I have always been fascinated by the work of coachbuilders the world over. Park Ward were a British creator of bodies for luxury cars who ended up inside the most famous of them all: Rolls-Royce.
William Park and Charles Ward worked together at a small manufacturer called F.W. Berwick and Company who were the British arm of an Anglo-French manufacturer called Sizaire-Berwick. Rolling chassis were made in France and then shipped to London where the body was fitted. William Park was born in Aberdeen in 1884 and was apprenticed at a carriage builder before heading south to London. Charles Ward was born in London in 1889 and had worked at FIAT in Britain before moving to F.W. Berwick.
In 1919, they founded their own company, Park Ward, to build bodies for a wider range of manufacturers. In an early advertisement they describe themselves as “the highest expression of the coachbuillders art”. They built a 20hp Rolls-Royce that was “suited to the lady driver” and a body for a Daimler for the man with a chauffeur! In fact they were also building bodies for Sunbeam, Hispano-Suiza and “all high class” chassis.
They worked closely with W.O. Bentley on his cars during the early 1920s and Rolls-Royce approached them to be part of a scheme to build bodies for their Twenty model. Frederick Royce was apparently very impressed by their quality which lead to the discussions about a standard body for the marque. This deal was never signed, however Park Ward did produce bespoke bodies for Rolls-Royce chassis for wealthy buyers. This appeared to be a good revenue earner as it didn’t take too long for Bentley and Rolls-Royce to become a major partner for them. Apparently they had nearly hit the wall a couple of times during their first few years in operation and were saved by injections of cash and the growing relationship with both the luxury marques.
In 1931, Rolls-Royce bought Bentley and took a stake in Park Ward to enable their customers to specify a Park Ward body direct from their dealers. Park Ward had developed (and patented) a new method of building all-steel bodies sitting on rubber bushes mounted on the chassis. They had replaced the wooden structural components with steel. This became their trademark design and were soon making them on a low volume production line as the Rolls-Royce and Bentley businesses continued to grow.
In 1939, Rolls-Royce acquired the remaining stock in the company to bring them fully in-house. During the war, Park Ward used their metalworking skills to build components and body parts for aircraft such as the Hurricane and Spitfire fighters and the Lancaster bomber. They also made ambulance bodies and even wooden ammunition boxes for the Royal Navy!
After the war finished, Rolls-Royce started to use some badge engineering on their cars with Bentley versions of their cars being offered. Just before the war, the British Government had built them a factory in Crewe to build aircraft engines and this was repurposed to be a car factory in 1946. Rolls-Royce had contracted Pressed Steel, a maker of body components for many British manufacturers to stamp their steel parts which were then assembled in the Crewe factory. This left Park Ward as the “bespoke” coachbuilder in the group who then built limited edition models, either with new bodies or with “extra” luxury.
The Pressed Steel contract lasted until the mid 1960s when Rolls-Royce brought that function fully in-house. In 1961, Rolls-Royce merged H.J. Mulliner and Company with Park Ward and moved all the facilities to the original Park Ward site in North London. Mulliner Park Ward became the bespoke side of the Rolls-Royce and Bentley business.
In 1998 when Vickers, who by this stage owned the Rolls-Royce Motors business, sold the company to Volkswagen however, Rolls-Royce PLC sold a licence to BMW to use the name. After some paperwork was signed, Rolls-Royce cars became a subsidiary of BMW with only Bentley going to Volkswagen. It appears that at this time Park Ward was dropped with Mulliner becoming the bespoke arm of Bentley only.
In the mid 1950s, Alvis were looking for a British coachbuilder to work with. They had acquired a design from Graber in Switzerland and after a failed agreement with a small company, then contracted Park Ward to build all their cars (the TD21, TE21 and TF21) until Alvis closed their doors in the late 1960s. Even with Alvis being owned by Rover, Park Ward continued to build the bodywork right up to the end when Rover ended up in the British Leyland Motor Corporation – which is where Pressed Steel also went.
Ward had insisted his son, also called Charles, to join the company and not be the doctor he wanted. Whilst learning the art of coachbuilding, the younger Charles rebodied a 1936 MG TA which became known as the “Symphony” and was redeveloped several times over the years. This car is now in the Netherlands having been restored.
Another famous one-off was the Bugatti Royale built for Captain Foster, whom reports say was the heir to the Bird’s “custard” fortune. Sadly he wasn’t – he was the son of a Church of England priest and his mother was an American heiress – to the Jordan Marsh department stores (now Macy’s). His money clearly came from New England as opposed to the Old Country. Foster’s Bugatti apparently had a Rolls-Royce emblem on the front and has been described as austere compared to other Bugatti. This car is now in the Schlumpf museum in France.
I read somewhere that all up there were over 4,000 Rolls-Royce and Bentley cars built by Park Ward – I couldn’t establish if that included Mulliner Park Ward as well.
William Park died in 1952 however I have not been able to find any information on Charles Ward at all! If I do, I’ll update this article.