Search for Bristol Cars, as in the manufacturer itself, and it’s all a bit quiet. There’s a website, which features a video of the Bullet along with glittering prose about the 2017 car that sadly never was. The social feeds are quiet, too. None showing any real activity since 2017. That said, the physical side of things – the showroom on Kensington High Street and the workshop in Surrey – are still in place. And we’re of the understanding that there is still activity afoot, on which there will be a future article.
We recently delved into the life and times of the once flourishing British carmaker. We looked at its aeronautical beginnings, consisting of considerable contributions to the battles of the sky. We looked at how Bristol mobilised, well, the city of Bristol thanks to trams and the like. But, then we had to look at how, like so many great marques, the company faded into relative obscurity, bar one last spike of activity in the form the ill-fated Bullet. Of course, it still exists, but with production having now come to an end (unless the Bullet does indeed make it to production) the marketplace for maintaining Bristol cars has opened up.
On publishing the piece mentioned above, we were emailed by a very enthusiastic Richard Hackett, and he assured us with compelling certainty that Bristol’s automotive offerings were flourishing care of what was going on a his business. As such, he invited us down to the facilities of SLJ Hackett Ltd to see what’s going on, and to also drive a Bristol 402. This was not an opportunity we were willing to pass up on!
Nestled in Warminster, Wiltshire, SLJ Hackett is the coming together of Richard Hackett and Spencer Lane Jones Ltd. Richard brings with him over two decades of experience working with Bristol Cars, while the company of Spencer Lane Jones boasts over three decades experience of working on restoring specialist classic vehicles. In fact, so good was the work of Spencer Lane Jones, Miles Toulson-Clarke bought the business after years of being a loyal customer. Together with Richard, they brought SLJ Hackett Ltd to fruition in September of 2016. Now, Spencer Lane Jones operates as the mechanical and service side of the business, whilst the Hackett side deals with sales, making the combined business a one-stop-shop for all things Bristol.
The business exists now as a hub for all things Bristol, but that’s not all. On arrival, we were greeted by a beautifully ‘lived in’ Saab 95, an old Jaguar racer and other ‘off brand’ machinery. The team here thrives when it is presented with the opportunity to bring an old car back to life, or to preserve an old car for years to come, be it a Bristol or otherwise.
Though of course, there is no escaping that the business prides itself as being a centre that may best serve Bristol owners. This is where the core knowledge lies, as is evidenced by the walls filled with specialist tools for Bristol cars. The ramps, too, were full of Bristol machinery – 400s, Blenheims, a Fighter (we’ll come back to that).
So what can be done here at SLJ Hackett? Well, pretty much everything. As Richard walks us around the premises, it seems that the team of technicians will turn their hand and as such, their vast experience, to almost anything. The bulk of the work is based around the mechanical though, but this is indicative of the engineering involved in the construction of Bristol’s cars. Chassis work, electrical work and a full range of mechanical services are offered – be it a new water pump or a complete engine rebuild, the team here have you covered.
In fact, it’s the mechanical stuff that is the main ‘bread and butter’ of the business. But then, when you consider that there are machining and engineering facilities here, it’s understandable. And don’t think it’s just a lot of lathes and a lot of talk. These chaps know the particulars of Bristol mechanicals inside and out, and they thrive to demonstrate that. And of course, this also includes knowledge between the team of engines in the main, and again, it means they can tackle almost any job asked of them.
The engine room is awash with parts making it a veritable sweet shop for the mechanically inclined. And this is because the company has managed to procure a vast amount of parts for Bristol Cars over the years. So many parts, in fact, that it leads us neatly to the Fighter we mentioned earlier.
There are few places where you can buy a new Fighter, but SLJ Hackett is one of them, to an extent. It has a small number of Bristol Fighters that were never completed, and as such, were bought in kit form. These cars are now just waiting for budding new owners to order them, at which point the team will spring into life and bring these sleeping machines to a deserving conclusion.
SLJ Hackett is a hive of activity, and the people that are running it are passionate and caring and so very in tune with classic car world. It’s always pleasant to see people who are clearly besotted with their work, and that passion bleeds through to every facet of a business. And the company is also thinking of the future, which again is always pleasing to see. Apprentices rub shoulders with men holding decades of skill, and they strive to learn as much of it as possible, further securing the future of these weird and wonderful cars.
In this guise, Bristol Cars is very much alive and well, their future ensured thanks to the vast knowledge and passion of the people to be found at SLJ Hackett. So if you’re thinking of taking the plunge, you should, because the support available here is nothing short of world class.