Locomotion has always been closely associated with the art of the coachbuilder. In the earliest days of the motorcar the manufacturer invariably supplied his client with a rolling chassis and the client then approached a horse-drawn carriage builder for the bodywork. That the result was known as a ‘horseless carriage’ was only to be expected.
With the 1901 Mercedes, longer and lower than anything that had been seen hitherto, motorcar bodywork began to evolve, the longer wheelbase enabling the rear seats to be entered from the side instead of from the rear. Then side doors and windscreens began to appear. Enclosed bodywork was relatively rare before 1914, for the additional weight of a saloon body necessitated a more powerful, and thus more expensive, chassis.
Several months was the time it normally took to equip a chassis with bodywork, and this was an expensive procedure. Thus soon before the outbreak of war in 1914 it was not uncommon for manufacturers to offer their smaller models ready-equipped with bodywork. The years prior to 1914 were the golden age for coachbuilders and a number of masterpieces, both in quality and finish, emanate from this period.
By the 1920s independent coachbuilders still existed but their work was increasingly restricted to luxury chassis or, on more mundane chassis, to special bodies requested by the client. The economic crisis of 1929-1930 marked the end of the road for a number of luxury car manufacturers, and traditional coachbuilders saw their market share further diminish with the rise of industrial bodybuilding.
They could still pick up some work in the thirties and immediately after the war, but after that they either disappeared or adapted to industrial or specialist bodybuilding. Belgium could boast several first-class coachbuilders: D’Ieteren, Vanden Plas, Vesters & Neirinck.
France had Labourdette, Letourneur & Marchand, Chapron, Franay among others, and England had Park Ward, Mulliner and Hooper. In Italy, Farina and Touring were famous and in Germany there were Karmann and Reuter.