Fret not when another British sports car maker slips under the waves. Since England is the cradle of two-seat entertainment, whenever an automaker like Triumph or TVR succumbs, some up-and-comer arrives to fill in. In the land of fish and chips, creativity isn't so hindered by balance sheets and business plans.
To take the pulse of the enduring British sports car phenomenon, we targeted marques located at four points of the two-seater compass. Two have existed for decades, two are newbies, all are obscure. What these brands lack in notoriety, they more than make up for in originality.
The Bristol Aeroplane Company, now celebrating its centennial, diversified from war planes to automobiles in 1946. BMW blueprints, seized as war reparations, sustained the carmaking division for more than a decade, until antiquated six-cylinder engines were finally replaced by hearty Chrysler V-8s.
In 1997, TOBY SILVERTON arrived with business acumen, self-taught engineering skills, investment capital, and the bravest ideas in Bristol's history. The Dodge Viper V-10-powered Bristol Fighter -- what the fifty-two-year-old chairman calls "the supercar that works" -- was designed from the driver's seat out.
While answering the phone at Bristol's Kensington (London) two-car showroom, Silverton explained that plant tours and press drives are unheard of at the last luxury maker still in private British hands. "We usually annoy the press," he noted. That said, we were next in line after Rowan Atkinson for a few miles in the Creamsicle orange Fighter formerly owned by Silverton's wife.
Silverton detailed the features he and his engineering team put into the Fighter's design. The car's tall build and gull-wing doors provide easy entry and chairlike seating for Bristol's large-in-stature patrons. A wraparound windshield eliminates A-pillar obstruction. A short, narrow footprint combined with 41 degrees of steering lock yields a tight turning circle. Six inches of ground clearance and a minimal front overhang make this the supercar that doesn't have to tiptoe over speed bumps.
The Bristol Fighter in front of Sherman's Hall. The author's ancestral family home in the village of Dedham was willed to a boys' school in 1599. John Constable, a noted artist, studied there in the late 1700s, and the Dedham valley that inspired his paintings became known as Constable Country. Three Shermans departed from Dedham for the New World between 1633 and 1640. Philip Sherman served as Rhode Island's first secretary. He and two uncles begat four notable Shermans: Roger (who signed the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution), William B. (Valley Forge survivor), Civil War general William T., and U.S. Vice President James S. Plus the technical editor and the photo assistant.