It was once the pride of Bristol, the city’s own car manufacturer making luxury vehicles for the rich and famous.
But now, this incredible discovery in a secret underground car park beneath an abandoned office building in Surrey, is all that is left of Bristol Cars.
Covered in dust and grime, the almost ghostly vehicles, merchandise, signs, prototypes and wooden model bucks of Bristol Cars were stumbled upon accidentally by a pair of urban explorers who had no idea what they would see.
A YouTuber called Ben, who posts videos of him and other urban explorers visiting abandoned buildings and sites, said he knew about the building, its boarded up windows and overgrown grounds, but did not expect to find an underground car park beneath the complex.
And when he and fellow urban explorer Eran, ‘dropped in’ to the car park, they were amazed at what they found.
“I’d had my eye on it for a couple of years, as it looked so interesting,” he said. “We set out to explore the abandoned building with no idea what it was. We jumped down, only to find millions of pounds worth of cars underneath this place.
“There was an old sign saying Bristol Cars hanging down. There were even some old taxis with shilling machines attached.
“You would never see these cars on the road, even if someone bought them. This was a one-chance glimpse of these cars,” he added.
That ‘millions’ valuation might be a little over the top – the man actually tasked with eventually auctioning off the contents of the car park put the total value at little more than £1 million.
But for Bristolians with fond memories of the city having its own renowned car brand, the eventual fate of the UK’s last independent car manufacturer was described by auctioneer David Fletcher as ‘very sad’, and the images and video shot of the contents of the car park ‘poignant’.
The store is a remarkable one, with Bristol cars, prototypes and the wooden frame bucks that were used to assemble the hand-built cars aplenty.
But there’s also branded merchandise and even the once iconic lettering from the Bristol Cars signage on the company’s only showroom.
That site was based on a street corner in Kensington in West London – and was the start of the A4 road back to Bristol, creating a well-known landmark for Bristolians about to return from a visit to the capital.
Back in Bristol, the firm began life after the Second World War as part of the Bristol Aeroplane Company. When that became BAC and later British Aerospace, in 1960, it went independent, and eventually moved from Filton to Patchway.
The car manufacturer was always a low-volume car-maker, its luxury and upmarket vehicles were hand-built without any kind of mass production conveyor belt.
After gaining something of a cult following among the rich and famous, time caught up with Bristol Cars in 2011 and it went out of business with the loss of 22 jobs at the factory, only to be resurrected in a rescue package.
Four years later and a new model, called the Bristol Bullet, was announced, but it never came to the market.
In March this year, the company again went into administration and in May, with the country in coronavirus lockdown, Bristol Cars was quietly put into liquidation, although part of it will continue to trade under the ‘Bristol Superlight’ name.
Its assets, from Bristol and the Kensington showroom, were put into temporary storage, but the pandemic lockdown meant no one has been able to retrieve them yet.
Watch the full video from Lost Adventures below
“Some of the cars are owned by us, others are privately owned and we are looking after them,” said Kasun Waduge, the company’s financial controller.
“We were only holding them temporarily, but due to Covid, they couldn’t be picked up and they remained there for some months. But none of them are really worth anything, they are just junk,” he added.
The man tasked with disposing of Bristol Cars’ assets, David Fletcher, disagrees.
The valuer from Wyles Hardy & Co, the auctioneers overseeing the sale of the firm’s assets, said the 15 cars in the underground car park were worth £1 million or more.
“It’s a fascinating collection but very sad,” he said. “I’m presiding over the demise of the last independently-owned British car manufacturer, which is a very poignant, historical moment.”
For Ben, from the Lost Adventurers urban explorer YouTube channel, whose video brought the dusty history to life again, there was something else down there that made his video go viral across the world.
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When the video was posted online, an eagle-eyed viewer in Malaysia recognised one of the vehicles gathering dust.
It was a Malaysian-built Proton Perdana car, that had been owned and driven by Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the country’s former Prime Minister.
Quite what it was doing there was initially a mystery, but the video went viral in Malaysia, much to Ben’s bemusement.
In the end, an aide to Dr Mohamad explained what on earth the Prime Minister’s car was doing gathering dust in Surrey.
He said the Prime Minister sent his own car overseas to be part of a research and development project to try to create a hybrid fuel car for Proton, Malaysia’s national car manufacturer.
It ended up with Kamal Siddiqi, who ran the R&D project, and owned Bristol Cars, and that’s how it ended up in the dust of Surrey.