Sunday Story: The Coachworks

by J.Emerson
sunday story the coachworks

Hooper Bentley image by Anton Van Luijk

“For years I was a Fleetwood man. Loyal. Traded in every year, without question. Always Eldorados.” A man in a dark green jacket and a carefully waxed mustache offered James a small crystal bowl filled with a variety of dark brown cartridges. “I’d be delighted, thanks.” He slid one into his e-cigar with a click and began puffing.

“As I was saying, a Fleetwood man. And an Eldorado man to boot. But now that I am older, I find that my tastes are changing. I’m secure now. Not as much need to show around, if you know what I’m saying. I want something stately, dignified.”

“Of course, sir. A very typical sentiment for a man of your station. A sensible one, I might add.” The man in the green jacket’s accent was distinctly English. His voice rang clearly throughout the room, but it was softened by the dark wood paneling and thick aged leather of the chairs. There was a distinct smell of expensive cartridges, scotch, and lavender in the consultation office. The salesman talked to his customer, not down to him.

“Exactly. And now I come to you, to see what Hooper might have to offer a man like me.” The man in the green jacket smiled and gestured towards a door on the south wall of the office.

James and the salesman entered the next room, still paneled in oak. Now, however, there was the distinct hum of powerful computer processing equipment. A young man in an immaculately tailored suit sat at a desk, an Oculus headset covering his eyes and ears. He was gently waving his arms in the air as he performed some kind of task on the computer. Although he couldn’t see James and the salesman, he evidently heard them come in. He smiled, took the headset off, and began undoing his motion-sensing rings.

“Hello Geoff. Do we have a customer today?”

“Yes, Tristan. Tristan, meet Mr. James Herringbone. Mr. Herringbone, meet Tristan O’Malley. He’s one of our best young coachwork designers.” Tristan shook James’ hand and flashed a winning smile.

“How do you do, Mr. Herringbone. I take it you are interested in a body from this year’s collection?”’

“Indeed I am. I was wondering if you could work up a model for me.”

“Certainly. Let me give you a set of glasses.” He produced a pair of highly fashionable tortoiseshell 3D spectacles from a desk drawer and handed them to James. Salesman Geoff pulled his own out of his jacket pocket. The three of them then entered a third room. This time, the space was dominated by an enormous curved screen propped against one wall. There was a sort of podium in the middle of the room, at which Tristan took up station. James and Geoff stood against the back wall, as Tristan slipped more of the metal rings onto his fingers.

“Can I ask you what chassis we will be working with, sir?”

“A Tesla. Model S-7.”

“Excellent choice, sir.” The screen was now lit, and James slipped on his 3D spectacles. A model of his chassis now flew into view; the computer was pre-programmed with a rendering of every one available. James admired the engineering of the chassis he had taken delivery of last week. The low-slung motors and the thin-pack battery were in a compact unit under the composite exoskeleton. The entire chassis was spun from one continuous piece of carbon fiber- a technology that was now getting long in the tooth, but which still worked well for passenger-car applications.

“What type of body are you looking for, sir?” Tristan called out to his customer.

“Let me see the saloon.”

“As you wish.” Tristan faced away from James and flicked his hands toward the screen. Now a four-door saloon body came into view. It was handsome- a sort of modern take on a Bentley Arnage. The aerodynamics were wildly improved, but the inspiration was still evident. The rendering hovered over top of the chassis, ready to be mated together.

“Let me show you how it would look on the chassis.” With a sort of closing motion of his hands, Tristan mated the chassis and body together on the screen. The saloon body shrunk slightly to better fit the dimensions. The result was a rather frumpy, over-square car with a hood that was much too long.

“Let me smooth that out a bit.” Tristan waved his hands like a symphony conductor. The roof rake became a little steeper; the hood and front quarters assumed more pleasing proportions; the trunk became a little longer, balancing out the general form. James could see Geoff nodding appreciatively, a knowing smile on his face. In around five minutes, Tristan was done. He turned to face James, proud of his work.

“Does that please you, sir?”

“That’s quite a skillful rendering. I’m impressed.” James turned to Geoff. “What’s the turnaround time on this?”

“Around a week, give or take. We’re working with a new, improved metal paste process this year. Lighter than previous compounds, but just as strong. The body printer at the factory only does three or four a day, so we have a bit of a backlog to work through.”

“I like what I see, but I hope that you’ll understand I’m not finished looking around yet.”

“Certainly.” Geoff slipped him a business card, which James popped into his pocket. “Please keep in touch. You’ll find that our pricing is also very competitive.”

“A pleasure meeting you both.” James shook hands with Geoff and Tristan, and then headed for the exit.

James pushed open the heavy wood doors and stepped into the air-conditioned space of the auto mall. Hooper’s sign was a polished brass affair, conspicuously antiquarian. The models in the front display windows were quite similar to the body James had just seen. There was also a sign touting full custom jobs, but he didn’t need anything that extravagant. He gazed up and down the halls at his other options. They were organized loosely by country, some spilling over into other sections. Near the Hooper store, he saw outlets for Thrupp & Maberly, Mulliner Park Ward, and Tickford. Further down in the Italian section were Pininfarina, Frua, Bertone, Zagato, and Italdesign Giugiaro. Near Germany, there was Horch, Karmann, and Hebmüller. The Americans were on the second level: Rollston, Brewster & Co., Dietrich, Fisher, and of course Fleetwood. All ready to print you a body for any chassis at a moment’s notice.

James paused to consider his options. He had heard bad things about the metal compounds of the Italians, but the models he had seen in the Zagato display case were achingly beautiful. He supposed it didn’t hurt to have a rendering done. After all, he had plenty of choices.

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  • Corey Lewis Corey Lewis on Jun 16, 2014

    It's Great Gatsby meets Brave New World! I would need three grammes of Soma to put up with a whole auto mall of coach salesmen. It would seem the gentleman author forgot the Lincoln Motorcarriage and Coachworks Authenticity Burnishment Company, Ltd.

  • Fishiftstick Fishiftstick on Jun 16, 2014

    I have little doubt that with advances in materials and 3-D printing, this will become possible, and relatively affordable. The barrier I see is the evolving nature of luxury. In the coachbuilt age, luxury was about self-expression through creativity. Today luxury is about image and branding. A brand creates an image; by buying--and more importantly, displaying--that brand, we hope that some of that brand image will rub off on us. A custom-made suit will fit better than anything off the rack, but people still buy Kiton and Zegna. The top-selling headphones--do they carry the name of an electrical engineer, or a singer?