vehicle like this to rot in the woods?

    Like 4
  10. CJinSD

    The guy also has a 1953 Riley Drophead listed for sale.

    Like 2
  11. Elanguy

    A lot depends on the condition of the chassis and suspension. If it can be made usable, it could make sense to get it into a subtle resto-mod condition. Probably a huge project, but full restoration would require sourcing the correct engine and that would put the buyer underwater instantly.

    These were superlative road cars, about the best of the era for slightly poor roads. And wouldn’t that be fun? And a BMW 6 would be a cheap and cheerful “upgrade” and might save the car until the value might rise to where a correct engine would make financial sense.

    And where else are you going to find a LHD Bristol 403? Not bloody likely. It’s a unicorn, or the carcass of one.

    Like 7
    • Gary

      Carcass and unicorn are right. A pity someone didn’t save this 40 years ago. But a massive project. Probably only doable by someone in their garage as a 10 year project and with a passion for the necessary restoration skills.

  12. Husky

    What about the Saab 900 Convertible in the background???

    Like 1
  13. Retrocartoon IvanH Member

    I like this car. I would take on this project! I love the style it presents

  14. Gordo

    The grill and front windshield are shown in the CR photos.

    Like 1
  15. Greg

    Wow, I might be crazy but this screams ‘sleeper’ hot rod to me. Make it as original as possible, decide on how much hp the frame will handle and make a super fun driver. Motor is already gone so little to loose at this price.

    Like 3
  16. Rick

    If International Harvester and Saab had ever joined with BMW and designed a car, the result might bear a strong resemblance to this Bristol.

    Like 2
  17. Jwaltb

    Some really scary photos. Bring cubic money-

  18. Gerard Frederick

    Dear Laurence — as a history buff I would like to thank you for the tremendously interesting information regarding the alledged war reparations by BMW. Quite frankly I had no idea – all I knew is that these were not reparations of any kind but rather rip-offs of german technology.

    Like 2
    • DON

      To the victors go the spoils – Do you think if Germany had won they wouldn’t have taken all the Allied technology as war reparations ? Come to think of it, didn’t they take all of Frances guns, tanks and aircraft and use them against the Allies ?

    • Laurence

      You are most welcome, Gerard. The Americans destroyed all that was of no interest to them, but of course, things like the V-2 interested them very much. The British allowed VW to continue building the Beetle, because the main factory was in their sector, and the Soviets dismantled all factories and shipped them East. They exploited all German technology they could lay their hands on…small arms, Opel Kadets, some BMWs, etc.

      • Gerard Frederick

        True story – the Opel Kadett was produced in the Soviet Union as the ¨Moskwitsch. The little car held up remarkably well on the roads of Siberia. Cheers and Beers, GF

  19. Kurt Member

    Grill reminds me of BMW grills, the double ovals

    Like 1
    • Gordo

      Double kidney beans

  20. Eddie

    Hi i bought the 403 from Tom and I got tranferable registration already as everyone knows the biggest drawback is engine with tranny I’m in contact with some sources in England about the engine and tranny hope in next couple of months I’ll get them in PA.. I’ll let you know ,also need rear seat in any condition ,Zdrowia,,-Cheers

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