Simon wonders whether we really have the breadth of choice we should have.
Once, it was common for a motor manufacturer to produce and sell just the running chassis. In some cases they might fit a particular body, either in-house or bought in but, otherwise, the customer could go to a coachbuilder and get it bodied to their particular specification. This might be to a stock pattern, a limited production run if you like which meant that you could find different makes of car looking remarkably similar from the scuttle back, or it might be to the client’s commissioned design.
They might choose closed or open bodywork and, within that, there was a plethora of identifiable styles such as Landaulet, Doctor’s Coupe, Berline, Boattail, Phaeton, Sedanca De Ville, Limousine, Cabriolet, All-Weather, Coupe, Brougham, Roadster or Close-Coupled. Further to this, as with any bespoke item, the body could often be adjusted to the owner’s personal needs or preferences.
Today, in the world of the integrated platform, the body is the car, so an Audi A4, despite what you might know from reading the motoring press, is still viewed by most as a car in its own right, not a more costly variant of a Golf. Furthermore, despite the fact that there are so many models available from so many manufacturers, it might be argued that there is less nuanced choice and, to those of us who buy our clothes off the shelves from Messrs Primark of High Street or their equivalent, the desire to differentiate on such an incremental level might seem odd since, today, most of us are resigned to the one-size-fits-all approach.
Except, of course, it doesn’t fit all and, taking the High Street analogy further, where the clothes on offer only reflect the watered-down fashions of the time, the styles on offer may not always suit you, sir. Nevertheless, in this decade at least, it seems that the majority of customers wouldn’t complain if the options were just small SUV, medium SUV or big SUV. So, are we missing out?
The motor industry is a behemoth and it changes direction slowly. It is quite quick to embrace new manufacturing methods, but often slow to exploit them to the full. Are we on the cusp of the customisable car, where we can order a unique item made with our own graphic elements engraved into the bodywork, or are we looking forward to even more commonality, where structures are shared more and more between different manufacturers?
This month we look at the types of body available, both today and historically, and we may also speculate on what is to come.