I want to mark the passing of a hero of mine or rather an anti-hero. Tony Crook died on the 21st Jan this year at a considerable age. His name and passing will be marked and mourned by a rather exclusive group of people. They are owners or fans of the Bristol motorcar. That brand is little known but much respected by those that do know. The company grew out of the Bristol aircraft company after the Second World War. Based at Filton Aerodrome, Bristol , the company founded by Sir George White, began manufacturing a car loosely based on a BMW design appropriated as war reparations. That first car, the 400 was unremarkable and even retained the distinctive BMW kidney grill on the front. Bristol artisans and engineers well schooled in the fine demands of aircraft design and manufacture improved the detail and metallurgy of the BMW to new standards. That aircraft influence became more obvious on the next model, the 401. This had an all new body, that was for very many years, the most aerodynamically efficient production car ever built. It looked like the product of an aircraft company and gathered a loyal band of enthusiastic owners. There followed the 403 which refined the concept even more. Around this time a certain gentleman racer called Anthony Crook, was earning his spurs as a considerable driving talent, often driving cars fitted with the Bristol 2ltr 6cyl engine that was to be found in formula two racers and various sports racing cars.Tony Crook eventually took ownership of Bristol Cars in 1973 and under his guidance the company continued to develop the 400 series cars right up to very recent times. The big change came when Chrysler V8 engines were introduced in the 407 to replace the wonderful but now outdated 6cyl Bristol unit. The cars became even faster and more gentleman’s express, less high spirited sporting coupe. Mr. Crook was said to be a difficult and opinionated gentleman who was known to have guided potential customers, who he deemed unsuited to Bristol ownership, towards a common Bentley or even a Jaguar. I never met the man myself but I did aspire to own one of his cars.
I finally did this with the purchase of a 1977 Bristol 412 s1. This rather odd looking cabriolet was perhaps the least respected of the Bristol cars. It was rather too compromised to be truly great, never the less, it offered the leather and wood ambiance and four large seats of any other Bristol. It’s 7.2 V8 made it fast and effortless. Brigitte and I had some glorious trips in the car. Best, being the blast through France to it’s natural stamping ground in the Cote d Azure. Hood-down over the Grand Cornice from Nice to Monte Carlo and a tootle round the Monaco Grand Prix circuit being a notable highlight.
Tony Crook passed ownership of Bristol to new owner a few years back and unfortunately that marked the end of the old company. It slipped and flailed. Now rescued and owned by The Fraser Nash Company it might yet come back.
The cars and the people of Bristol feature in many of my books. The individualist and non-conformist nature of the cars suit the characters I create that share those characteristics: Refined, strong – contained power, genteel, intelligent, discrete but effective and fast.
I did not know the man but I knew his work and loved and respected that. He was one of a kind and will be missed.