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The Coachbuilders
The Derby Bentley chassis left the factory at Derby without body work, apart from the radiator and bonnet. This chassis was then delivered to the coachbuilder of the customer’s choice to have a body built to that customer’s order. The body, then, gives each car its individuality and character. Although 2,422 chassis were produced at Derby, there were many body variants from a still large number of coachbuilders, even after the toll of the Depression at the beginning of the 1930s. However, it would be wrong to conclude that each body is unique; far from it. Most of the coachbuilders offered standard styles which were adapted to a customer’s requirements. Some bodies are therefore standard, some are adaptations from standard designs and some are rare or unique in the true sense.

The table below illustrates how British coachbuilders, not unsurprisingly, comprise the vast majority who worked on the Derby Bentley chassis. It also shows the significant number of bodies produced by overseas firms, most notable among whom was Vanvooren in Paris, with whom Rolls-Royce was working closely on the development of the Corniche variant of the Mk V as War broke out in 1939. With the firms listed in order of date of establishment, the table also illustrates the three groupings of coachbuilder; those that started in the business building bodies for coaches and horsedrawn carriages, those that were founded in response to the advent of the horseless carriage at the turn of the 19th century, and those that were founded after the end of World War I. What is perhaps particularly surprising is the success of several of those in the last category, such as Park Ward, Gurney Nutting, and Freestone & Webb.

 

Date Est’d Name Total Bodies on DB chassis
  BRITAIN  
1555 Rippon Bros, Huddersfield 21
1710 Barker, London 69
1760 A Mulliner, Northampton 41
1760 Thrupp & Maberly, London 214
1770 Connaught, London 2
1773 Martin Walter, Folkestone 1
1791 Offord & Sons, London 2
1792 Mulliners, Birmingham 5
1796 Windovers, Grantham 23
1805 Hooper & Co., London 106
1820 Salmons, Newport Pagnell 5
1840 Knibbs & Parkyn, Manchester 1
1844 J Cockshoot, Manchester 16
1863 James Young, Bromley 70
1867 Vincents, Reading 3
1899 Dennis Bros, Guildford 1
1900 H J Mulliner, London 160
1901 Mann Egerton, Norwich 42
1907 Charlesworth, London 1
1910 Wm Arnold, Manchester 21
1913 Vanden Plas (England), London 199
1919 Park Ward, London 1,072
1919 J Gurney Nutting, London 89
1919 Plaxton, Scarborough 1
1920 Abbott, Farnham 2
1920 Mayfair, London 12
1921 Jarvis, London 1
1921 Lancefield, London 3
1925 Cooper Motor Bodies, London 1
1926 Freestone & Webb, London 77
1926 Carlton Carriage Co, London 11
1927 Crosbie & Dunn, Birmingham 2
1929 E Bertelli, Feltham 1
1931 Whittingham & Mitchel, London 1
1932 John Charles/ Ranalah, London 1
1934 Corinthian, London 1
     
  FRANCE  
1860 Kellner Freres, Paris 16
1879 Labourdette, Paris 1
c1900 Henry Binder, Paris 8
c1900 Franay, Paris 2
1905 Letourneur et Marchand, Paris 1
1905 Saoutchik, Paris 2
1918 Vanvooren, Paris 62
1919 Antem, Paris 2
1922 Fernandez & Darrin, Paris 1
1923 Figoni & Falaschi, Paris 1
1925 De Villars, Paris 5
1925 Pourtout, Paris 1
     
  GERMANY  
1898 Erdmann & Rossi, Berlin 11
     
  BELGIUM  
c1934 Vesters & Neirinck, Brussels 11
     
  SWITZERLAND  
1878 Kong, Basel 3
1927 Graber, Berne 1
1929 Worblaufen, Berne 1
     
  HOLLAND  
c1932 Veth & Zoon, Arnhem 2
     
  ITALY  
c1922 Pinin Farina, Turin 2
     
  AUSTRALIA  
1888 Martin & King, Melbourne 7
1926 Diskon & Molyneux, Sydney 1

There were 36 firms who bodied less than 10 cars each. This output should not be ignored: Pourtout produced the Embiricos Bentley B27 LE, which was designed by Paulin, a Parisian dentist. This car went on to compete three times at Le Mans after the War, coming 6th in the first attempt. The design must surely have had a major influence on the R Type Continental design. Vanvooren produced a similar, if less radical body on B29 LE. Abbot produced Eddie Hall’s famous B35 AE, with which he put up fastest times in the 1934, 1935 and 1936 TT races but was placed second each time on handicap. It also competed in post-war Le Mans races. Jarvis, an MG distributor, bodied B24 DG for one of its directors, Capt George Eyston, the World Land Speed Record holder of the day. Corinthian, a little known concern, produced a stunning dhc on chassis no B65 BN. The output of Veth & Zoon, Graber, Kong, Antem, Franay and Binder also deserve highlighting.

Among the more prolific, Park Ward stand out head and shoulders among the rest, bodying 45% of the total Bentley output from Derby. Of these, however, 822 were standard saloon bodies in 4 guises, 150 were standard dropheads with minor variations, and 100 were special bodies of different styles. Rolls-Royce clearly thought highly of Park Ward, taking a 33% stake in 1933 and buying out the rest in 1939. There was usually a Park Ward saloon and drophead on the Bentley stand at the London Motor Shows of the 1930s, alongside a Vanden Plas tourer or drophead, and sometimes a HJ Mulliner saloon. The table below shows a breakdown of the output of the most favoured coachbuilders:

 

Name Saloon FHC Sedanca DHC TOTAL
Park Ward Standard 822 0 0 150 972
Park Ward Special 75 8 5 12 100
Thrupp & Maberly 161 12 5 36 214
Vanden Plas 41 6 0 154 199
HJ Mulliner 105 18 5 32 160
Hooper 65 12 1 26 106
Gurney Nutting 12 26 34 14 89
Freestone & Webb 59 9 3 6 77
James Young 16 8 10 36 70
Barker 29 15 8 17 69
Vanvooren 46 5 1 13 65
Mann Egerton 40 1 0 1 42
Arthur Mulliner 39 2 0 0 41
Windovers 11 2 3 7 23
Rippon Bros 20 1 0 0 21
Wm Arnold 20 1 0 0 21
Joseph Cockshoot 11 3 0 2 16
Kellner Freres 2 2 0 12 16
Mayfair 8 1 0 3 12
Carlton Carriage 3 1 0 7 11
Vesters & Neirinck 1 3 1 6 11
Erdmann & Rossi 2 0 1 8 11

The breakdown of body production above shows that apart from the standard Park Ward saloons and dropheads, the leading producers of each body type were as follows:

Saloons:
Thrupp & Maberly (161), HJ Mulliner (105), Park Ward specials (75), Hooper (65), Freestone & Webb (59), Vanvooren (46), Vanden Plas (41), Mann Egerton (40).
Fixed Head Coupes: 
Gurney Nutting (26), H J Mulliner (18), Barker (15), Thrupp & Maberly (12), Hooper (12).
Sedancas: 
Gurney Nutting (34), James Young (10), Barker (8), HJ Mulliner (5), Park Ward (5), Thrupp & Maberly (5).
Drop Heads:
Vanden Plas (154), Thrupp & Maberly (36), James Young (36), H J Mulliner (32), Hooper (26), Barker (17), Gurney Nutting (14), Vanvooren (13), Kellner (12), Park Ward specials (12).

Looking beyond the pure statistics, there are noteworthy body styles produced in each category:

  • Saloons: HJ Mulliner consistently produced saloons of restrained elegance and good taste, some pillarless, others with High Vision roofs. Other producers of Pillarless saloons were Vanvooren, Vanden Plas and Park Ward. Thrupp & Maberly, Park Ward, William Arnold, Rippon, Mann Egerton all produced Streamlined/Aero/Swept-tail saloons. Freestone & Webb are justly famous for their Top Hat saloons. Hooper produced some lovely dignified yet sporting saloons. Many coachbuilders produced examples of razor-edged styling on the 4.25 litre chassis.

  • Fixed Head Coupes: Gurney Nutting pillarless coupes are generally esteemed, but similar ones of equal quality were produced by Barker, who were also leading exponents of swept-tail coupes, often for the Indian market.

  • Sedancas: The H R Owen design was produced first by HJ Mulliner for the 1933 London Show and then made famous by Gurney Nutting, although Barker produced similar bodies, Erdmann & Rossi copied the HR Owen design for a client and AF McNeil produced similar bodies at James Young after he left Gurney Nutting who also produced other (non-HR Owen) stunning sedancas, as did Thrupp & Maberly.

  • Dropheads: Vanden Plas must be accorded the title of “Kings of Open Derbys” with their tourer designs gaining immense popularity on the 3.5 litre, with dropheads (with front windows and comprehensive weather equipment) taking over on the 4.25 litre chassis as customers required more comfort. HJ Mulliner produced stunning dropheads with concealed hoods, from their ground breaking 1934 Olympia Show car B22 BN, through to the successful design no 5969 starting with their 1937 Show car, B79 KU. Park Ward produced 3 lovely concealed dropheads for Miss Florence Pickles. Hooper, Vanden Plas, James Young and Freestone & Webb all produced notable sleek 2 and 3 seater dropheads of similar concept. Gurney Nutting’s dropheads are also justly sought after. Thrupp & Maberly produced 3 position dropheads and 4 door All weather “Phaetons”. Erdmann & Rossi produced a Germanic style, while Vanvooren, Kellner, Franay, Antem and Vesters & Neirinck produced attractive light European styles. 

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