GRR

OPINION: ’Coach build’ doesn’t mean nicer or better

03rd April 2024
Ethan Jupp

Is there something in the car world – a point of view – that you just feel totally isolated on? Where you are the definition of devil’s advocate? I know what mine is and indeed, so will you, if you’ve taken the title for its intended meaning. Because no, not only do I not get the hype around most coach builds, the vast majority are a bit minging to my eyes.

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They are for the most part ten-times pricier, worse-looking, gatekeeper’s versions of cars that were really rather pretty, desirable and indicative of good taste as standard. There is the rarity, of course but that only serves to prove how much people will pay to have what others do not. Ew.

I’ll name some examples. To really tempt a bashing, by far the worst modern offender in my mind is the Touring Disco Volante. This is, underneath, an Alfa Romeo 8C that’s been relieved of its stunning Wolfgang Egger-penned carbon clothes and had them replaced by those of the awkward, gawky lovechild of a three-way between a Ferrari 599, an ND Mazda MX-5 and a canoe. 

Yes, the belt line is distinctive, yes I get it’s a tribute to the 1952 original and yes, 4,000 is a very impressive number of craftsmanship man hours. But, dare I ask, for what? I won’t budge. A standard 8C is infinitely prettier and more desirable and I don’t care how rare or coveted or ‘artisanal’ the Disco is.

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Even Zagato has turned out some absolute hummers over the years. And don’t try to tell me the Aston Martin DB9 Spyder Zagato Centennial is in any way desirable, let alone prettier than what is arguably one of the prettiest cars of the 21st century, a standard DB9, made in the tens of thousands and available these days for the price of a mid-spec family hatch. 

The Zag, by contrast, is very rare, but will still no doubt set you back folding money more, for the honour of owning a car that looks like the new-generation Ford Thunderbird with the face of a wizened old Bloodhound. But at least your well-heeled friends can stroke their chins in quiet contemplation in its presence. Even the DB7 Zagato, which I adore by the way, is a worse-looking DB7. From the mouth, to the rotund rump, it’s different for the sake of being different and, of course, heeding tradition.

On the Aston-ish theme, dare we mention the David Brown Automotive Speedback? A handful of beautiful Jaguar XKRs had to die so that the automotive equivalent of a Motel-hopping Elvis impersonator could live, in thankfully limited numbers.

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Okay, it seems at this point like my gripe with coach building, a centuries-old artform, is primarily with the modern attempts? Actually, no. Go back to the late 1950s and early 1960s, when the great styling and bodying houses were in their prime and there were in fact more disparate disfigured versions of Ferraris, Aston Martins and the like to choose from. In what way exactly did Allemano improve on the Aston Martin DB4?

Then look at the Ferrari 250, which in Short Wheel Base form is one of the prettiest cars ever made. Now look at the Bertone-bodied ‘Sharknose' car, which relieves the SWB of almost all of its natural elegance, especially from the front, with that protruding beak of a snout. Then there’s the 166/212, which admittedly predated Ferrari and Pininfarina finding their stride style wise. But even the slightly caricature-ish originals pale in oddity next to the ‘Uovo’ of Carrozeria Fontana. Is it a car, or some weird late 1800s prototype submersible?

Nowadays most Ferrari coach builds are done in-house as special projects. All use showroom-sold cars as their base and very few to my eyes represent an improvement in appearance over the standard cars. But hey, at least it's all yours. At least it’s your name in Ferrari’s little black book.

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The same goes for a lot of premium manufacturers that now handle their own one- or few-offs, from Bugatti to Bentley, to Rolls-Royce and many others. La Voitture Noire? I’ll take a Chiron Pur Sport for a fifth of the price, thanks. Bentley Batur? I prefer a nicely-specced Conti, which is awkward given the Batur previews the future styling direction of Bentley.

Style is of course subjective and my palette is far from refined. I’m not of the same cloth – nor even remotely of the same galaxy wealth-wise – as the clans that covet these cars, so I won’t pretend to understand. I’ll also no doubt cop a clout round the back of the head from connoisseur Axon, especially for those Bertone comments.

And of course, there are infinite coach builds out there beyond my knowledge, so chances are there’s got to be one I’ll see as an improvement compared to the standard car. I’ll happily take suggestions but as of now, up to this point, there are vanishingly few, if any, that I can think of. Vanity by way of rarity, obscurity and expense in gratuitous excess but certainly not beauty.

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