Just before the turn of the century, horse drawn carriages were the only means of private transport. A single or multiple horse would be drawing either a rudimentary cart or a luxurious carriage, and everything in between. The carriage or coach too evolved over time, and ensured a thriving industry of carriage builders or coachbuilders, supplying ornate and well equipped coaches. With the advent of the automobile, the coachbuilders naturally adapted to changing times and started to supply bodies for automobiles – at the time the automobile manufacturer only supplied a running chassis, with the bodywork or coachwork outsourced to a professional. Thus came about the luxury automobile coachbuilders that the luxury car buyer would patronize. These coachbuilders were primarily European or American, with a handful of smaller operations in India too. In England some notable names were Hooper, Barker, Park Ward, H J Mulliner, Arther Mulliner, Windovers, Carbodies, Vanden Plas, James Young and Gurney Nutting. The popular French names included Saoutchik, Chapron, Portout and more. American names like LeBaron and Rollston while of exceedingly good repute, were less popular in India.


One of the great names in English coachbuilding, the origins of Windovers go back to the 1600s, where they initially were in the business of making saddles and harnesses, before proceeding to carriage building. For motorcar coachbuilding, they were especially popular with Rolls-Royce and Bentley.

Park Ward

Founded relatively later than its competition in 1919, Park Ward (named after its two partners) was building bodies out of North London. Known for their many technical advances, the firm was bought out by Rolls-Royce and expanded to factory standard production as well.


Another famous British firm, Hooper & co. was founded in 1805, and held the royal warrant supplying carriages to Queen Victoria amongst other notable personalities. By 1938 Hooper acquired arch rival Barker, though the firm would eventually be reduced to just distributing Rolls-Royce cars.

H J Mulliner

H J Mulliner was a well established British firm founded by Henry Jarvis Mulliner. While the family business went back to the 1700s, it was formally established in 1897. Popular with Rolls-Royce cars the world over including India, the firm was eventually taken over by Rolls-Royce in 1959 and merged with Park Ward.

Arthur Mulliner

An offshoot of the well known Mulliner family, Arthur Mulliner built a successful motor car coachbuilding empire, and as early as 1899 had completed 150 bodies for motor cars, predominantly on Daimler chassis. By 1940 the business was sold and the name dropped.


Based out of Conventry, England, the firm of Carbodies catered to the taxi market primarily. Not taking the common route of building individual bespoke bodies, Carbodies chose the mass production standardized design route, and met with much success. Its most famous design is the iconic London Taxi. The firm exists even today named The London Taxi Company, selling electric models.

Vanden Plas

The origins of Vanden Plas actually are traced back to Belgium, where in 1870 it made carriages and components. The business grew with the founder’s children participating, and by the 1900s the firm was making over 700 bodies a year. Belgian operations ceased by 1949, while the UK business was thriving – thanks to their popular sporty bodies on Bentley and Rolls-Royce cars. The name was later associated with Daimler limousines.


Among the oldest of the famed British coachbuilding firms, Barker & Co was founded as early as 1710. Their reputation was cemented with their association with Rolls-Royce, and even in 1912 they were proudly advertising 100 Rolls-Royce chasses were being completed at their works. They supplied many bespoke bodies to Indian maharajas, and by 1938 the firm was bought out by arch rival Hooper & Co.

J Gurney Nutting

J Gurney Nutting began building car bodies rather later than most of their competition, starting only in 1920. But they immediately earned a reputation of being builders of fine sporting bodies for luxury cars, known for their very elegant styling. The credit for the styling goes to chief designer A F McNeil. The Maharaja of Holkar was a known patron of the firm. The firm was sold to Jack Barclay and merged with James Young, before ceasing operations soon after the war.

James Young

After acquiring a rival firm in 1863, James Young of Bromley, England met much success with its range of lightweight carriages. By 1908 they built their first motor car body, and soon found favour with Rolls-Royce and Bentley customers. For this, by 1937 the business was bought over by the Rolls-Royce dealer Jack Barclay.


One of the great German firms, Spohn was known to build luxurious bodies for high end marques like Mercedes-Benz and Maybach. They were founded in Ravensburg in 1920, and the firm were known for more bold designs, and succeeding to remain in business even after the war.

Thrupp & Maberly

While the family’s business is traced back to 1740, the firm was founded in the mid 1800s and named after the two founding partners. They produced a range of coaches and carriages, before moving to motor car bodies as early as the 1880s. After the first World War, focus shifted to luxury cars and the business was soon sold to the Rootes Group. Marques catered to included Rolls-Royce, Bentley and Daimler.


A leading Italian firm, Carrozzeria Viotti was in business from 1921 to 1964, based out of Turin. Known for its technical advancements, the firm was popular with Italian marques pre war like Lancia and Fiat Alfa Romeo, and post war even known for station wagon conversions on smaller Fiat cars.