Courtesy of Bonhams

“The Bristol Zagato Grand Touring model is designed to cater for those who desire an even faster car than the standard type 406 saloon. The Bristol Zagato is lighter and smaller, with a tuned version of the 406 Bristol engine. The lightweight 2-door coachwork has been built to the requirements of Anthony Crook Motors Limited by Zagato of Milan, Italy, who have been famous coachbuilders for half a century, mainly in the field of high-performance cars. The emphasis has been placed on providing extra speed without impairing reliability or flexibility and whilst still retaining reasonable rear-seat accommodation — a feature normally lacking in Grand Touring saloons.” — Anthony Crook Motors

Last of the 6-cylinder Bristols, the 406 was made between 1958 and 1961, though the basic steel-framed, alloy-paneled superstructure would be carried over to its V8-engined 407 successor. Bristol’s BMW-based engine was extensively revised and enlarged to 2.2 liters for the 406. As a result, power went up to 130 hp and flexibility increased, while other improvements included servo-assisted Dunlop disc brakes on all four wheels and self-canceling overdrive as standard.

Bristol had commissioned Carrozzeria Zagato to build a limited series of lightweight 4-seater cars on the 406 chassis in October 1959, six of which, plus a solitary 2-seater, had been completed by the time production ceased. Weighing 2,436 pounds, the Zagato was a whopping 574 pounds lighter than the stock 406, as well as 11 inches shorter and five inches lower, with commensurate gains in both acceleration and top speed.

SCM Analysis

Detailing

Vehicle:1960 Bristol 406 Zagato Coupe
Years Produced:1958–61
Number Produced:6, plus one round-tail 2-seater (174 total 406s)
Tune Up Cost:$350
Chassis Number Location:Plate riveted to scuttle
Engine Number Location:Brass plate on rocker cover
Club Info:Bristol Owners’ Club
Website:http://www.boc.net/s/
Alternatives:1957–67 Lancia Flaminia Sport/Super Sport, 1962–66 Jensen C-V8, 1964 Bentley Continental S3 Park Ward custom (ex-Humperdinck)

This car, Lot 216, sold for $276,136 (£200,100), including buyer’s premium, at Bonhams’ Goodwood Revival sale on September 18, 2021.

Bristols have always ploughed their own furrow, appealing to the type of owner who desires a superior, hand-built motorcar unbound by the conventions of fashion. Function has always taken precedence over form, though the early aircraft-inspired models from 400 to 403 were truly elegant.

A unique marque

The Bristol marque was inextricably linked with the autocratic Tony Crook — always Anthony or “Mr. Crook” to his face. In 1960, when the Bristol Aircraft Company wanted to hive off its automotive division, the former racing driver bought into the newly formed Bristol Cars Ltd. with a 40% shareholding and sole distribution rights. He assumed full ownership from 1973 until he lost control of the company in 2002. Crook finally left in 2007 and died in 2014, aged 94.

His style of management was as notoriously individual as the cars his company made, but without him Bristol would probably have gone under before it did, first going into administration in 2011 and finally being wound up in 2020. The final Crook-era car was the Fighter, a V10 Viper-engined gullwing coupe. Only about 10 were built, and the planned turbo version never saw light of day.

Fittingly for cars originally produced by an aircraft manufacturer, engineering and aerodynamics have always been the focus of the Bristol makeup. Relatively light weight from aluminium bodies and a slippery profile mean the 6-cylinder cars, using the same BMW-inspired Bristol engine that went into Frazer Nashes and the AC Ace, have always gone indecently well on 2 liters. They are capable of high average speeds thanks to excellent handling via a well-located rear axle, sprung by torsion bars.

Eventually, the old Bristol unit with its unusual crossover pushrods (to achieve a Hemi head with a single side-mounted camshaft) was stretched to its limit of 2.2 liters in the 406. The succeeding 1961 407 arrived with Chrysler V8 power.

Punchy, not pretty

As the 400 series progressed, the proportions got odder. This was partly due to Bristol’s insistence on sticking with its innovation of storing the spare wheel in one front wing, between road wheel and door. Small-volume production inevitably means borrowing expensive-to-tool parts such as light clusters from mainstream makers. These didn’t always integrate well.

The startling appearance of the 406 Zagato should therefore be no surprise — given the chassis and layout the carrozzeria had to work with — with an echo of the 450S road-racers that ran at Le Mans in 1953 and ’54.

Though a wonderful car, with the added benefit of the 2.2-liter engine, the best that you can say about its styling is “handsome,” wearing its individual round Lucas lenses stacked DB5-style in a different order to the standard 406. The truncated tail looks awful, however, forced by the length of the front, which is dictated by that spare-wheel location.

There are echoes here of Zagato’s work on the elegant Lancia Flaminia coupes, but one that’s been forced to swallow a Rover P5 coupe whole. Inside, it’s a happier story, with Bristol’s signature droopy-spoke wheel replaced by a three-spoke aluminium interpretation by Nardi, fronting the familiar and clear dash.

Enjoyed, then restored

Of the six 4-seater 406 Zagatos built, five are known to survive. Our subject car is the best-known, having been the 1960 Earls Court Motor Show car, sold by Anthony Crook Motors to Richard Robinson in May 1961. Robinson kept the Bristol until 1991, faithfully recording all works carried out, parts purchased and relevant mileages, then sold it to an owner in Sweden. This new owner commissioned a major restoration that took from 2002 to ’05 and cost £138,910 (then about $250k). The Minilite alloy wheels it had worn since the 1960s were replaced during the rebuild with factory steel items.

The next owner bought the car in January 2010 via Bristol Cars Ltd., which was then enjoying something of a renaissance in sales of pre-owned models from its High Street Kensington base. Though it wasn’t making many cars (releasing its last official sales figures in 1982), it was surviving on restoration work. The famous showroom on the corner of Ken High Street and Holland Road remained a mecca for Bristol fanciers until it sadly closed a few years back, following generations of schoolboys pressing their noses against those hallowed windows.

Stan West bought the car, then showing 34,725 miles, at Bonhams’ 2014 Goodwood Festival of Speed sale for £169,500, then about $288k (SCM# 250510). West, whose 24-car collection kicked off Bonhams’ 2021 Goodwood Revival sale, did not stint on looking after his charges, so the 406 was presented in good working order, sitting just right on a period-looking set of Cinturatos and with seat belts and door mirrors fitted by a previous owner.

A rare bird, fairly sold

It sold for not a lot more than West paid for it, which looks fair given that the two transactions took place on either side of the last market peak in 2015 (varying exchange rates makes it looks cheaper in dollars, but it has gained £30k in seven years, as well as just 724 miles). Given that coachbuilt examples typically sell for multiples of the standard offering’s price and a 406 Zagato is exceptionally rare, the closeness of those figures suggests this was a fair price. It was much more than a standard 406 can be bought for, but less than a Flaminia Sport by the same coachbuilder. Weighing rarity against aesthetics, that feels about right. ♦

(Introductory description courtesy of Bonhams.)

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