A Special Coachbuilder

A Special Coachbuilder, or in plain English a car body builder, is a manufacturer who places its own body on a rolling chassis of a car manufacturer, making the standard car unique. In the 1920s / 1930s it was common for the wealthy to give their car a body made by a specialized company, the factory body was not special enough for them and did not reflect enough the status of the ever special owner out. A mobile chassis with engine, drive technology and steering wheel was then purchased from manufacturers such as Rolls Royce, Bugatti, Hispano Suiza and Talbot Lago and shipped to a body builder of their choice, who then made a unique design for the bodywork in consultation with the customer.

Historcally many examples of coachbuilders were active: Figoni & Falashi, Saoutchik, Gangloff, Pennock, Pininfarina, Zagato, Karmann, etc. Many companies no longer exist, some have switched to commercial vehicles and some have been bought up by manufacturers and downgraded to a name addition of a ‘normal’ luxury version. (Ghia, Vignale, Vanden Plas)

Coachbuilder’s initiative

Sometimes a particular body design was built on the coachbuilder’s own initiative and offered in small numbers and sometimes it was the car manufacturer who requested the designer to produce a special series. So there was a clear separation between manufacturer and body builder. The brand supplied all the technology and the coachbuilder finished it off with a special structure.

The previously stated facts are known, but the revival of the Special Coachbuilding is not to many. The way it is currently being done is slightly different than before, because the body and the chassis are no longer separate elements – for a long time. All major design houses once started as coachbuilders, but have been forced to focus more and more on integrated design. The body and chassis form an integral whole and there is not much room left to vary shapes and proportions. With all the certification hassles, safety requirements, technical complexity and environmental requirements, you might think you are asking for trouble if you want to personalize your car. Fortunately, there are companies like Niels van Roij Design that are happy to acceptyour requests.

The well-known Ferrari P4/5 by Pininfarina by James Glickenhaus is the answer to the, in James’ eyes, less successful Enzo. The 575 GTZ from Zagato, with a production quantity of five units, is the more exclusive variant of the no longer so exclusive 575 Maranello. At Niels van Roij Design clients have commissioned similar cars.

Zagato previously released the DB7 Zagato and Pininfarina built a series of special Ferraris for the Sheikh of Brunei and is doing something similar again with the Ferrari 612 K for Peter Kalikow. Again – at Niels van Roij Design we have exacuted similar work – have a look at the portfolio section of our website for this.

There has also recently been a special based on the Ford Mustang built by Giugiaro and even Spyker came up with a Zagato special based on the C12 LaTurbie.

Car design freedom

The amount of freedom that the coachbuilder has nowadays is much more limited. For example, you see that the load-bearing structure and the safety cage remain unchanged, so that, the silhouette actually can differ from the original – without structural changes. Some manufacturers started focusing more on building rolling chassis. Corvette, for example, has developed a very usable chassis, where all body panels are replaceable, so the designer has much more room to turn it into something really special. Whether the result can really be considered successful is something everyone has to decide for themselves.



Are you curious about the possibilities of coachbuilding by Niels van Roij Design for you? Let’s discuss all unique options for your tailor made dream car! Just like your bespoke suit, house and garden, your car deserves your excellent taste. Through coachbuidling by Niels van Roij Design it is possible to co-create your own dream car with us