This car had come straight out of a $55,000 restoration and the restorer was on hand on sale day to answer questions, which always helps

Stanley Harold “Wacky” Arnolt made a fortune selling engines and other equipment to the armed forces during WWII. A lifelong motorhead, he set up SH Arnolt, Inc. in Chicago during the late 1940s to distribute MGs and other European imports.

At the 1952 Turin Salon, Arnolt came across an MG TD-based coupe and convertible on the Bertone stand. Smitten by the Italian carrozzeria’s work, he promptly ordered 100 of each, which left Nuccio Bertone somewhat flabbergasted by the huge number.

Production of the Arnolt-MG began shortly thereafter and things went well until about 100 cars had been made, when MG announced that it could no longer supply powered chassis to Bertone.

However, by then Arnolt had invested heavily in Bertone’s assembly capabilities and even become one of the Turin firm’s directors. After a brief dalliance with Aston Martin, the American entrepreneur successfully negotiated the purchase of 200 404-series chassis and tuned 1,971-cc engines from Bristol Cars Ltd.

Charged with styling the nascent Arnolt-Bristol was new Bertone designer/aerodynamicist Franco Scaglione, who would go on to create the famous Alfa Romeo BAT concept car. To distract the eye from the engine’s height (thanks to its triple Solex downdraft carburetors), Scaglione clothed the two-seater with a mixture of swooping curves and sharp edges.

Bodied in steel with an aluminum hood and trunk, the Arnolt-Bristol could be had as a roadster or coupe (though just six of the latter were built). However, the roadster was sub-divided into three distinct specifications: Competition (pared-back racer), Bolide (marginally more civilized), and DeLuxe (full-height windscreen, side windows, convertible roof, glovebox, etc).

With independent transverse-leaf front suspension and rear axle located by torsion bars, the model became known for its roadholding and balance.

Typically developing 130 hp at 5,500 rpm on a 9:1 compression ratio, the Bristol BS1 Mk II straight-6 was allied to a 4-speed manual transmission. After testing an Arnolt-Bristol in February 1956, Road & Track announced that its 0-60 mph in 10.1 seconds and 107 mph top speed were “the best we have ever recorded for a two-liter machine.”

Leaving the Bristol factory as a powered chassis, each car was bodied at Bertone and finished off at the Arnolt factory.
With its low curb weight (circa 2,200 lb), punchy engine, and respectable handling, the model had potential as a racer. Assembling a team of lightweight cars for the 1955 Sebring 12 Hours, Arnolt scored a 1st, 2nd, and 4th finish in the Sports 2000 class.

The following year his cars took 2nd and 3rd in class. The marque’s final Sebring outing came during 1960, when the team crossed the line in 14th, 22nd, and 39th places overall, and Arnolt-Bristols were competitive in the SCCA into the mid 1960s. Wacky himself entered a Bolide for the 1955 Mille Miglia but never made it to the start line.

Between January 1953 and December 1959, just 142 Arnolt Bristols of all types are thought to have been made. A factory fire resulted in a dozen cars being written off, though some are thought to have been bought back for spares. The best guess is that about 85 cars survive.

Supplied new as a Bolide, this two-seater is now Aston Martin Gunmetal Grey with Chestnut leather upholstery. The BS1 Mk II engine, (serial number 227) began life in another Arnolt-Bristol. Believed but not warranted by the seller to be “one of 20 Bolides remaining worldwide,” chassis number 404X3057 is offered for sale with sundry paperwork, including rare workshop manuals.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1954 Arnolt-Bristol Bolide
Number Produced:142
Original List Price:$4,245 (1956)
Tune Up Cost:$300
Chassis Number Location:Right-hand side of bulkhead, and stamped on right chassis leg in engine bay
Engine Number Location:Above starter motor on right side of block
Investment Grade:C

This 1954 Arnolt-Bristol Bolide sold for $161,700 at H&H’s Race Retro auction at Stoneleigh Park, Warwickshire, England, on March 14, 2009.

Though powered by the sought-after Bristol engine, these cars don’t have a large following in the U.K., as the weather conspires against a truly open car. Or is it the looks? They’ve never sat quite right in the eyes of many Brits, who feel that something this outlandish probably should be Over There.

This 1954 Arnolt-Bristol had come straight out of a $55,000 restoration by Mitchell Motors, a long-established and well-respected British outfit specializing in Bristol-powered cars, and the restorer was on hand on sale day to answer questions, which always helps.

Well suited to historic European events

The body is very straight and the Gunmetal Metallic suits it well and somewhat tones down those wild lines. The brown leather is fresh and the dash and instruments were excellent. Its punched steel Bristol wheels ride on a tall set of Michelin Xs, and the car looks right on them, however unsuitable they may be for competition.

Little is known about the car’s early history, but it arrived from America in 2008 and spent six months with Mitchell Motors. On delivery it was complete, in primer, and the engine had been rebuilt, but Mitchell went through the 1954 Bolide mechanically. They looked inside the motor, sorted some primer issues, found new windshield pillars, painted it, and trimmed it. “We gave it a bloody good £40,000 service,” is how Andrew Mitchell describes it.

For a transatlantic creation, it’s well suited to a number of historic European events such as the Mille Miglia Storica, and presumably the deal to bring it from the U.S. was done before the pound bombed against the dollar, when American imports to England nearly all made sense.

It fetched a mid-estimate $161,700 against an expected $133k-$154k hammer in an auction where the sell-through rate was lower than usual, but the prices were encouraging.

More expensive than an XK 120, it’s not instantly desirable yet it grows on you, especially in this color. Not having its original engine shouldn’t hurt its value too much as it was the correct type. Compare that with the last one to sell without matching numbers, which had a small-block Chevy, for about the same number of dollars in 2007, and that puts the price here slightly on the low side.

The remaining question is: Why sell so soon? Did the owner fall out of love with it and move it on as soon as it was decent, or was it always bought as a project on which to make a few bucks? Given the exchange rates in force when the car was acquired in the U.S.-about $2 to the pound-I’d say the latter, and that means even though the seller has taken a $55k haircut, if he managed to buy it cheap enough, he probably broke even.

So, someone got a nice, usable 1954 Arnolt-Bristol Bolide and someone else had an adventure, and-provided no one got burned-I’d say it was fairly bought and fairly sold.

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