Blast From The Past: The Bristol Fighter Is a Viper V-10-powered Unicorn With Gullwing Doors
The Bristol Fighter is a bonkers, 1990s remix of a Dodge Viper, Mercedes 300SL, TVR Cerbera, and a Lamborghini Espadaby Dim Angelov, on LISTEN 09:25
When a car company starts out as an airplane manufacturer, you can expect some very unusual and downright crazy design and engineering decisions. Bristol is one of those companies, and one of the last cars to come out of its assembly plant is the Bristol Fighter. It looks like what Mercedes would have built, if the idea of a 300SL Gullwing successor was realized in the 1990s, only this one has an all-American Viper V-10 up-front. YouTuber and car nut, JayEmm managed to get his hands on one of the very few made and shared his impressions on one of the strangest British sports cars ever made.
The car aficionado briefly talks about the brand’s history, which was a major manufacturer of airplanes in WW1 and WW2. At one point, Bristol was also involved in the development of the Concorde. As James keenly points out, Bristol’s first cars were based on various BMW models such as the 326, 327, and 328. Not only that, but they were considered to be more refined than their Bavarian counterparts – not something you hear every day.
The Chrysler Connection
Bristol’s, so-called, second-generation cars, as James states, came in the 1960s and featured a Chrysler V-8 engine. Fast-forward to the 1990s, the Bristol Fighter featured the biggest engine ever put into a production car – the Dodge Viper’s 8.0-liter, pushrod V-10. In the stock trim, the American V-10 was rated at 400 to 450 horsepower, depending on the model year.
Four different versions
In the Bristol Fighter, the Viper V-10 produced 525 horsepower at 5,200 RPM and 525 pound-feet (712 Nm) at 4,200 RPM. And that was just the regular version, which was the majority of the car’s limited production (more on that, later). There was a Bristol Fighter S, which developed 628 horsepower at 5,900 RPM and 580 pound-feet (786 Nm) at 3,900 RPM. Both, the regular and S versions, could manage the 0 to 60 mph (97 km/h) sprint in 4.0 seconds, with the top speed being 210 mph (338 km/h).
There was supposed to be a Bristol Fighter T, which developed 1,012 horsepower at 5,600 RPM and 1,036 pound-feet (1,405 Nm) at 4,500 RPM, from the same V-10. This was enough for a 0 to 60 mph (97 km/h) time of 3.5 seconds and a top speed of 270 mph (434 km/h), although it would be limited to 225 mph (362 km/h) The Fighter T was announced in 2006, but never made it to production. There was also a single GT2 race variant, meant to receive the Fighter T’s turbocharged engine.
|Model||Bristol Fighter||Bristol Fighter S||Bristol Fighter T|
|Power||525 HP @ 5,200 RPM||628 HP @ 5,900 RPM||1,012 HP @ 5,600 RPM|
|Torque||525 LB-FT @ 4,200 RPM||580 LB-FT @ 3,900 RPM||1,036 LB-FT @ 4,500 RPM|
|0 to 60 mph||4.0 seconds||4.0 seconds||3.5 seconds|
|Top speed||210 mph||210 mph||270 mph (limited to 225 mph)|
Very low production numbers
While most sources claim between nine and 14 examples of the Bristol Fighter were made, JayEmm decisively gives us the number 13. The reason why so few of these found homes was the price - £229,000 – which was over £20,000 more than a Ferrari 599 back then.
Almost all of the 13 examples were the regular, 525-horsepower version of the Bristol Fighter while only a single Fighter S was made. The Fighter T was never produced, but it is believed that a single prototype was produced in order to test the turbocharged V-10, intended for the GT2 race car. Speaking of the GT2 race variant, only a single unit was ever produced.
The Fighter’s body is very “slippery”
The streamlined body of the Bristol Fighter with an almost-bullet-shaped front end makes it extremely aerodynamic. The regular Fighter has a drag coefficient of 0.28 while the Fighter T was meant to drop the number to 0.27. As downforce was still a feature mostly reserved for motorsports, this allowed the Fighter to reach well over 200 mph (322 km/h), regardless of the version.
The Bristol Fighter is still in the fight
While Bristol Cars was defunct in 2020, a year prior SLG Hackett bought the remaining inventory of Fighter chassis along with all the production plans for the car. This allows the new owner to repair, restore, and build Bristol Fighters. There were six additional cars meant to be produced. Those never happened while Bristol was still a company, but the new owner is already building four of them. JayEmm points out that the inventory includes the GT2 race variant, which was supposed to receive the turbocharged V-10 with over 1,000 horsepower.
British sports cars and handmade are two things that just sound right together. JayEmm notes that under the new owner, all the remaining Fighters will be built entirely by hand. The assembly plant of which JayEmm made a tour look more like a workshop where cars are being restored rather than an all-out production plant. Despite that, the facility is completely capable of restoring, repairing, and maintaining all existing and future Fighters. Moreover, parts that are not available can be fabricated in-house. At least, six more Fighters are scheduled to be produced.
It has proper racing know-how behind it
Some would still associate the American powerplant with the lack of handling, known in old American cars. However, the Fighter was designed by Max Bostrom who, as James points out, had several successful race cars on his CV. Thanks to him, the Fighter features a bespoke, still box-section chassis with integral roll-hoops, built-in. The suspension is double-wishbone all-around and features front and rear anti-roll bars. The body is a mix of aluminum, composite, and to a smaller extent, carbon fiber. It features a staggered set of 255-width tires at the front and 285 at the rear.
It’s, basically, a luxurious Dodge Viper mixed with traits from European sports cars
While the engine comes from the Dodge Viper, the rest of the car is surprisingly luxurious. The Bristol Fighter is both, a super gran tourer and a 1990s British take on the Mercedes 300SL. The interior is more accommodating than that of an early Dodge Viper, being able to sit people with a height of up to six feet seven inches (2.0 meters).
The leather seats are well-padded and provide enough side bolstering, but are more akin to a 1990s Mercedes S-Class. Other “quirks and features” include a proper armrest, a gear lever tilted towards the driver, and a steering wheel, which like in old Bristol cars is inspired by the yoke on an airplane. There are also two additional gauges under the steering column, similar to many TVR models, which indicate oil temperature and fuel pressure.
There’s much to love about the interior, but JayEmm describes it as “a mixture of the delightful and the disastrous”. On one hand, you have the turn signal stalks, which look to be from a 1970s Ford while on the other, you have the rotating knobs on the center console, which are bespoke pieces. There’s also a usable cargo area and the cargo area has a little window at the bottom, similar to a Lamborghini Espada.
Virtually, unlimited customization options
There were no specific color or material options when it came to the Bristol Fighter. It was whatever the customer can dream of. This one is finished in a nice shade of dark red with a white leather interior that features lots of carbon fiber. JayEmm notes that some of the more traditional buyers have gone for aluminum and wood inserts, but this one seems to be the perfect blend of sport and luxury.
All 13 examples still survive
JayEmm describes the car as something that would appeal to someone to whom even the Noble M600 is a bit too safe. At idle, the 8.0-liter Viper V-10 produces 350 pound-feet (474 Nm) and while a four-speed automatic was available, most (if not all) buyers opted for the six-speed manual. At the time of writing this, all 13 cars survive and are fully functional – not something that can be said for the Dodge Viper, with which the Fighter shares an engine.
Moreover, while some of the cars are “garage queens”, many of the 13 Fighters are being driven, this one among them. There’s a good chance you, probably won’t see one for sale, but you can bet the asking price will be a lot more or at least similar to the original £229,000 sticker price.