The cars in the early days of motoring were pretty boring and mainly off the peg. There weren’t many differences between manufacturers. As a result, luxury car owners who wanted to stand out had the body customized or sometimes completely re-bodied.
Coachbuilding is a lost art form that died out before the world war. However, it is now making a comeback. Many owners now prefer a custom-built body for its chassis.
While the earlier coachbuilders crafted the bodies to look more futuristic, the current builders show homage to the past. Here’s everything you need to know about coachbuilding, its history, modern coachbuilders, and much more.
What Is Coachbuilding?
Coachbuilding is the practice of building a unique body and interior on an existing chassis. The term essentially refers to the production of the vehicle body by specialist coachbuilders.
The craft of coachbuilding is older than automobiles. It was one of the first trades developed during the age of horse-drawn coaches.
A coachbuilder or body maker manufactures bodies for passenger vehicles. They are artists of automobiles, creating new jaw-dropping automotive art.
History of Coachbuilders
Coachbuilding has a long history dating back more than a hundred years. For the first half of the 20th century, automotive manufacturers made only the chassis and power train. Coachbuilders then design and build all the visible parts.
For luxury vehicles like the Talbot Lago T26 110114, the customer works with the coachbuilder personally. He would build a personalized body design to be fitted on the chassis.
Famous automotive manufacturers like Duesenberg, Bugatti, and Rolls-Royce used elaborate custom-built auto bodies.
One of the best examples is the Bugatti Royale which is probably the most luxurious automobile. Unfortunately, only six of the chassis were ever made, and all are in existence even now, albeit with a different body.
The demand for custom-built, handcrafted luxury vehicles still exists today.
Modern Coachbuilt Cars
Though coachbuilding is a lost art, it has seen a revival in recent times. Small-time builders are utilizing this art to create modern interpretations of legendary machines of the past.
Here are some of the best modern coach-built cars in recent times.
- Alfa Romeo Disco Volante – Designed by Turin-based atelier Carrozzeria Touring, Disco Volante is based on the Alfa Romeo 8C. Similar to the original launched 60 years ago, the vehicle uses a 4.7-liter V-8 with 444 horsepower.
- Ferrari SP12EC – A collaboration between the Centro Stille Ferrari and Pininfarina, Ferrari SP12EC is a one-off car designed for Eric Clapton. It was a modern interpretation of the classic 512 BB (Berlinetta Boxer) from 1976.
- Maserati A8 GCS Berlinetta Touring – Designed by Touring, the car is based on the Maserati Gran Turismo Coupe using the same 4.2-liter naturally-aspirated V-8. But the interpretation was lighter than the original.
- VLF Force 1 – Designed by Henrik Fisker, VLF Force 1 was inspired by SR-71 high-altitude jet aircraft. It was based on the fifth-generation Dodge Viper with a modified 8.4-liter V-10.
- Aston Martin Vanquish Zagato V-12 – Rather sleeker than the original, Vanquish Zagato is reminiscent of the older Aston Martin. Zagato worked on the 5.9-liter V-12 to increase the horsepower to 600.
- Alfa Romeo TZ3 Stradale Zagato – Alfa Romeo TZ3 Stradale Zagato is a reimagined version of fourth-generation Dodge Viper.
- Devon GTX – Styled by Swedish designer Daniel Paulin, the car is based on the fourth-generation Dodge Viper using the same 8.4-liter V-10. The power, however, was bumped to 650 horsepower allowing the car to reach speeds over 200mph.
What Do You Mean by Coachbuilt Cars?
A coachbuilt car is the product of a coachbuilder who builds custom-made vehicle bodies for short runs of specialized commercial vehicles such as luxury cars.
Very few legacy coachbuilders from the ages of long ago exist currently. However, new companies have risen to shoulder some of the demand and occupy the vacancy left behind.
Here are some of the modern coachbuilders who practice the lost art of coachbuilding even now.
Builders of Alfa Romeo Disco Volante, Touring is one of the biggest names in coachbuilding. It has a strong history of greatest hits, including styling Aston Martin DB4, DB5, and the first Lamborghini — the 350GT.
Pininfarina is one of the best-known Italian design houses, most specifically known for building a Ferrari SP12 EC. It was built for Eric Clapton on a Ferrari 458 chassis.
Unlike its competitors, Pininfarina stayed in business through World War II till now. The other designs from the coachbuilder include Cadillac Allante and quite a lot of Volvo models.
Zagato is one of the best coachbuilders to come out of Italy. Founded in 1919, the coachbuilder has build bodies for Nissan, Spyker, Aston Martin, Ferrari, etc.
Its award-winning Zagato Aston Martin V12 was based on the Vantage v12.
Carlsson is a coachbuilding division launched in collaboration with fashion designer Etienne Aigner. Their first attempt was a Mercedes CL65 dubbed Carlsson Aigner CK65 RS “Eau Rouge,” featuring a two-tone paint job and a hand-painted, wine-colored interior.
Founded near Milan in 1849, Castagna coachbuilding company built made horse-drawn coaches for Europe’s aristocracy before the invention of the motor car.
They switched to modern vehicles soon after, leading to some fantastic creations such as Castagna Ricotti 40. Currently, they make small hatchbacks such as the Castagna Tender Two, based on the ever-popular Fiat 500.
Unlike most coachbuilders in this list, Moal designs are pretty traditional. Steve Moal is known for the beautifully sculpted look of the Ferrari 250 GTO with Ferrari 250 GTO and a five-speed Tremec gearbox. He also indulges in post-war race styling with Ford Model A-based hot rods.
A relatively new entry to the list, Fioravanti was first founded in 1987 as an architecture firm that shifted to coachbuilding four years later. CEO Leonardo Fioravanti has worked for Pininfarina, where he held the design Ferrari F40 and the Daytona.
Though lasting for only two years, Fisker Coachbuild was able to design a sports car in alliance with the now-defunct German carmaker Artega. The company also released the plug-in hybrid Fisker Karma in 2008.
A UK-based coachbuilder Prindiville Design aims to revive the British traditions of understated handcraftsmanship. Since then, they have created a limited series of eight coachbuilt Lamborghini Aventadors.
Ken Okuyama is an industrial designer with experience from industrial giants such as Porsche and Pininfarina. His design firm is responsible for Kode9, which debuted at the 2013 Tokyo Motor Show.
As coachbuilders were establishing in Europe and the UK, every one of them had a different style inherent to their country. For example, British coachbuilders had a more understated and subdued elegance.
Only the established builders who adapted to the changing times survived with the development of unibody vehicle construction.
Here are the top British coachbuilders.
- Barker & Co
- Vanden Plas
- H. J. Mulliner & Co.
- Park Ward Coachwork
- Caffyns Ltd, UK
- Freestone & Webb
- Thrupp & Maberly
Did Rolls-Royce Build Coaches?
In the early ages of motor cars, you’d buy a chassis from a manufacturer and have the body built by a coachbuilder. This was the same case with Rolls-Royce as well. They supplied chassis, and coachbuilders built the body.
Classic Rolls-Royce cars such as 40/50 HP, 17 ETX, Phantom ll, and Phantom Vl were made using this technique. However, later on, the company decided to move on to more modern ways of manufacturing cars.
What Do You Mean by Coachwork?
Coachwork refers to the body of any automobile, or in our case, a car. The manufacturer would provide the coachwork of a vehicle which includes the chassis frame, drive train, brakes, suspension, steering system, lighting system, spare wheel(s), front and rear mudguards, and (later) bumpers, scuttle (firewall), and dashboard.
The coachbuilding process is quite labor-intensive and not compatible with the current economy vehicles. Due to mass production, the art form faded to the point of obscurity. However, it never died and still survives.
Contrary to the yesteryear craftsmen, current coachbuilders restore the old classics to their former glory. Unfortunately, few others recreate the exotic cars such as Ferraris, Jaguars, Alfa Romeos, etc. Coachbuilt cars are an ultimate reflection of a customer and their taste. The design and exterior work of the vehicles is an outspoken statement of who you are.
Since 2004, Cutting Edge is committed to delivering quality service, quick turnarounds, and the best customer service in the Tucson area. If you or someone you know is in need of having their car or RV repaired or restored, contact us for your free quote today!
A related article you may enjoy: 11 Modern Coachbuilders for the Ultra Rich