The art of coachbuilding is older than the automobile itself. In the early 20th century, many companies who had built horse-drawn carriages transferred their skills to creating custom motor cars. Starting with rolling chassis frames, then dressing them in glamorous, hand-shaped bodies with names like Phaeton, Landau or Imperial Sedan, these coachbuilders became as recognized and revered as the car manufacturers they worked with.
In Italy, home of the carrozzeria, noted practitioners of the art included Frua, Ghia, Pininfarina, Scaglietti, and Vignale. In the U.S., Brewster, LeBaron, and Rollston all became famous names, while the UK had Hooper, Mulliner, Vanden Plas, and many others.
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Coachbuilding went into decline from the 1960s as cars switched to unitary construction, but it has recently seen a renaissance. Witness all the luxury brands now offering in-house personalization services, such as Mulliner at Bentley or MSO at McLaren, along with the return of genuine coachbuilt cars like the Ferrari Icona series, Aston Martin Victor, and Rolls-Royce Boat Tail.
Into this $18.4 billion market—based on vehicles sold worldwide for more than $632,000 in 2022—comes Allesley, a British outfit based in Coventry that aspires to be “the new global leader in automotive coachbuilding.” A lofty goal to be sure. Its first vehicle will be an “ultra-luxury” SUV, teased in the just-released (and extremely generic sketch) seen here. The vehicle is due to be revealed in 2024.
Speaking exclusively to Robb Report, Allesley CEO Paul Abercrombie (seen at left in opening image, along with Allesley chairman Chris Devane) outlined his vision: “Automotive luxury is constantly evolving, but some clients are still struggling to find luxury products that are truly unique to them . . . if you have owned every supercar in the world, what would come next? Creating your own bespoke and unique vehicle is the next logical step—and that’s what Allesley has been created to do, with the rebirth of coachbuilding.”
Like the traditional coachbuilders of the past, Allesley is not aligned with any particular marque. Instead, it plans to take on limited-run projects for automakers (a set of hand-built continuation cars, for example), along with one-off commissions for private customers. For those with the means, Allesley claims it will “translate a dream, which could simply be a sketch on a page, to a fully engineered and manufactured vehicle.”
Although the Allesley brand (named after a picturesque village near Coventry) is new, the business shares its expertise and beautiful 1930s Art Deco factory with HPL Prototypes, a leading builder of concept cars and, you guessed it, prototypes. Most of HPL’s work is confidential, but the Bentley Java, Lotus M250 concepts, and the McLaren F1 design study, were all created within its whitewashed walls. In recent years, clients have also included Aston Martin, Bentley, Jaguar, and Land Rover.
When it comes to the stateside market, Abercrombie told us: “Our ultra-high-net-worth client base is truly international, and of course, includes the U.S. We can cater commissions to any geographical environment accordingly, whether that be based on temperatures, terrains, or how the car will be used.”
And what of that first SUV? Abercrombie remains tight-lipped, but we think the sketch hints at a Bentley Bentayga, perhaps even with the rear side doors removed to create a three-door coupe. Allesley’s official statement mentions the car will “retain the ethos of the original, yet enhanced and reimagined in every conceivable way.”
In order to showcase the company’s abilities, this SUV will likely go above and beyond what Mulliner (or another in-house bespoke division) might ordinarily offer. We will find out next year, but the possibilities with true coachbuilding are almost limitless, as are the opportunities for new players in the revival of this automotive art form.
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