1954 Arnolt-Bristol Bolide

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.

Paul Hardiman

Paul Hardiman - SCM Senior Auction Analyst

Paul is descended from engineers and horse thieves, so he naturally gravitated toward the old-car marketplace and still finds fascination in the simpler things in life: looking for spot-weld dimples under an E-type tail, or counting the head-studs on a supposed Mini-Cooper engine. His motoring heroes are Roger Clark, Burt Levy, Henry Royce and Smokey Yunick — and all he wants for next Christmas is an Alvis Stalwart complete with picnic table in the back and a lake big enough to play in.

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