Sometimes the past deserves to remain in the past, but once in a while the automotive industry reaches into its history to resurrect something worthwhile whose demise was regrettable and whose return is welcome. The return of coachbuilding is one example of an industry trend we're glad is making a comeback.
Coachbuilding was popular decades ago among the extremely wealthy for whom the ordinary offerings of the automotive industry weren't anywhere near exclusive enough, so they had special bodywork fitted to regular cars to make them their own. Contemporary coachbuilt motors follow the same formula: an existing car fitted with new bodywork, and often customized mechanicals, for the most discerning and obscenely wealthy clients. Results have varied, but variety, as the saying goes, is the spice of life. Here we've chosen our ten favorite examples.
During the coachbuilding industry's heyday, many of the custom sportscars commissioned were based on Ferrari or Corvette underpinnings, and in its resurrection, the same has carried through. For decades, Ferrari had a policy not to officially sanction any cars made outside Maranello, but recently reversed itself, allowing several of the examples you see below to carry the Prancing Horse badge.
When Ferrari released the epically fast Enzo supercar, many bemoaned its less-than-superlative styling. Only one, however, put his money where his mouth is: Jim Glickenhaus, who came to Pininfarina with his Enzo, pointed to the classic 330 P3/4 – of which he already owns two – and commissioned the designers to go back to the drawing board. What came out was the P4/5, a one-of-a-kind supercar that manages to recall the past while looking forward into the future. Not only is the P4/5 arguably better looking than the Enzo, but by shedding some 374 lbs off its curb weight, and after endless hours in Pininfarina's wind-tunnel, it performs even better, which is no mean feat when you consider how fast the Enzo is in the first place. Performance and styling aside, though, what endears this car to us more than any other is how Glickenhaus, in sharp contrast to the reclusive Sultan of Brunei, shared the process with enthusiasts worldwide.
In such a unique field, Fisker Coachbuild is even more unique in that it was founded specifically to offer affluent customers exclusive coachbuilt rides. Before founding the company in 2005, Henrik Fisker was responsible for penning such beautiful high-end sportscars as the BMW Z8, Aston Martin DB9 and V8 Vantage (and more recently, the Artega GT). Today Fisker offers two models: the Latigo and the Tramonto, based on the BMW M6 and Mercedes-Benz SL55 AMG respectively. Starting with two well-engineered sports coupes, each of which already ranks among the most desired in their markets, Fisker fits fresh bodywork with distinctive styling and further extracts even more power from the already powerful engines, providing effortless performance to match the distinctive styling. We'd take the Latigo, which rectifies the BMW's principle defect by discarding the "Flame Surface" styling, but keeping the sweet M-tuned V10. Unfortunately only 150 examples of each model will be produced, but Fisker is reportedly working on new models for the near future.
Giorgetto Giugiaro is a busy designer, having worked for some of the most respected names in the business before opening his own ItalDesign, which seems to have another intriguing concept car at every major auto show. What makes the Ferrari GG50 stand out from all of them, however, is that although he received the factory's blessing, he didn't create it for Ferrari, nor did he build it for the public... he made it for himself, to celebrate 50 years in the industry. It's the only one of its kind in existence, and Giugiaro drives the GG50 regularly. Based on the excellent chassis of the unfortunately-proportioned 612 Scaglietti, ItalDesign tightened up the overhangs and resculpted the bodywork to give it a sleeker profile, and to good effect. Looking at the gorgeous GG50 and then at the lack-luster 612, you can't help but wonder how Giurgiaro got it so right and Pininfarina so wrong.
Without a doubt the most eccentric and wealthy of coachbuilding's patrons is the Sultan of Brunei, His Royal Majesty Kebawah Duli Yang Maha Mulia Paduka Seri Baginda Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu'izzaddin Waddaulah ibni Almarhum Sultan Sir Omar Ali Saifuddien Sa'adul Khairi Waddien (known more briefly Hassanal Bolkiah). His Majesty's majesty is a collection comprised of several thousand cars. In the '90s the royal family accounted for nearly 50-percent of all Rolls-Royces sold, but that's just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The Sultan owns the racecars driven by each F1 world champion since the 1980 season and a stable full of the most exotic supercars. But the crown jewels, so to speak, in the Sultan's collection are several unique custom-built automobiles, including fully roadgoing examples of several concept cars – such as the Bentley Java and the Pininfarina Ferrari Mythos – and a fleet of sedans and wagons based on the Ferrari 456 GT. Topping off the list is the Ferrari FX, a specially-commissioned supercar based on the F512M. Oddly bearing the same name as the internal code used for the Enzo, the FX has unique bodywork crafted by Pininfarina from aluminum and carbon fiber and a electro-hydraulic sequential transmission fitted by the Williams F1 team. The Sultanate owns six of the seven examples produced, while one sits in collector Dick Marconi's museum in California.
The Vandenbrink GTO hasn't been made yet. In fact, all we've seen so far are concept sketches. But it still has our mouths watering. The brainchild of Dutch designer Michiel van den Brink, the GTO, as its name suggests, recalls the iconic 1964 Ferrari 250 GTO. Based on the superlative Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano, Vandenbrink is planning to build five examples for well-heeled customers with either aluminum or carbon fiber bodywork that will combine the time-warping performance of the Fiorano with the svelte lines of the classic GTO. Unfortunately, unlike other coachbuilt Ferraris, Maranello has not given their blessing to brand it with the Prancing Horse, but we doubt that'll keep any half-serious gearhead from recognizing it for what it is.
Back in the heyday of coachbuilding, Zagato was the main destination for customers who wanted a Ferrari racing chassis with more stylish bodywork. Now that the segment is coming back, Zagato is again busy at work creating some unique offerings to those with the means. Some of its latest include the recently-delayed Spyker C12, the resurrection of the Diatto marque, a custom grand tourer based on the Maserati GranSport, and this Ferrari 575 GTZ. Commissioned by Japanese collector extraordinaire Yoshiyuki Hayashi, the 575 GTZ celebrates the 50th anniversary of the famous 250 GTZ which Zagato created in 1956. Like the 250 Zagato was based on the 250 GT, the 575 GTZ builds on the base of the 575 M Maranello, to which the Italian design house fitted custom aluminum bodywork whose double-bubble roof and two-tone paint scheme recall its classic inspiration.
Even in such unique company as this, the Spada Codatronca stands out for its "different" styling. With a mako-shark nose and a prominent tailfin, the Codatronca is not for the faint of heart. The car starts its life as a Corvette Z06, and from there the Italian design house – with technical assistance from Italtecnica – tweaks with all the running gear to make a sharp sportscar even sharper to propel the sharp bodywork. Think it's ugly? You won't be looking at it for long. The heart of this predator of the deep is a twin-supercharged LS7 V8 producing 600 horsepower in street TS trim, and 700 for the TSV track version. All that power, Spada claims, will propel the two versions to sixty in 3.2 and 2.7 seconds respectively.
Indian coachbuilder DC Design might have no relation with its namesake comic-book publisher, but this creation of theirs bridges the gap between Bruce Wayne and Batman. The design house, also known for its unique Porsche Cayenne coupe, built this custom Rolls-Royce coupe for British client Ashok Tandon, who has since garnered a lot of attention around London and numerous inquiries from film studios... which is no wonder, because it looks like it was made for hip-hop music videos. Based on a second-hand Silver Spur, the design took a year to finalize and six months to implement. Intriguingly, though, despite the radical exterior, the interior is all traditional Roller, but decked out in red leather. The end result is a challenger to the Maybach Exelero if there ever was one.
Milanese design house Castagna has made a business for itself creating strange variations on the MINI, but while the Aznom – which one of our commenters pointed out is Monza backwards – is at least as strange, its credentials betray an entirely different breed. The Aznom uses the Corvette Z06 as a starting point, boosting power up to 750 horsepower and dropping the 0-60 time down to a claimed 3.4 seconds en route to a 217 mph top speed. The styling, meanwhile, looks as though it were penned by aliens who had classic Corvettes and modern race cars as inspiration draws from Planet Earth, borrowing design elements from both, in a body crafted of aluminum, magnesium and carbon fiber. Love it or hate it, the Castagna Aznom heralds the return of the Italian-bodied super-Vette.
Callaway might seem like an odd addition to a list of custom coachbuilders, but when it comes down to it, that's just what they are. While prominent rivals like Saleen tune existing production cars – or designs entirely original ones – Callaway has for years centered its business around crafting unique bodywork and modified performance packages for Corvettes, not unlike those offerings from Castagna and Spada (above). Callaway's latest is the C16, unveiled in pre-production form at the Los Angeles show, in production trim in Montreal, and in convertible body-style in New York. Based on the current-generation Chevrolet Corvette C6, Callaway fits new bodywork and an LS2-based engine that harnesses 616 force-fed horses to propel the C16 to sixty in a scant 3.3 seconds and cover quarter-mile in 10.9 on its way to a 206-mph top end. Each example is made to order at Callaway's factories in Connecticut and Germany, offering each buyer the opportunity to specify additional equipment – all covered by five-year warranties, which, in as exclusive a field as this, is even more unique.