On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff
CHICAGO ENTREPRENEUR Stanley Harold “Wacky” Arnolt was more than a car importer; his company S.H. Arnolt was a licensed automobile manufacturer in the state of Illinois in the 1950s.
Arnolt’s fortuitous meeting with Nuccio Bertone at the 1952 Turin Auto Show led to four collaborative efforts: the Arnolt-MG, Arnolt Bentley, Arnolt Aston and, my favorite, the Arnolt-Bristol. Truly international efforts, each had British mechanicals, Italian coachwork and American marketing.
The Arnolt-MG, based on the MG TD, was short-lived, 1953-1954. Perhaps 103 examples were completed, 67 coupes and 36 convertibles, before MG bailed out because of demand for its own production as well its replacing the TD with the TF.
The Arnolt Bentley, like the Arnolt-MG, was styled by Giovanni Michelotti during his time at Bertone. Based on the Bentley R Type Continental, this was a one-off for Arnolt’s personal use. Among its niceties, it had a special compartment for Mrs. Arnolt’s cosmetics.
The Arnolt Aston was styled by Franco Scaglione, another Italian coachbuilder getting his start with Bertone. Three were built, all open cars resembling the Arnolt-Bristol. Another three, perhaps four, Bertone Astons were built and passed through Arnolt’s organization, though they’re not formally Arnolt Astons.
The Arnolt-Bristol evolved from the curtailed MG deal. Arnolt needed other drivetrains and chassis to fill out his Bertone obligations—plus, he liked the idea of increasing engine displacement and power. Between 1953 and 1959, a total of 142 Arnolt-Bristols were produced. Bristol used its 404 series chassis and 1971-cc six-cylinder engine. Bertone’s Scaglione did a brilliant job with the Arnolt-Bristol bodywork.
The Bristol engine design was dramatically undersquare, its 66.0-mm bore contrasting with a 96.0-mm stroke. The resulting powerplant was particularly tall, and a styling challenge for Scaglione. A hood scoop handled part of this; the sharply creased and swooping fender lines—predating Scaglione’s famed Alfa Romeo B.A.T. series—helped as well by drawing the eye away from the peaked hood.
The engine, tracing back to an earlier BMW 328 design, is one of my favorites because of its valve actuation hardware. Outwardly, it looks like a dual overhead cam design, but in fact its single camshaft resides low in the block and the valves are pushrod actuated—though not all by ordinary means.
Intake valve actuation is conventional. However, for the exhaust valves, the pushrod action is translated laterally across the head by horizontal pushrods, then onto the valves through another set of rockers. The idea is to get efficiencies of inclined valves and a hemispherical combustion chamber without the hassle of overhead camshafts.
Four variations of the Arnolt-Bristol were built between 1953 and 1959. A competition variant was delivered in stripped form, the Bolide added some road-going hardware, a Deluxe touring model offered more civilized road-going and a rare GT Coupe was for those eschewing the open air. A Bolide’s 1956 price of $4245 equated to around $36,000 in today’s dollars. Restored examples fetch $150,000.
I’ve been fortunate in having opportunities to drive two different Bolides, one on the roads of California Wine Country and the other around a city race circuit of the Vintage Sports Car Club of America’s Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix.
VSCCA stalwart John Schieffelin offered me the latter car for practice sessions, an excellent opportunity to learn Pittsburgh VGP’s serpentine Schenley Park circuit and also to experience the Arnolt-Bristol’s sweet behavior.
The sweep of the front fenders is apparent from the driver’s seat, the view forward being wonderfully Batmanesque. The Arnolt-Bristol’s steering is precise, its suspension on the supple side.
Limited slip wasn’t missed; rather, the trick was to corner just hard enough not to spin the inside wheel upon exit. All in good fun. And not at all wacky. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2012