A coachbuilder, or body-maker, manufactures bodies for passenger-carrying vehicles.[note 1] Coachwork is the body of an automobile, bus, horse-drawn carriage, or railroad passenger car (known formally as a railway carriage). The word "coach" was derived from the Hungarian town of Kocs.[1]

Custom or bespoke coachbuilt bodies were made and fitted to another manufacturer's rolling chassis by the craftsmen who had previously built bodies for horse-drawn carriages and coaches. Separate coachbuilt bodies became obsolete when vehicle manufacturers found they could no longer meet their customers' demands by relying on a simple separate chassis (on which a custom or bespoke body could be built) mounted on leaf springs on beam axles. Unibody or monocoque combined chassis and body structures became standardised during the middle years of the 20th century to provide the rigidity required by improved suspension systems without incurring the heavy weight, and consequent fuel, penalty of a truly rigid separate chassis. The improved more supple suspension systems gave vehicles better roadholding and much improved the ride experienced by passengers.

As well as true bespoke bodies the same coachbuilders also made short runs of more-or-less identical bodies to the order of dealers or the manufacturer of a chassis. The same body design might then be adjusted to suit different brands of chassis. Examples include Salmons & Sons' Tickford bodies with a patent device to raise or lower a convertible's roof, first used on their 19th century carriages, or Wingham convertible bodies by Martin Walter.

Coachbuilt body is the British English name for the coachbuilder's product. Custom body is the standard term in North American English. Coachbuilders are: carrossiers in French, carrozzeria in Italian, Karosseriebauer in German and carroceros in Spanish. Coachbuilt body is also the British English name for mass produced vehicles built on assembly lines using the same but simplified techniques until more durable all-steel bodies replaced them in the early 1950s.

Unless they were for mass produced vehicles justifying the cost of tooling up dies and presses, coachbuilt bodies were made of hand-shaped sheet metal, usually aluminium alloy. Pressed or hand-shaped the metal panels were fastened to a wooden frame of particularly light but strong timber. Many of the more important structural features of the bespoke or custom body such as A, B and C pillars were cast alloy components. Some bodies such as those entirely alloy bodies fitted to many Pierce-Arrow cars[2] contained little or no timber though they were mounted on a conventional steel chassis.

The coachbuilder craftsmen who might once have built bespoke or custom bodies continue to build bodies for short runs of specialized commercial vehicles such as luxury motor coaches or recreational vehicles or motor-home bodied upon a rolling chassis provided by an independent manufacturer. A conversion is built inside an existing vehicle body.

Ash body frame ready to be clad in metal mounted on a Morgan 4/4 chassis

Horse-drawn origins

Portugal King D. Joao V Coach (18th Century)
Portugal 18th century

A British trade association the Worshipful Company of Coachmakers and Coach Harness Makers, was incorporated in 1630. Some British coachmaking firms operating in the 20th century were established even earlier. Rippon was active in the time of Queen Elizabeth I, Barker founded in 1710 by an officer in Queen Anne's Guards. Brewster, the oldest in the U.S., was formed in 1810.[3]

Early production

Austin 7 Swallow at Coventry Motor Museum
Austin Seven Swallow by Swallow Coachbuilding Company (later Jaguar Cars)

The maker would provide the coachworks with a chassis frame, drivetrain (consisting of an engine, gearbox, differential, axles, and wheels), brakes, suspension, steering system, lighting system, spare wheel(s), front and rear mudguards and (later) bumpers, scuttle (firewall) and dashboard. The very easily damaged honeycomb radiator, later enclosed and protected by a shell, typically became the main visual element identifying the chassis' brand. To maintain some level of control over the final product, chassis manufacturers' warranties would be voided by mating them with unapproved bodies.

Ultra luxury vehicles

1920 Editing Isotta Fraschini Tipo 8 French Owner's Manual Chassis
1920 Isotta Fraschini Tipo 8 was only available from the manufacturer as a rolling chassis
Phantom IV
Rolls-Royce, Ltd. built only 18 Phantom IV chassis, all bodied by independent coachbuilders. Pictured is the Hooper 7-seater touring limousine for HRH The Prince Regent of Iraq (1953)

When popular automobile manufacturers brought body building in-house, larger dealers or distributors of ultra-luxury cars would commonly pre-order stock chassis and the bodies they thought most likely to sell, and inventory them in suitable quantities for sale off their showroom floor. In time, the practice of commissioning bespoke coachwork dwindled to a prerogative of wealth.

All ultra-luxury vehicles of automobiling's Golden Era before World War II sold as chassis only. For instance, when Duesenberg introduced their Model J, it was offered as chassis only, for $8,500. Other examples include the Bugatti Type 57, Cadillac V-16, Ferrari 250, Isotta Fraschini Tipo 8, and all Rolls-Royces produced before World War II. Delahaye had no in-house coachworks, so all its chassis were bodied by independents, who created some of their most attractive designs on the Type 135. Most of the Delahayes were bodied by Chapron, Labourdette, Franay, Saoutchik, Figoni et Falaschi, Pennock, and many more carrossiers.

The practice remained in limited force after World War II, with both luxury chassis and high-performance sports cars and gran turismos, waning dramatically by the late 1960s. Even Rolls-Royce acquiesced, debuting its first unibody model, the Silver Shadow, in 1965, before taking all R-R and Bentley bodying in-house.

Unibody construction

Citroën DS Cabrio Jarama 2006
Decapotable (convertible) by Henri Chapron on a Citroen DS chassis 1967

Independent coachbuilders survived for a time after the mid-20th century, making bodies for the chassis produced by low-production companies such as Rolls-Royce, Ferrari, and Bentley.[4] Producing body dies is extremely expensive (a single door die can run to US$40,000), which is usually only considered practical when large numbers are involved—though that was the path taken by Rolls-Royce and Bentley after 1945 for their own in-house production. Because dies for pressing metal panels are so costly, from the mid 20th century, many vehicles, most notably the Chevrolet Corvette, were clothed with large panels of fiberglass reinforced resin, which only require inexpensive molds. Glass has since been replaced by more sophisticated materials, if necessary hand-formed. Generally these replace metal only where weight is of paramount importance.

The advent of unibody construction, where the car body is unified with, and structurally integral to the chassis, made custom coachbuilding uneconomic. Many coachbuilders closed down, were bought by manufacturers or changed their core business to other activities:

  • Transforming into dedicated design or styling houses, subcontracting to automotive brands (e.g. Zagato, Frua, Bertone, Pininfarina)
  • Transforming into general coachwork series manufacturers, subcontracting to automotive brands (e.g. Karmann, Bertone, Vignale, Pininfarina)
  • Manufacturing runs of special coachworks for trucks, delivery vans, touringcars, ambulances, fire engines, public transport vehicles, etc. (e.g. Pennock, Van Hool, Plaxton, Heuliez)
  • Becoming technical partner for development of e.g. roof constructions (e.g. Karmann, Heuliez) or producer of various (aftermarket) automotive parts (e.g. Giannini)


Lancia Belna Cabriolet 1935 Pourtout

Pourtout drophead coupé on a Lancia Belna chassis 1935

Alfa Romeo 1900 SS Ghia

Fixed head coupé by Ghia 1954 on an Alfa Romeo 1900 SS chassis

Coys vintage car 501593 fh000035

Touring 2-seater body 1952 on an Alfa Romeo 6C 2300B chassis

VW Hebmüller-Cabriolet bicolor vl TCE

Hebmüller Cabriolet modifications upon a mass-produced Volkswagen platform chassis

List of coachbuilders


  • Ambruster
  • Keibl









The Netherlands

  • Akkermans
  • Bronkhorst
  • Bij 't Vuur
  • Dolk
  • Donderwinkel
  • Egbers
  • Garstman
  • Gips & Jacobs
  • Hermans
  • Hover & Tiwi
  • Hulsman
  • Jac Met
  • Kimman
  • Lathouwers
  • Van Leersum & Co
  • De Ley
  • Van Lijf & Co
  • Mudde
  • Muller
  • Mijnhardt
  • N.A.M. (Nederlandsche Auto-Maatschappij)
  • Nederlandsche Carrosseriefabrieken
  • Oostwoud
  • Pennock
  • Van Rijswijk & Zoon
  • Roos
  • Schutter & van Bakel
  • Smulders
  • Soudijn
  • Jean Stegen
  • Teulings
  • W J Van Trigt & Zoon
  • Verheul
  • Veth & Zoon

United Kingdom

United States

Survivors of the unibody production-line system

See also


  1. ^ Construction has always been a skilled trade requiring a relatively lightweight product with sufficient strength. The manufacture of necessarily fragile, but satisfactory wheels by a separate trade, a wheelwright, held together by iron or steel tyres, was always most critical.
    From about AD 1000 rough vehicle construction was carried out by a wainwright, a wagon-builder. Later names include cartwright (a carpenter who makes carts, from 1587); coachwright; and coachmaker (from 1599). Subtrades include wheelwright, coachjoiner, etc. The word coachbuilder first appeared in 1794. Oxford English Dictionary 2011


  1. ^ Coach. Oxford English Dictionary (1st ed.). Oxford University Press. 1933.
  2. ^ Early Pierce-Arrow cast aluminum body technology. The Pierce-Arrow Society accessed February 25, 2019
  3. ^ G.N. Georgano, G. N. Cars: Early and Vintage, 1886-1930. (London: Grange-Universal, 1990), p.206
  4. ^ "Steel Bodies: In an Eggshell", in Ward, Ian, executive editor. World of Automobiles (London: Orbis Publishing, 1974), p. 2178.
  5. ^ Coway web site Archived 2012-04-24 at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ Jankel web site Archived 2012-04-05 at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ "Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles, Mobility Cars, Disability Car, Adapted Vehicles for Sale".
  8. ^ "Specialist Vehicle Converter & Supplier - MacNeillie". MacNeillie.
  9. ^ "Hearse for Sale - Limousine for Sale - Wilcox Limousines". Wilcox Limousines.
  10. ^ "Woodall Nicholson".

External links

Abbey (coachbuilder)

Abbey Coachworks Limited was a British coachbuilding business based in Merton, South West London and later Acton, North West London and was active between 1930 and about 1938.

Arthur P Compton set up several coachbuilding businesses, including Compton, Sons and Terry which was founded in 1929 in Merton, South West London. He left this in 1930 to set up on his own, and the other partner D.H. Terry with D.H.B. Power renamed the company Abbey Coachworks. In 1933, the company moved to larger premises in Acton, North West London. In 1936, they took over the Wingham brand from Martin Walter and changed their name to Wingham Martin Walter. They exhibited at the 1937 London Motor Show under the new name, but by the late 1930s custom coachbuilding on a car maker's chassis was in terminal decline and they seem to have gone out of business shortly afterwards.

Abbey seem to have concentrated on short production runs rather than bespoke bodywork. Cars they equipped included the Wolseley Hornet Special, Rover 20 and various MGs particularly their MG Magna, Fords, Hillmans and Vauxhalls. Some of their production was for other coachbuilders such as Jarvis of Wimbledon and was sold under names other than Abbey.

Martin Walter themselves remained in business after the demise of Abbey, and after the Second World War made a range of motor caravans under the Dormobile name, and ambulance and minibus bodies on Bedford Austin and Ford chassis.

Alfa Romeo Gran Sport Quattroruote

The Alfa Romeo Gran Sport Quattroruote is a two-seater roadster made between 1965 and 1967 by Italian car manufacturer Alfa Romeo and the coachbuilder Zagato. The car wears retro bodywork by Zagato, replicating the Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 Gran Sport Spider Zagato of the early 1930s, over then-modern Alfa Romeo Giulia mechanicals. Just 92 were made.

Barker (coachbuilder)

Barker & Co. was a coachbuilder, a maker of carriages and in the 20th century bodywork for prestige cars.


Beulas SAU is a coachbuilder based in Arbúcies, Catalonia, Spain. The company builds a range of coach bodies on a variety of chassis. Their products are sold throughout Europe.

Carrozzeria Boneschi

Carrozzeria Boneschi S.r.L. (established 1919 near Milano) is an Italian coachbuilder, mainly of commercial vehicles. Until 1960, the company was mostly involved with automobile manufacturers such as Talbot, Rolls Royce, Alfa Romeo, Lancia and Fiat. It was established in Milano by Giovanni Boneschi, moving to Cambiago in (1933). The factory was rebuilt after World War II (1946), after which Boneschi died. Among its designers and directors in the later years was Dr. Bruno Pezzaglia.

Crayford Engineering

Crayford Engineering (more commonly known simply as Crayford) was an automobile coachbuilder based in Westerham, Kent, England and formed in 1962 by Jeffrey Smith (engineer and designer) and David McMullan MBE (sales). In the 1970s, a subdivision within the company, called Crayford Auto Developments, Ltd., was established for automobiles. The company specialized in converting European coupés and saloons into convertibles and estates. Notable products included the convertible Mini, BMC 1100/1300 convertible, convertible Corsair, Cabriolet Corsair, Cabriolet Capri, the rare Triumph TR7 Tracer Estate, and a Princess hatchback conversion, a commonly accepted principle for a car that appeared to be, but was not, a hatchback to begin with. Other lesser-known conversions from Crayford included the Tempest, a convertible Volkswagen Scirocco, a Ford Cortina Mk V Convertible, and a Mercedes S-Class Estate. The cars designed and created by Jeffrey Smith were featured in the Olympic Closing Ceremony in London 2012.

Crayford also did a series of Ford convertibles, including the Cortina Mk I, Cortina Mk II, Cortina Cabriolet Mk2 and Corsair Convertible, Corsair Cabriolet and Capri Cabriolet.

There were never any plans to build a station wagon version of the Mercedes-Benz W116, owing both to the location of the fuel tank ahead of the rear axle and the overwhelming demand for the sedan versions. Still, a number of W116s were converted to station wagons by Crayford (and by a few other coach builders). Most of the conversion body parts and glass used came from the contemporary Ford Granada.

No new vehicles have rolled out of Crayford's factory in at least 20 years.

Fleetwood, Pennsylvania

Fleetwood, also called Schlegelschteddel in Deitsch, is a borough in Berks County, Pennsylvania, United States. The population was 4,085 at the 2010 census. It was home to the Fleetwood Metal Body company, an automobile coachbuilder purchased by Fisher Body and integrated into General Motors in 1931. The name lived on in the Cadillac Fleetwood automobile.

Fleetwood Metal Body

Fleetwood Metal Body was an automobile coachbuilder formed on April 1, 1909. Its name derives from Fleetwood, Pennsylvania, home of the company at the start, and lived on for decades in the form of the Cadillac Fleetwood and various Fleetwood trim lines on Cadillac cars.

Gordon England (coachbuilder)

Gordon England was a British coachbuilding company based in Putney, South West London and later in the Palace of Industry, Wembley, North London with a showroom at 28 South Molton Street, Mayfair, London W1.


Güleryüz Karoseri Otomotiv Sanayi ve Tic. A.Ş, better known as Güleryüz, is a Turkish coachbuilder based in Bursa, which started the business by repairing coach bodies in 1967. The workshop run by a father and his three sons turned into a company in 1982.

Hooper (coachbuilder)

Hooper & Co. was a British coachbuilding company based in Westminster London. From 1805 to 1959 it was a notably successful maker, to special order, of luxury carriages both horse-drawn and motor-powered.

Jakab Industries

Jakab Industries was an Australian coachbuilder in Tamworth, New South Wales.

James Young (coachbuilder)

James Young Limited was a top class British coachbuilding business in London Road, Bromley, England.

Mr James Young bought J. K. Hunter's business in 1863. It built a full range of high quality carriages including landaus but was most famous in James Young's time for its lightweight Bromley Brougham.Their first car body was made in 1908 on a Wolseley chassis for the local Member of Parliament. During the First World War they made ambulances, lorries and armoured cars on Darracq and Hudson chassis. In the 1920s and early 1930s standardised bodies were built for Sunbeam and Talbot along with individual commissions often on Bentley and Rolls-Royce chassis.

James Young Limited joined the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders in 1922 and first set up their own stand at the SMMT's 1925 London Motor Show at Olympia. They displayed two bodies: a Chrysler all-weather and a Lanchester saloon.

In 1937 James Young was bought by London Rolls-Royce dealer Jack Barclay and he persuaded Scotsman A. F. McNeil (1891–1965), 'Mac', to leave J Gurney Nutting & Co to become James Young's chief designer. These two events combined with the end of the depression to produce a sharp rise in James Young's sales.

During the Second World War James Young built aircraft components, mobile canteens and canvas covers. The factory was destroyed and all records lost in 1941, the second year of the Blitz. Rebuilt it was hit again, this time by a V-1 flying bomb but production continued.Coachbuilding resumed after the war and a stand was taken at the 1948 Motor Show.

By the early 1960s 50 or 60 new bodies were being built each year mostly for export. By that time the only Bentley bodies were for Continentals, the last S3 Continental went to its owner in early 1966. Mac McNeil died in 1965.

Some fifty Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow fixed head coupés were created in 1966 and 1967 by removing rear doors from standard unitary construction production cars and extending the front doors. Lacking McNeil's touch they were not a success. Rolls-Royce subsidiary Mulliner Park Ward with more technical information and resources made their coupés at least handsome.James Young's last bodies were made on Rolls-Royce Phantom V chassis in 1968.

John Stephenson (coachbuilder)

John G. Stephenson (1809 in County Armagh, Ireland - 1893 in New Rochelle, N.Y.), an American coachbuilder, invented and patented the first streetcar to run on rails in the United States. Stephenson also designed the New York and Harlem Railroad which was formally opened on 26 November 1832. Twelve days later a horse-drawn streetcar built at Stephenson's works and named John Mason after the president of the railroad company, started the public service. Stephenson is therefore remembered as the creator of the tramway. Stephenson was the great-grandfather of Alan Stephenson Boyd, the first United States Secretary of Transportation.

Maggiora (manufacturer)

Maggiora was an Italian coachbuilder from Moncalieri near Turin. They produced the Fiat Barchetta and the Lancia Kappa Coupé which was designed by Centro Stile Lancia. In 2003 the company was closed.

The company was formed in 1925 as Martelleria Maggiora by Arturo Maggiora as a high quality car body maker - a coach builder or 'Carrozzeria'. Their work has graced many Fiat and Lancia cars like the early Fiat 1100 Viotti Giardiniettas and the Lancia Flaminia Tourers. The company was grown and extended, with several Abarth and Cisitalia bodies produced. In 1951 it moved to Borgo San Pietro Moncalieri where car like the Glas (BMW) GT (1963), Glas V8 (1965) and the Maserati Mistral (1963) were built. Rocco Motto was a team leader at Maggiora until 1932 when we opened his own workshop.Maggiora merged with Sanmarco and Lamier to form IRMA SpA in 1991 - later a major supplier to the Ducato range. Maggiora SRL took over the old Lancia factory in Chivasso north of Turin in 1992, and produced there from October 1992 to 1994 the last Integrale Evoluzione. The new capacities in the Lancia factory were later used to produce the Fiat Barchetta - at around 50 bodies a day. Some complete cars were produced here too (including the rare Kappa Coupe).

In addition many design studies, prototypes, special orders e.g. were produced by Maggiora, these have included soft top Unos and Cinquecentos, special Integrales, a Barchetta Coupes, a Puntograle, the Lancia Thesis Coupe prototype.

Richard Heales

Richard Heales (22 February 1822 – 19 June 1864), Victorian colonial politician, was the 4th Premier of Victoria.

Heales was born in London, the son of Richard Heales, an ironmonger. He was apprenticed as a coachbuilder and migrated to Victoria with his father in 1842. He worked for some years as a labourer before establishing himself as a wheelwright and coachbuilder in 1847. Thereafter he grew increasingly prosperous. He was a teetotaller and a leading temperance campaigner. The Temperance Hall in Russell Street was built largely due to his efforts.Heales was elected to the Melbourne City Council in 1850. He resigned in 1852 and returned to England, but was back in Melbourne in time for the first election held under the new Constitution of Victoria in September 1856. He stood for the seat of Melbourne in the Legislative Assembly, but was defeated. He was elected member for East Bourke at a by-election in March 1857. In October 1859, Heales won the seat of East Bourke Boroughs and held it for the rest of his life.In October 1860, Heales was a leading critic of the land bill introduced by the government of William Nicholson. When the Nicholson government was defeated in November 1860, Heales became Premier and Chief Secretary. Heales set about advocating his own land policy, but in June 1861 he was defeated on a vote of confidence. He obtained a dissolution and with strong rural support was returned with an increased majority. In November 1861, however, some of his senior supporters defected, and he resigned as Premier.

Although he was an active Congregationalist, Heales was an opponent of the clause in the Victorian Constitution which provided for state funding for religion, and he favoured a unified secular education system. Both Anglicans and Catholics, on the other hand, favoured state-funded religious schools. In 1862 Heales introduced a bill creating a single Education Board to rationalise the school system, which was passed with broad support.

When John O'Shanassy was defeated as Premier for the third time in June 1863, Heales was appointed the President of the Board of Land and Works, and Commissioner of Crown Lands and Surveys in the ministry of James McCulloch. He brought in two further land bills during this time, but both were rejected by the Legislative Council.

Heales fell ill in 1864, and died in June. He is buried in Melbourne General Cemetery. He was survived by his wife and eight children.

The town of Healesville, 52 km north-east of Melbourne, is named after him. In 1964, a Centenary of Healesville medal was commissioned and given to residents of the town. An image of Heales was on the front of the medal.


Sociedad Española de Importación y Distribución de Automóviles (S.E.I.D.A. or, more commonly, Seida) was a Spanish cars and trucks dealer and coachbuilder that later evolved into making integral chassisless motorcoaches, and that in 1998 was subsumed into Evobus.


Studiotorino is an Italian automotive design house, specialised in fine sportscars completely handmade. It was founded on 1 January 2005 in Rivoli by Alfredo and Maria Paola Stola with the contribution of Marco Goffi.

The company, even though young, represents by Alfredo Stola an important milestone in the Italian history and coachbuilder tradition: his grandfather in 1919 founded the "Alfredo Stola", receiving at that time the personal estimation of Vincenzo Lancia, thank to the high quality of their model works.


Vignale was an Italian automobile coachbuilder company. Carrozzeria Alfredo Vignale was established in 1948 at Via Cigliano, Turin by Alfredo Vignale (1913–69) in Grugliasco, near Turin (Torino).

The first body on a Fiat 500 Topolino base was made in 1948, followed by a special Fiat 1100. Most customers were Italian firms such as Cisitalia, Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Fiat, Maserati, Lancia.

In 1952, Vignale collaborated with Briggs Cunningham to jointly produce the Continental C-3. In 1968, Vignale designed the body of Tatra 613.

Vignale designed and built cars, usually low volume variants of the main production cars of these automobile manufacturers. Amongst them were 850, Samantha, Eveline and the Vignale Gamine, based on the Fiat 500.A close cooperation was maintained with Giovanni Michelotti.

Vignale was taken over by De Tomaso in 1969 who already owned Carrozzeria Ghia. Shortly after selling, Alfredo Vignale died in a car crash. Both coachbuilder firms were sold to Ford in 1973 but the Vignale brand was discontinued.

At the 1993 Geneva Motor Show, Aston Martin, at the time owned by Ford, produced a concept car called Lagonda Vignale. Ford then used the Vignale name in the Ford Focus Vignale concept car introduced at the 2004 Paris Motor Show, however the production model was named as Ford Focus Coupé-Cabriolet.

In September 2013, Ford of Europe announce plans to resurrect the Vignale name as an upscale luxury sub-brand of Ford. The cars will be visually distinct from regular Ford products and have an improved dealership experience. Exclusive services, such as free lifetime car washes, will be offered as well. The first Ford model to receive the Vignale name will be the 2015 Ford Mondeo.

On 1 March 2016 Ford of Europe announced a Kuga Vignale Concept vehicle at the Geneva Motor Show. where the company also announced the line-up of Vignale products, Ford S-Max Vignale, Ford Edge Vignale and Ford Mondeo Vignale five-door models debut alongside Ford Kuga Vignale Concept, offering a vision of the future of upscale SUVs as well as revealing Vignale Ambassadors and the signature Vignale collection



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