In 1946 the Bristol Aeroplane Company, finding itself with surplus capacity and skills, embarked on the manufacture of luxury cars. With the introduction in 1948 of the 401 - the first of its exquisitely styled aerodynes - Bristol began to move away from the pre-war design the company had inherited from BMW. Carrozzeria Touring provided the Superleggera method of body construction that overlaid alloy panels on a lightweight tubular-steel framework, while the low-drag shape was achieved after hours of experimentation in Bristol's wind tunnel. The 401, and its soft-top sister car, the 402, continued to use the preceding 400 model's running gear and BMW-based, 2-litre, six-cylinder engine with its ingeniously arranged, pushrod-operated, inclined valves. The gearbox remained a manual four-speed unit with first-gear freewheel. Aircraft-industry standards of construction did not come cheap however - at £2,270 the 401 cost as much as an Aston Martin DB2 - and fewer than 700 found customers.
The 402 Drophead Coupé was even more exclusive, a mere 20-or-so being delivered between 1949 and 1950. Tony Crook, a highly successful racing driver during the 1940s and '50s had been involved with Bristol's car division from the outset and would become Chairman and Managing Director of Bristol Cars Limited in 1973. Crook won the first motor race to be held in the UK after the war driving a Type 328 Frazer Nash-BMW, a victory witnessed by one of his biggest fans: Stewart Granger. Granger bought a similar car, asked Crook to maintain it and so began a long friendship between the two men. Crook recalled: 'Granger owned a string of exotic cars and said to me he wished there was a convertible Bristol, certain that it would go down well in California. We, at Bristol Cars, had already decided to make a small run of convertibles based on the 401, and Granger was very excited about this. He and his future wife Jean Simmons were about to star together in the film Adam and Evelyn and Granger was keen to have "his and hers" identical Bristol cars.'
When 402 production began, two of the first cars built were sold to Granger: registered 'NPF 1' for himself and 'NPF 2' for Jean Simmons. The cars were handed over at Anthony Crook Motors in Caterham, surrounded by crowds of fans and photographers. 'We had police cordons to control the whole of Caterham,' said Crook, 'but they were more interested in getting autographs.'
This Bristol 402 was purchased by the current deceased owner in 1969, by which time it had been upgraded with the more powerful 100A engine by Bristol cars in Filton during the 1950s. The original exterior colour was mid-green a shade known by Bristol as Cambridge Grey, it is believed that this car was originally fitted with a detachable hard-top which is thought to still exist fitted to another 402. 'UML 534' has effectively been laid up since 1971, though it has been used occasionally since then. Offered for restoration and sold strictly as viewed, it comes with an old-style logbook, V5 registration document, sundry invoices and a brochure for the model. A wonderful opportunity to acquire one of the rarest and most exclusive of Bristol motor cars.