By James Taylor
192 pages, Hardback
270mm x 210mm
When Rolls-Royce and its Bentley subsidiary began making cars again after the 1939-1945 war, the market they had known in earlier years had changed. Before 1939 every single Rolls-Royce or Bentley chassis had received hand-built coachwork, and that coachwork was often completely bespoke, drawing on all the traditional skills of the coachbuilder.
However, the austere economic conditions of the early postwar period simply did not permit the same thing, and there were standardised bodies initially for Bentley chassis and then for the Rolls-Royce Silver Dawn. But Rolls-Royce continued to build bare chassis on which a gradually dwindling number of coachbuilders could work their traditional magic, and they did so until standardised monocoque bodies arrived in the mid-1960s and made it impossible for the coachbuilders to continue.
In Britain, there was a flurry of coachbuilding activity in the late 1940s as skilled craftsmen returned to the trade after war service. But sadly, cost and demand gradually forced the hopeful new companies that employed them – and many of the older ones – out of business. By the middle of the 1950s there were just five coachbuilders still working on chassis supplied by the Crewe factory, and by the middle of the 1960s only the company’s own coachbuilding division (formed out of the once independent Mulliner and Park Ward companies) and James Young remained in business.
Yet, even though this was a period of general decline in the coachbuilding industry, the variety of designs for Rolls-Royce and Bentley chassis was no less wide and no less colourful than it had been in the golden age of the 1930s. British and foreign coachbuilders created coachwork that was both beautiful and fascinating (and occasionally even bizarre), and their products are the subject of this book.
Packed with evocative photographs, many in colour, and containing exhaustive and authoritative examinations of the work of no fewer than 56 coachbuilders who worked on Rolls-Royce and Bentley chassis in this period, this book will be a welcome addition to the bookshelf of any enthusiast of the two great marques.