In the early days, when horse-driven carriages began to give way to horseless carriages, the more wealthy early motorists were often given the option of ordering a custom-built body to be fitted to their rolling chassis of choice. It was a global trend: as coachbuilders first established themselves in Great Britain, carrossiers were emerging in France, with carrozzerias in Italy and Karosseriebauers in Germany, each creating a style of their own to match the period, and provide customers with a statement of wealth and elegance. It all changed with the advent of unibody vehicle construction, though some of the more established coach-builders survived as manufacturers adapted their names, skills and reputations to their premium lines. Following are ten of the best.
Barker & Co
The roots of this company date back to 1710, but despite its history and expertise, it failed to keep pace with engineering advances and was taken over by rivals Hooper & Co in 1938. But a Barker-bodied Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost is one of the most valuable cars in the world, valued at $57 million.
Bertone was established in Turin in 1912 and grew into one of the automotive industry’s most diverse and prolific coachbuilders. Bertone created designs for more than a dozen carmakers including Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz, Opel and Volvo. The company went bankrupt in 2014.
Figoni et Falaschi
Giuseppe Figoni began designing and building elegant coachwork just after the Second World War on chassis built by Bugatti, Delahaye, Renault and Alfa Romeo. He was influenced by aerodynamics. In 1935, Ovidio Falaschi joined him to run the business, which lasted into the 1950s.
Founded in 1916, Ghia produced bodies for Alfa Romeo, Fiat and Lancia before doing many concept cars for Ford and Chrysler in the US, as well as a few Ferraris. Ghia had input on the VW Karmann Ghia, Volvo P1800 and De Tomaso Pantera prior to being absorbed into the Ford empire.
Karmann was established in 1901 when Wilhelm Karmann took over the German coach builder Klases, which had begun in 1874. The company carried out design and production tasks for various producers including Chrysler, Porsche and the VW
Group. It went bankrupt in 2010.
Founded in 1930 by Battista ‘Pinin’ Farina, the Italian company is famous for its work with Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Peugeot, Fiat, GM and Maserati. In recent years, it has been involved with numerous Asian motor manufacturers and in December 2015, it became part of the Mahindra Group.
Thrupp and Maberly
Coachbuilders Joseph Thrupp and George Maberly joined forces in 1858 and went on
to become coach-makers to Queen Victoria. The company produced bodies on Bentley, Daimler, Rolls-Royce, Humber and Sunbeam chassis, as well as Henry Segrave’s land-
speed-record car, Golden Arrow.
This Belgian company began in 1870 and later had branches in France and England before finally becoming a British-based organisation in 1923, building bodies
for Bentley, Daimler, Rolls-Royce and Lagonda. The name eventually became a trim spec for humdrum Leyland products.
Alfredo Vignale started with a body based on a Fiat 500 Topolino in 1948, but later worked on Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Maserati and Lancia. He had close ties with designer Giovanni Michelotti. Vignale became dormant when taken over by Ford in 1973, but the name is being revived for certain model lines.
Established by Ugo Zagato in Milan in 1919, the majority of its early designs were for racing and sports cars and it later became famous for its use of panoramic roofs. The company was always technically advanced, and many post-war sports car manufacturers boasted Zagato-bodied models.