Bristol 603

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Bristol 603S

1976 - 1982
United Kingdom
Chrysler V8
5800cc / 360cu in
170 bhp
3 spd. Torqueflite
Top Speed:
Number Built:
5 star
Bristol 603S
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 5


The Bristol 603 was both unique, and exclusive even when in production - and for the enthusiast that is always a very good thing. First and foremost very few were built, production usually ran at around three a week, and the Bristol was without doubt one of the world's most exclusive cars.

Thanks to the energy crisis the 603 was offered in two versions- a smaller 5,211 cc V8 petrol engine, and the 603S which was fitted with the engine the Bristol engineers always wanted to put into the car - the 5.9 litre.

The Chrysler Torque-flite Automatic

With low volume, hand-built specialist cars like the Bristol, or Aston Martin, it was common to find that construction was based on a solid chassis and the body panels were not load carrying members. In fact the Bristol had certain similarities with the Astons; the basic chassis had a steel sub-structure with light-alloy panels as the finishing touch, and both companies then favoured the Chrysler Torque-flite automatic transmission which was by common consent one of best units made.

There were fundamental differences between the two marques, perhaps the greatest of which was that whereas Aston Martin continued to produce their own superb V8s, Bristol opted for a big, lazy American engine - in this case the 5.9 litre Chrysler V8. In the hands of Bristol it was a no-brainer that the V8 donk would produce more power, and modifications such as a mild camshaft and the removal of the chocking emission control equipment (which strangled the performance of many American V8s) ensured performance was brilliant.

Like Rolls-Royce and Aston Martin, Bristol never issued precise figures, but obviously output was in excess of Chrysler's 172 bhp at 4000 rpm. As might be expected, the Bristol 603 was a heavy car (3920Ib) thanks to the substantial separate chassis and the bulk of the engine, yet the suspension handled the weight admirably. Most owners, past and present, that we have spoken with have claimed the 603 handled well, and we will have to take their word for it that the handling actually improved as the speed increased.

Front suspension was by the tried and tested system of unequal length wishbones and an anti-roll bar, but the rear was peculiar to Bristol. The live rear axles used a system of location by transverse Watts linkage and top links, operating on longitudinal torsion bars. While most cars were a compromise as far as suspension settings were concerned, Bristol, quite rightly on a car of this class, left it to the owner to decide if they wanted a soft comfortable ride or a firmer one more suited to fast driving. To that end adjustable Koni dampers were fitted all round. The rest of the Bristol demonstrated a similar attention to detail, braking was by dual circuit and servoed disc brakes, the steering received just sufficient assistance to remove the effort but not the feel, and the twin headlights were large and efficient. A classic - from the moment if rolled (ever so slowly) off the production line.

Bristol 603S Quick Specifications:

Engine: Front mounted, 90 degree V8. 101.6mm (4.0in) bpre x, 90.93 mm (3.58 in) stroke - 5800cc (360cu in). Maximum power in excess of 170 bhp. Cast-iron cylinder block and head. Compressipn ratio 8.4:1. 5 main bearings. 2 valves per cylinder operated via rockers and pushrods by single camshaft mounted in centre of vee. 1 x Carter downdraught four-barrel carburettor.
Transmission: Automatic by Chrysler Torqueflite three speed, with torque converter. Ratios 2.45, 2nd 7.45, 3rd 1.00, reverse 2.21. Hypoid bevel final drive with limited slip differential ratio 3.07:1
Suspension: Front - independent by unequal length wishbones and anti-roll bar, rear - live axle, trailing lower radius arms, upper torque arms, transverse Watts linkage and longitudinal torsion bars; Koni adjustable telescopic dampers front and rear.
Steering: ZF Recirculating ball.
Brakes: Discs front and rear. Dual hydraulic circuit. Servo assisted.
Wheels: 6.0 in. x 15 in.
Tyres: 205VR x 15.
Dimension and weight: Wheelbase 114 in; track - front 54.33 in., rear - 54.72 in. Length 193.31 in. Width 69.98 in. Height 56.69 in. Ground clearance 5 in. Weight 3936 lb. Turning circle 39.4 feet. Fuel tank capacity 18 gal.
Body/chassis: 2 door, 4 seats: Seperate chassis with steel box members and aluminium body panels.
Performance: Maximum speed 124mph; acceleration 0-60 mph 8.6 secs; fuel consumption approx. 14 mpg.
Comments: The 603 saw improvements over previous models in its fuel consumption, being able to achieve as much as 22 miles per imperial gallon (13 Litres/100 km; 18 mpg-US) at around 100 km/h as against the 411's 17 miles per imperial gallon (17 Litres/100 km; 14 mpg-US) — for comparison, as good as the Jaguar XJ-S. Both retained the same transmission and suspension as the 411, but the cabin had become more luxurious with the provision of electrically adjustable seats and air-conditioning.

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