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Classic Sports Car - - Contents -

This mag­nif­i­cent visual his­tory of Bris­tol car production from 1947-’55 is an epic work. Af­ter the death of owner Tony Crook, his daugh­ter Ca­role dis­cov­ered a re­mark­able stash of 3000 neg­a­tives and pho­to­graphs in his garage. The pre­vi­ously un­seen im­ages were do­nated to the Bris­tol Own­ers’ Her­itage Trust, and the mis­sion to digi­tise the col­lec­tion re­vealed the high qual­ity of the record.

The ma­jor­ity were taken by in-house lens­man Ted Ash­man with the best equip­ment. When Palawan pub­lisher and Bris­tol fan Si­mon Draper re­viewed the im­ages, he im­me­di­ately saw the po­ten­tial for a book and the stun­ning re­sult show­cases 310 of Ash­man’s pho­to­graphs, from the first 400 body mock-up on a BMW 326 chas­sis to a fas­ci­nat­ing se­quence of crafts­men at coach­builder Ab­bott of Farn­ham work­ing on 405 drop­heads. Ev­ery as­pect is com­pre­hen­sively cov­ered: se­cret aero­dy­namic wind-tun­nel mod­els, glam­orous movie-star own­ers and coach­built spe­cials, along with mo­tor­sport out­ings and Bris­tol-pow­ered off­shoots in­clud­ing Frazer Nash, Arnolt, ERA and Cooper.

The qual­ity of the re­pro­duc­tion vividly opens up the de­tail in the im­ages, and with the large cock­pit shots you al­most sense you’re step­ping in for a test drive. The many visual treats in­clude a dou­ble-page spread of the race-stained 450 coupés out­side the Fil­ton fac­tory af­ter the 1954 Reims 12 Hours.

To set the scene for the ex­ten­sive pho­to­graphic sec­tion, Sir Ge­orge White has writ­ten an in­sight­ful back­ground to his father’s busi­ness and the found­ing of the car di­vi­sion. Amus­ingly, the first car built at Fil­ton was the rotary-pow­ered ‘Wind-wagon,’ which was tested on lo­cal roads. Af­ter WW2, White in­sti­gated the de­vel­op­ment from pro­to­type to test­ing production cars in 20 months, quite an achieve­ment in strug­gling post-war Bri­tain.

The book’s beau­ti­ful design – by C&SC ’s Ju­lian Balme – is a joy, the large for­mat and amaz­ing im­age qual­ity open­ing a win­dow on Bris­tol his­tory. So of­ten mo­tor­ing books are for­mu­laic in design, with weak re­pro­duc­tion, but Balme’s en­thu­si­asm for the pro­ject and in­spired ’50s-style ty­pog­ra­phy set a new stan­dard. It’s an ex­pen­sive book, but when you con­sider that a sin­gle lim­ited-edi­tion art print costs as much as this ex­quis­ite 400-page production, the price looks jus­ti­fied.

The fi­nal 50 pages re­pro­duce the chas­sis ledger, an­other re­cent dis­cov­ery. Ev­ery six-cylin­der car is listed, which sounds dry, but the hand­writ­ten log is more ab­sorb­ing than stan­dard chas­sis ap­pen­dices.

If you ap­pre­ci­ate beau­ti­ful car books, this labour of love is worth sav­ing for, but its lim­ited print run of just 400 is al­ready close to sell­ing out. MW £500 Edited by Jon Press­nell, Palawan Press (order via www.palawan.co.uk)

‘The re­pro­duc­tion vividly opens up the de­tail in the im­ages – you sense you’re step­ping in for a test drive’

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