Hooper & Co. was a British coachbuilding company based in Westminster London. From 1805 to 1959 it was a notably successful maker, to special order, of luxury carriages both horse-drawn and motor-powered.
The company was founded as Adams and Hooper[note 1] in 1805 and held a royal warrant from 1830, building elegant horse-drawn carriages, supplying them to King William IV,[note 2] Queen Victoria and King Edward VII. They moved into motor bodies at the turn of the 20th century. The first royal car, a Hooper body on a Daimler chassis, was delivered to Sandringham on 28 March 1900. It was painted chocolate brown with red lines; a livery which continued for the royal family well into the twentieth century.
Hooper specialized in the very top tier of the market, building the most luxurious bodies possible without consideration of cost. The models were not sporty, as the company specialized in stately, elegant carriages. Coach customers included the Marquis of Londonderry and the Marquis of Crewe . Car body customers included the Kings of Spain, Norway, Portugal and Siam, the Shah of Persia and the Negus of Abyssinia. In 1911, Hooper built an extension onto their Kings Road works, due to increased customer demand. Their London showroom, opened 1896 (possibly earlier), was on the corner of St James' Street and Bennet Street. It included a vehicle lift so that coaches and cars could be displayed at first floor. The alterations are likely to have been overseen by Francis Hooper, architect, son of the then owner.
During World War I, Hooper turned to aircraft manufacture, eventually producing Sopwith Camels at the rate of three a day. With peace, the firm returned to coachbuilding. They weathered the Great Depression of the 1930s far better than most coachbuilders, even building a second factory in Acton, West London. In the peak year of 1936, more than 300 bodies were built.
With re-armament in the late 1930s, another factory was opened in Park Royal, London, on Western Avenue, next to the Callard & Bowser confectionery works, and during World War II, they built fuselage sections for De Havilland Mosquito bombers, Airspeed Oxfords and gliders.
In 1938 Hooper acquired rivals Barker who were in receivership. Barker retained its separate identity.
Lady Docker's cars
Post war, Hooper became famous for making a series of outrageously-bodied large Daimlers for Lady Docker, the wife of the BSA chairman. This season's extravagant new Docker Daimler was exhibited each October at the London Motor Show.
- Docker Daimlers
- 1951 Stardust or The Golden Daimler, limousine
- 1952 Blue Clover, 5 seater saloon
- 1953 Silver Flash, 2 seater fixed head coupé
- 1954 Star Dust, limousine
- 1955 Golden Zebra, 2 door, 4 seater fixed head coupé
As the era of building cars on separate chassis was ending, and with it the market for complete bodies, Hooper completed the transition from wood-framed bodywork to bodies built over a skeleton of cast or extruded aluminium. Cast alloy was first used about 1933 in door and windscreen pillars where the 'fight' between roof and scuttle structures tended to cause cracking.
"Hoopers the coachbuilders — whose Rolls-Royce seven-seater limousine, at £9,185, is the most expensive car at the Motor Show ("We're not ashamed of it; its a magnificent example of a chauffeur-driven car. Even the hinged rear quarter-windows are electrically operated — most unusual")—are celebrating their 150th anniversary in a dignified way. The atmosphere in their St James's street showrooms is halfway between that of a fine tailor's and the waiting-room of a distinguished physician.
The quiet, unruffled representatives of the firm (now in the B.S.A. group) at the Hooper stand at Earls Court give a reassuring impression of solid continuity. All their car bodies are still handmade. "After a car is sold we're still very interested in it. King Feisal II—that was a Silver Cloud wasn't it? The Crown Prince of Iraq, he had a Bentley. The Shah of Persia, a Rolls-Royce. The King of Afghanistan—he had an open tourer Daimler." The roof of a car for The Ameer of Bahawalpur was entirely of Perspex. There was also the Dockers' famous golden car—a wonderful piece of craftsmanship."
Table Talk by Pendennis, The Observer October 20, 1957, page 14
The end of an era
Monocoque construction became standard. Daimler, their in-group chassis supplier, was to be sold to Jaguar, Hooper's was probably unsaleable. Rolls Royce and Bentley intimated their plans to cease series production of separate-chassis cars. The final bespoke body was finished in October 1959 and, at the end of 1959, BSA transferred the remaining business to a new entity, Hooper (Motor Services) Ltd, which acted as a sales and service company. It became, in 1970, a Rolls-Royce distributor.
- Science Museum, South Kensington, London - Hooper (Coachbuilders) & Co. Ltd. – original design drawings and motor car construction records c1910-59
- Denver Public Library - items from Hooper and Company records, 1947-1979 - received from Rippey's Veteran Car Museum (Denver, Colo.) including the collection of Osmond Rivers, Hooper designer 1930s to 1950s and Managing Director
- City of Westminster Archives Centre: Hooper and Co Records: ref 738. Administrative history: Hooper & Co, coachmakers, began trading in 1846 at 28 Haymarket. However, the company can be traced back to 1807 when J and G Adams opened a coachmaking business at 57 Haymarket. In 1811, George Adams moved to 28 Haymarket, joined later by George Hooper in 1833. In 1846, the company was renamed Hooper & Co. In 1867 the company moved their premises to Victoria Street, then, to 54 St James's Street in 1897. Hooper and Co. closed in 1959, by which time they were a subsidiary company of the Birmingham Small Arms Company.
- Imperial College & Science Museum Libraries: Science Museum Library Swindon: ref MS 228. Includes articles, company advertisements, particulars of various state coaches, a 1956 report on Hoopers for the board of BSA, and numerous photos. The photos are of special coaches and motor cars, royal visits to Hoopers in the 1930s, the Hooper factory in the second world war and workshops in the 1950s. Includes also a lacquered coloured line drawing of a char-a-banc designed by HRH Prince Consort and built by Hoopers in 1845
- Lord Montagu & David Burgess-Wise Daimler Century Patrick Stephens Limited 1995 ISBN 1-85260-494-8
- J.M Richards, & Eric RaviliousHigh Street V&A Publishing ISBN 981851776894
- Martin Bennett, Bentley Continental: Corniche & Azure 1951-2002 2010
- A-Z of British Coachbuilders. Nick Walker. Bay View Books 1997. ISBN 978-1-870979-93-1
- Coachbuilding in London. Robert Vickers. London's Industrial Archaeology No.5 1994
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