British car manufacturer Bristol Aeroplane Co. (later known as Bristol Cars) produced the Bristol 406 luxury sports car between 1958 and 1961.  Only 174 were ever produced.  The two-door sports saloon featured a 2,216cc overhead camshaft straight-6-cylinder engine derived from BMW.

Bristol 406 GT Zagato
Bristol 406 GT Zagato

Bristol Aeroplane Company had formed a car division after the Second World War.  The move in automobiles was driven by the need to diversify from aircraft after the end of the war with an anticipated fall in demand.  The company’s aim was to construct cars to very high engineering standards for longevity and to justify the high price.

The first sports car with a Bristol engine was the Type 400 released in 1946.  The 406 replaced the 405 (1954-1958), and in 1961 the 406 was replaced by the 407, the first Bristol to use a Chrysler engine.

In 1959, Bristol Aeroplane Co. unveiled the 406 Zagato at the Earls Motor Show in Lond.  The short-wheelbase 406s with Zagato designed and built bodies were known as the 406Ss.  The combination of a lighter body and boosted engine (to 115 hp) improved the performance.

The Bristol 406 Zagato is highly regarded as one the rarest and most exciting sports cars produced by the company.

Bristol 406 Specifications

The 4.978m long Bristol 406 sports car had a 2.896m wheelbase and was 1.727m wide.

Bristol 406 Instrumentation

Bristol 406 Zagato Smiths speedometer
Bristol 406 Zagato Smiths speedometer

As with many of the British luxury cars of the time, the Bristol 406 featured SMITHS instrumentation in the dashboard.  The gauges included:

  • Speedometer (0-140 mph) with ODO and trip counter
  • Tachometer (0-7000 rpm)
  • Oil pressure gauge
  • Dual Oil and Water temperature gauge
  • Fuel gauge
  • Lucas ammeter

The Bristol 406 Zagato Model

Zagato designed the bodies of two short-wheelbase 406 sports cars (known as the 406S), with a total of six being produced.  The engine was up-powered from 105hp to 115hp with a stainless steel Abarth exhaust.  The Zagato model reduced the weight considerably from 1,365kg to 1,092kg.

Present Bristol 40 and Bristol 406 Zagato prices

The price of the 406 in 1958 was approximately £4,494 and the 406 Zagato was £4,750, which limited potential customers to the most affluent motoring enthusiasts.  In comparison at the time, the Aston Martin DB4 was on sale for £3,967.  The present price of a Bristol 406 in good condition is around £21,700 (2019 – Hegerty Insurance).  However, there remains demand for the Zagato model with a fully-restored, 1960-built 406 Zagato selling for £169,500 in 2014.

For more information on gauges for classic cars like the Bristol 406 and 406 Zagato, please contact us on:

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All photographs taken by Paul Fears Photography