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’