- Car bodies being assembled at Holden’s Adelaide factory in 1928.

Coachbuilding: The dawn of the automobile

28w ago



In the previous article, we took a look at the origins of coachbuilding in the Renaissance era. This article examines how coachbuilding transitioned to accommodate the dawn of the automobile and the introduction of mechanised transport.

At the turn of the 20thCentury, cars were built in two distinct sections. The first was the rolling chassis, comprising mechanicals such as the engine, drivetrain, suspension and wheels. The second was the actual body of the car which sat upon the rolling chassis. This included the exterior and interior of the vehicle, including seats and the passenger compartment.

A rolling chassis from the defunct British manufacturer Crossley.

Coachbuilders came into play with building the bodies of a vehicle. Once a customer purchased a rolling chassis, they could send it to a coachbuilder who would complete the body. This two-step process meant that the customer played a significant role in designing their own vehicle, and without requiring the mechanical expertise of developing a chassis and other drivetrain components, enabled coachbuilding firms to easily transition and thrive in the early automotive era.

Australian coachbuilders

Perhaps the most famous Australian coachbuilder is Holden. Originally established in 1856 to make horse saddles and other leather goods, the company initially produced its first vehicle body on a Lancia rolling chassis in 1914. A wartime import ban on complete vehicles meant that manufacturers wanting to sell in Australia had to partner with local coachbuilding firms in order to deliver complete vehicles. This regulatory environment gave firms like Holden the opportunity to grow, with the company producing bodies for marques including Austin, Dodge and Hupmobile and, perhaps most significantly, becoming the exclusive supplier of bodies for General Motors in 1924.

The Adelaide Holden factory in the early 20th Century.

NEXT: Coachbuilding - The advent of mass-production

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