Book Reviews: Vanden Plas — Coachbuilders, February 1980, February 1980

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“Vanden Plan — Coachbuilders” by Brian Smith. 302 pp. 10” x 7″ (Dalton Watson Ltd., 76 Wardour Suva, London W1V 4AN. £14.50).
To their books about the coachbuilding activities of Pinin Farina and Erdmann & Rossi, and various examples of specialised bodywork on Rolls-Royce cars, Dalton Watson have added this book about the well-known Vanden Plas Company, whose history dates from 1870, by the Daimler historian and enthusiast Brian Smith. Vanden Plas is usually associated with those handsome if simple fabric open bodies on 3-litre and 4½-litre vintage Bentley chassis. Naturally, their scope was far wider, and no publishing house is better suited to presenting a mainly pictorial assessment of their worth, on good quality paper, with first-rate production, than Dalton Watson.

The colour Frontispiece is of Brian Smith’s own very beautiful 1939 Daimler 4-litre straight-eight E4 pillarless sports saloon. Thereafter the book contains it all in masses of fine photographs, drawings, text, much tabulated data and captions, from very early car-bodies by Vanden Plan, like a Germain, and on to three pre-1914 Metallurgiques, right up to the Vanden Plas Princess and Daimler Double-Six cars of the present. Naturally, there is interest in seeing how many Bentley Vanden Plas cars are included. Forty-two are there in the Order Book of Vanden Plas (1917) Ltd., starting with the very first such body, built in 1922, an all-weather, which was probably W. O. Bentley’s own. In the list of orders taken by Vanden Plas (1923) Ltd. we find another 632 bodies for Bentley chassis, and this does not include those in another list of the post-1930 cars. Bentley fanatics will thus have an enjoyable time comparing these Bentleys with those listed in Stanley Sedgwick’s compilation of all known Bentleys. Many details are given, such as body type, cost of body, Reg. Nos., owner, etc., in most instances. One sees that Sir (then Capt.) Malcolm Campbell had a Vanden Plas. 4½-litre Bentley in 1929, listed as a demonstrator.

Of course, the famous coachbuilding Company made bodies for many other makes. In the earlier post-war days Buick and Crossley were popular chassis with them and in later times Daimler, Rolls-Royce, Minerva, Invicta, Delage, Mercedes-Benz, Talbot and especially Alvin, were but some of the makes they clothed. The book has pictures of most of the better examples of these, and many more besides. There are also pictures of the Vanden Plas works and work-force, at various periods, and here again, those showing the exterior and interior of the hangar the Company took at Kingsbury in 1923 will be of particular appeal to Bentley enthusiasts, because many glimpses of these cars are contained therein. Other pictures are of the Company stands in the Coachwork Section of the Motor Show, there are pictures of an unusual V8 Cadillac with sliding doors, and I was interested to see a photograph of a Leyland Thomas, as this is Parry Thomas’ famous Leyland Thomas No. 1, rebodied by Vanden Plas after Thomas’ death. This body cost £295 and was painted black, with yellow fine-lining. What is puzzling is that it was ordered in 1931 by P. M. Thomas of By-fleet, whereas I would have thought the order might have come from Ken Thomson of T & T’s. Can anyone enlarge on this? This car was raced subsequently by Reg Munday, until its engine disintegrated during a Brooklands’ race; it was finally destroyed by bombs while stored at Battersea during the war. Vanden Plas also made an open and a closed body on Leyland Eight chassis for Mr. Spurrier of Leyland’s, which were exhibited at the 1921 Motor Show, but I note that another order, for a sporting torpedo body on a short-chassis Leyland Eight, put in at the same time in 1921, was cancelled. Incidentally, these orders confirm that Parry Thomas had three different wheelbase-lengths for this car.

So here is a very worthwhile addition to the historian’s study-library; those who just the lots of pictures of fine motor-cars along the years may browse through it but those intent on learning about who owned which cars, and of the details of Vanden Plas Co. in all its aspects, will have it off the bookshelves for hours at atone, I suspect. (An Errata slip in the book shows that Smith is prepared to admit to errors.) The Foreword is by E. Rowland Fox, FIBCAM, Member of the Institute of Body Engineers and a former Managing Director and Chief Executive of Vanden Play. — W.B.