Rolls-Royce Enthusiasts Club - for Rolls-Royce and Bentley Enthusiasts

Hooper & Barker

(Article by Colin Hughes)

Up to WWII, Rolls-Royce and Bentley motor cars were sold as chassis for fitting of coachwork by one of many specialist coachbuilders. In the late 1930s some standard designs of bodies were made by Park Ward for 20/25hp and 25/30hp Rolls-Royce cars as well as 3 and 4 litre Bentleys, but many bodies were specified by individual customers. Some of the larger producers of coachwork for Rolls-Royce in UK were Barkers, Hoopers, H. J. Mulliner, Park Ward and Windovers, but most major cities had a coachbuilder, for example Cockshoot in Manchester, Mann Egerton in Norwich, Hamshaw in Leicester, and Rippon Bros of Huddersfield among others. Other coachbuilders in the London area had reputations for being more fashionable and stylish (among the "big five", Windovers produced some very Art Deco inspired bodies in the early 1930s) notably Gurney Nutting, James Young, Vanden Plas, Freestone & Webb, and Thrupp & Maberly.

Admittedly, there was evidence in notes in order books that many customers had said something like "can you do me a body like the one on your (or coachbuilder Y's) show stand?" and there is also evidence that colour schemes were based on certain conventions for combining body and interior colours. See my article on colour schemes for more on this. Very often the order for a car would come via a dealer, with whom the customer had discussed the specification. Dealers might order cars for stock, while certain dealers would also specify particular styles of body; for example Jack Barclay was an advocate of "pillarless" construction of saloon bodies for Bentleys in the mid 1930s. This was an arrangement where the front doors were hinged at the windscreen pillars and the back doors at the rear quarters so that the whole of the side of the car was open when both doors were opened. Both Vanden Plas and Park Ward supplied bodies of this type to Jack Barclay. 

For those of us today, who have the limited choice of body styles: saloon or sedan, coup, convertible and estate, the choice available through to the 1950s and the descriptions of them are wide. Where it is not obvious, I will explain them as I go along. 

Because I came across original coachbuilders' pictures of Hooper and Barker bodies early on in my involvement with RREC, this article concentrates upon them. I have continued this theme in another article and  have brought other coachbuilders in as well.

Throughout this article, clicking on the thumbnail picture will bring up a larger version for study.

Hoopers was founded in 1805, with premises in Haymarket, London. At the end of the 19th century, Hoopers & Co. (Coachbuilders) Ltd. had a showroom at 54 St James Street (now Swain Adeney and Brigg's shop for men's leather goods and umbrellas) and a factory at 77 King's Road in Chelsea. 1n 1933 they opened an Art Deco styled factory on Western Avenue at Park Royal, while keeping on the King's Road operation. Hoopers had a reputation for designing cars to meet customers' specific needs and were also innovative in construction methods, being early in the use of resin bonded plywood in body construction, as well as the use of alloy castings to replace conventional ash framing. This stood them in good stead for war work including the plywood-framed De Havilland "Mosquito" fighter bomber, while the last cars made by Hoopers had nearly all body framing in alloy. They also specialised in moulded "Perspex" for some car applications, probably also based on aircraft experience.

Founded in 1710, Barkers had showrooms at 66-69 South Audley Street in Mayfair and a factory at Olaf Sreet, Shepherd's Bush. They were associated with Rolls-Royce from the very beginning, being C. S. Rolls & Co. preferred coachbuilder. Rolls-Royce experimental cars generally moved away from Barkers to Park Ward in the early 1930s largely because any needs for greater strength in a Barker body seemed to be solved by making it heavier. Hoopers took over Barker & Co. at liquidation in 1938 and built another factory at Elveden Road, Willesden, not far from the Park Royal works, for Barker coachwork, but only completed 9 bodies before the outbreak of WWII. This factory continued after WWII mainly building Daimler Barker Special Sports cars until Hoopers' closure.

The Hoopers St James Street showroom in the 1950s.

Hooper-bodied Bentleys outside the factory on Western Avenue, Park Royal, around the same time (Bowers' photo)

During the Second World War, the firm was taken over by B.S.A. (Birmingham Small Arms), who also owned Daimler. As a result, Hooper Daimlers were featured on their Motor Show stands, and often had cars specified by Lady Docker, the wife of the chairman of B.S.A., Sir Bernard Docker. The firm closed in 1959, but a servicing offshoot, Hooper Motor Services was set up that later was combined with Jack Alpe Limousines of Marylebone High Street, London as Hooper Alpe. For a time they did modifications to Silver Shadow and Silver Spirit body shells: a number of lengthened limousine bodies as well as at least one landaulette came out of this period. They now mainly act as dealers in imported vehicles, but Hooper-Crailville continues to make reproduction coachwork for earlier chassis..

Lady Dockers "Gold plated" Daimler being shown to HRH Princess Margaret. Hoopers' Managing Director Osmond Rivers is inside the car. The gold plating was said by him to be because she wanted a yellow metal finish, and lacquered brass was not durable. The gold star pattern was effectively a negative of "sham-caning", which I will describe in my next piece. Here is a complete view of the car. It was at a later date converted to normal chrome finish and the gold star pattern removed. Osmond Rivers understood that the then current owner did not know its previous finish. I believe that the car still exists in a state ripe for restoration.


Lady Docker tended to specify a new Daimler for the Motor Show at Earl's Court each year. The car shown here is the 1953 one, with substantial use of crocodile skin in the interior. The ball gown was worn by Lady Docker at the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders Ball in 1954. 

I first met the late Osmond Rivers in 1959 at the time when Hoopers were in liquidation together with B.S.A. Some say it was a result of the ostentatious publicity activities of Lady Docker which were out of step with the times, but that was not the whole cause. He had joined Hoopers as a draughtsman in, I think, 1927 and became their designer, pioneering aluminium alloy castings for framing, and responsible for post-war designs such as the Hooper "Empress" and "Teviot". At the end, he was the Managing Director of Hoopers.

The then chairman of the R-R.E.C., Ralph Symmons, had heard that some of the Hoopers pictures of cars from their archives were going to be thrown away, and sent my brother Nigel and me to see what we could obtain from the Park Royal works (we were then living nearby in Ealing). We found the building with all furniture removed, and the pictures scattered over the floor. In retrospect we should have been greedier, but Ralph had mentioned to Osmond Rivers that he was only interested in about 20 pictures of early open coachwork, so we tended to be directed to those. The pictures we obtained were put into an album for the R-R.E.C., which has eventually found its way into the club archives, having disappeared for some time into Ralphs family - the R-R.E.C. was Ralph Symmons at that time Some other pictures went to other destinations: the late Jimmy Skinner (S. J. Skinner of the Basingstoke Motor Company and founder of the V.S.C.C. Rolls-Royce Section), the Montagu Motor Museum (now National Motor Museum), the late John Oldham (his are also now in USA), as well as some retained by Osmond Rivers himself, of which the majority are now in a collection in the USA (see end of this article). In the post WWII years, many of the record and publicity pictures of Hooper bodies were taken by Charles K. Bowers of Isleworth, and this archive still remains in existence.

Later Osmond Rivers was asked by Ralph Symmons to give a talk to the R-R.E.C. about Hoopers, and suggested that I could make the slides of the illustrations to support the talk. I visited him at his home at 25 Culmington Road, Ealing, virtually opposite where I had spent 9 years at preparatory school. I later borrowed some of his other pictures to copy, as well as some of Jimmy Skinner's. The latter included a fair number of Barker photographs that Hoopers had held. These must have arrived when Hoopers took over Barkers in 1938. Most of Jimmy's pictures are now in R-R.E.C. archives, but some others went to the late John Oldham, and are now elsewhere in the USA.

Osmond Rivers was responsible for the Hooper "Empress" style. Originally a design for Daimler chassis, but also appearing on Rolls-Royce and Bentley chassis. This is design No. 8390 on 1953 Silver Wraith Chassis No. LBLW14 (Bowers photo). 

Among the items he passed to me for photographing were some paintings on card of the livery of coaches for presentation for approval by the customer. These were watercolour drawings not much bigger than postcards, but full of detail, which I hope is still detectable in these images. There were also two transparencies of harness work.

A coach for the Earl of Derby. A chaise, or two passenger cabriolet. A sleigh, probably for a Russian customer.
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A single canoe landau A coup (I think - correct me!) The boxcloth for a coach driver's seat

Examples of elaborate harness work.



Hoopers were early into motor cars and for the earliest ones stayed with the watercolour rendering of the design. Even into post WWII times coachbuilders used to produce watercolour designs, if not usually for individual customers' schemes

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An electric vehicle from around 1900.

An electric Brougham An early open drive limousine of around 1904.

In 1904 they built a body for a Daimler chassis for King Edward VII (one of the continued sorrows to Claude Johnson was the failure of Rolls-Royce to secure royal patronage, although at least one R-R car survives that has the swivelling armchair seats that His Majesty preferred). The picture below states that it is the eighth motor body built for the King. I remember a comment from the late John Oldham, a long-term enthusiast for R-R cars: in a letter, he reminded me that the nouveaux riches bought Rolls-Royce cars; the aristocracy bought Daimlers.

I need a Daimler expert to advise me if this is a Daimler chassis 

The Queen also had Hooper bodies, a Siddeley car in this case.

Photography came in by the time Hoopers were fitting bodies to 40/50hp Silver Ghost type chassis. Many of the early Hooper photographs have long lists of royal customers embossed on the mounts. 

One customer who was more notorious than notable was the assassin of Rasputin, Prince Felix Youssoupoff. This is a "Side-light Cabriolet" on chassis 7PB. Shown here with the top up and down. A cabriolet was a body that could be both a formal closed car, with a glass division between the driver's compartment and the passengers in the rear, or an open car with the windows and their frames lowered and the roof folded. Many coachbuilders offered a choice of degrees of opening of the roof: with only the driver's compartment open, known as the "de ville" position; and occasionally with the rear quarter open as a "landaulette" (a "landau" had the roof divided in folding forwards and backwards and was generally only a style for horse-drawn vehicles although one or two impressive cars as state landaus do exist), as well as with the whole roof open. Notice also that the rear of the body is decorated with the technique known as "sham caning" where a pattern of paint lines reproduces the effect of woven cane. In my next article, I will describe this more and include some other examples.

It is was alleged at the time that we first saw this photograph (one of the pictures rescued in 1959) that this car was used to carry the dead body of Rasputin to drop it through a hole in the ice of the frozen river. One speculates on the need for louvres on the bonnet, or even a cabriolet body, in the climate of St Petersburg; possibly the summers are hot. Clearly the chauffeur needed to be well wrapped up, as his only protection from the elements was the blind between the windscreen and the front of the rear compartment. 

More realistically, "The Edwardian Rolls-Royce" by John Fasal & Bryan Goodman indicates that it was built for the prince at an address in London, SW, and possibly used by him there. However, the car was shipped to the U.S.A. in 1915 possibly in chassis form, as the body appears to have been transferred in 1915 to another 1914 car, 12RB, by coachbuilders Mann Egerton, replacing a Cunard landaulette, for Lord Nunburnholme. The chassis, 7PB is now mounted with an American Rolls-Royce Custom Coachwork touring body. It was last known when owned by the late Everett C. Pauls.

The prince was educated at Oxford, was involved in the assassination of Rasputin in 1916 and escaped Russia in 1919 with other members of the imperial family from Yalta on a British naval ship. I understand that the Youssoupoff residence in St Petersberg is able to be visited. Maybe he never received delivery of the car.

In later years Hoopers also supplied other vehicles to the Royal Family. A tandem rear wheeled vehicle was supplied for the use of George V, probably for the estate at Sandringham, and in the 1950s this Land Rover had a Hooper review stand fitted for reviewing parades of troops when horseback was inappropriate.

In the early years, wealthy owners had multiple motor cars, but some had dual-purpose vehicles, where two bodies were kept for different uses. These examples were of a "Self-driving Phaeton" and a "Limousine" for Richard Foster Esq. "Self-driving" was the term used for what was described later as "Owner-driver" to distinguish from cars designed for a chauffeur. The limousine would normally be described as "Open-drive" to reflect the lack of side windows in the chauffeur's compartment. However, rather than being two separate bodies, this was a two-part one: the limousine body could mounted against the rear of the front seat, after removal of the rear dickey seat and the folding hood. This was on a 1911 chassis 1774. A limousine body generally is a closed car with a division behind the driver's compartment and often with folding out "occasional seats" attached to the division arranged so that passengers in them are facing forward.

The final picture from the slides I made for Osmond Rivers talk is 1933 Phantom II Continental sports saloon chassis 30PY, which was made nominally for a Hooper director, George Lutley Sclater-Booth. It incorporated a number of experimental features: one was that it had different cushioning materials for each of the front seats, and for each side of the rear seat. The door handles were made of three strips of rod symmetrically arranged about their shafts, with bars at the outer ends: a bit like the material of a 1930s sprung steering wheel spoke. I think that it also included Hoopers first use of cast alloy in the door and windscreen pillars, as these were a weak point in many coachbuilt bodies: on rough roads, the roof tends to fight the scuttle, and this action shows up as cracking at the base of the screen pillars. The colour scheme was grey and dark maroon.

Those of you interested in Post WWII cars have had rather thin pickings so far: only some 1950s Daimlers and only one Rolls-Royce car. You should realise that, at the time of doing the copies, I was heavily directed to pre WWII and R-R cars: RREC had not opened its doors to Bentleys then. As this article is getting a little heavy, I will leave the majority of Post WWII for another one, only including one or two other cars that I photographed for Osmond Rivers' talk. 

1953 Silver Wraith 4 door drop head coup chassis WVH74. Geneva show car (Bowers photo). Not shown in this picture is the car's folding "Perspex" rear windscreen. 1952 Phantom IV sedanca de ville on chassis 4AF20 for H. H. the Aga Khan. "Sedanca de ville" describes a closed car with the section over the driver's compartment able to be opened.


Hoopers' records are held by the Science Museum in London. Most of the illustrations here were photographed from originals held by Osmond Rivers, although some were from those rescued at Hoopers' closure by my brother and me, held by R-R.E.C., and others are from J. Arthur Bowers. Osmond Rivers sold his collection to a collector, Mr Arthur Rippey, in the United States; on his death the collector bequeathed the collection to Denver Public Library where it is held as the Rippey-Rivers collection. If you are interested to learn about the items, the curator is Kay Wisner, e-mail fax (720) 865-1880.


Inside Story

With few exceptions, published coachbuilders' photographs have tended to show the outside of the cars. When re-upholstering a car, it is quite difficult to know from the worn remains what quality of finish on seats and trim is necessary to make it look like it did originally. This of course begs the question that one can reproduce closely the materials used, both the leather and the materials beneath. Contemporary pictures showing the interiors of cars are valuable, even if the surviving ones are of unusual, rather than ordinary trim work: the padding of trim and cushions is unlikely to be different from normal, after all. Unfortunately I do not have the details of the cars to which all the interiors relate, but I will put what I know or can guess.

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A 1924 40-50 Chassis 76RM supplied to Prince Hamidullah of Bhopal. The car is shown on p.117 of "Coachwork on Rolls-Royce" by the late Lawrence Dalton, and was fitted with many extra lamps for night-time hunting activities. It had three front facing and one rear facing Lucas headlamp, as well as two Stephen Grebel pivoting spot lamps. The rear interior picture shows the gun rack as well as the cabinet for drinks.

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Here is a Hooper open tourer on a New Phantom 63TC, for the Maharajah of Mayurbhanj. It is fitted with extra instruments such as altimeter and gradient meter, and all are white faced; the control knobs and steering wheel are also white finished. A different view of the interior, with the compartments in the driving seat open to show water flasks and washing facilities is on p.53 of "Rolls-Royce - The Derby Phantoms" also by Lawrence Dalton. 

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These are two variants of the interior of a Barker saloon body on a Phantom II of about 1930 (I think). I deduce that it is a PII from the detail differences in the controls at the steering wheel centre from those on my 1931 20/25hp. The PII changed to fully-covered spokes to the steering wheel shortly after, ahead of the 20/25hp.  Note the unpleated seats, and the lady's hand mirror tucked above the rear seat arm-rest. 

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Another Barker interior from around the same period, but with cloth upholstery. Note the cigarette lighter above the companion in the rear quarter. Also, note the handle in the lower centre of the rear seat, which might mean that it converted into a bed, or moved the seat squab to suit the passengers.

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This is a 1932 20/25hp on chassis GAU16 described as a Hooper Saloon Limousine on the back of the picture, although it does not have a division behind the driver's compartment. Stated as Grey in colour on the photograph, it has been two-tone Green for at least 40 years to my knowledge and has been in the Taylor family for a lot longer than that.

Colin W. Hughes & Rolls-Royce Enthusiasts' Club 2005