The Advantages of the Modern Coachbuilder

by David Brimson, Crailville Ltd, London


Materials & Methods
Metals Used
Restoring a Body
Building a Body
Windscreens
Hood Frame
Panelwork
The Advantages...

Probably the most difficult question that any curious or inquisitive owner or enthusiast can ask is, 'How do you do that?' Over the years it must have had more craftsmen sigh, stare into space, and think to themselves, 'Now where on earth do I start?', than any other question.

With coachbuilding, I must admit that even after years of designing and building vintage car bodies I still appreciate the fascination. At a car show, auction, reading a motor book or magazine, it is one aspect of the vintage car world that still carries a certain amount of mystique. Whether we are adept at them or not, it is fairly easy to understand the other skills involved - mechanics, engineering, paint, assembly - they are mostly fairly logical skills, but how on earth do you transform planks of wood and sheets of metal into the sort of coachwork that could carry Georgian and Edwardian aristocracy to the opera, to Parliament, or to a country retreat in grand style, indeed, a carriage fit for a king?

1911 Silver Ghost, new Roi des Belges body by Crailville

In fact, the Edwardian period is a very good place to start. Certainly as a coachbuilder, it is my favourite period, illustrating that most important transition from the horse to the horseless transport. It is a sector of motoring history that we are all very much aware of, but it reflects the change through its coachbuilding work, equally as much as its mechanical progress and innovation.

To examine the construction of the body of an early car, say a Roi des Belges or a Berline style, is to see just how much the coachbuilder is attached to the parameters of his previous carriage building needs - rear door pillars surface mounted onto the front seats, wooden panels and mouldings, cape cart and toy tonneau hoods, straplift windows, etc. As an aside, most of the illustrations you will ever see of early steam railroad equipment such as Stephenson's Rocket show carriage bodies and landaus mounted onto rail bogeys, and to this day in Great Britain railway stock is still called 'railway carriages'.

But progress being what it is, it did not take long for designs to begin to incorporate the engineering and social requirements of the automobile. Certainly no period seems to have offered such a variety of body styles, as society's needs and the automobile industry settled down and found a direction.

Sometimes it is necessary quite deliberately to spirit yourself back in time, and present yourself with the same customer's build sheet of the day, to appreciate just why some of the vintage cars we have today are the way they are. How many of us would give consideration to a half ebonite carriage handle to the kerbside of a Roi des Belges body (so that the handle is not cold to the touch of a lady entering the car), or to formal limousines which seem so tall, sometimes to the point of being ugly; but then how many social occasions that we attend today require us to enter and exit a limousine wearing a silk top hat, or even to a summer or winter body. It all helps to appreciate the reasons behind body style evolution.

Materials & Methods
Metals Used
Restoring a Body
Building a Body
Windscreens
Hood Frame
Panelwork
The Advantages...

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