Coach Builders - Mulliner Park Ward
There is an interesting history behind the coachbuilders H.J. Mulliner and Park Ward, both of whom were acquired by Rolls-Royce; Park Ward shortly before WWII and H.J. Mulliner towards the end of the fifties. Both were finally to be merged into one company H.J. Mulliner, Park Ward in 1961; after some time had passed the simpler term Mulliner Park Ward became used; in the end the rubber mats to protect the carpets only showed the pressed-in letters "MPW".
A workforce of some 750 employees built special coachwork at a factory in London`s Hythe Road. This was fitted to the last models which were produced by Rolls-Royce as running chassis. Until 1968 it was the Rolls-Royce Phantom V, which was succeeded by the Rolls-Royce Phantom VI whose last specimen was to be finished towards the end of 1991 and delivered in 1992. In addition convertibles were built retaining the basic lines of the Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud II and Silver Cloud III and the sister models Bentley S2 and S3 (carrying on designs which H.J. Mulliner had developed). Similarly the bodies for the versions with long wheelbase came from the London based factory. Coachbuilding in the true sense of the word, i.e. the complete new design of a coachwork to a special design, had not died. The production figure however for Bentley S2 Continental and Bentley S3 Continental for example was a very low one indeed. One factor was that the cost of labor had become so expensive, that it acted as a barrier even for wealthy customers. On the other hand showed the standard coachwork by the factory such an outstanding quality, that even an imaginative purchaser should feel satisfied. For the Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud III there even was a chance to order those bodies of sportive styling which up to now had been exclusive for the fast Bentley S Continental. This was the last model before the debut of the Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow, whose monocoque chassis made alterations to the coachwork almost prohibitively expensive. Production of complete chassis-series of the Silver Cloud III ran on for several months even after the new models debut and received special coachwork by Park Ward. This was said to allow for orders from those clients, who preferred the well-tested previous model but indeed was a little subterfuge, as deliveries of the new Silver Shadow didn't commence prior to 1966.
More than one year went by after Rolls-Royce had launched the Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow before Mulliner Park Ward showed the first two door saloon of this type. A second year passed before a convertible became available. Initially these versions were offered as the two door additions to the basic model. In 1971 they increased their reputation when minimal technical up-dating led to their re-naming as "Corniche". The name Corniche had reflected a characteristic of the Cote d`Azur - the marvelous coast roads of the French Riviera - and the name "Camargue" could be traced to an area in the South of France as well. A two door saloon designed by Pininfarina was christened such - and it has become common to talk of a coupé, which in fact it was despite the company having decided to use the term two door saloon. Its running gear and floorpan were identical to the Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow. Production of the Rolls-Royce Camargue (only one Bentley Camargue has been built) was transferred to the Crewe factory after 178 examples had been finished at Mulliner Park Ward. The way the work had been split previously could not be commented upon as complying favorably with any economic rules: the body was built in London and then loaded onto truck to be transported over a considerable distance to the Crewe factory. After the running gear had been fitted there, the half-finished car went back to London for further work to be done there. Rolls-Royce Corniche and Bentley Corniche - the latter had been re-named Bentley Continental from 1982 onward - were still produced in this uneconomic procedure. Hence the exorbitant high price for the drop head coupés was not only a result of the enormous amount of expensive manual work. To some degree it depended on a production procedure, which neglected basic economic experience. Top-level standard could be ensured only by a high class workforce which inevitably is a major cost factor. The factory at Hythe Road was closed in 1991. Body-shells for the cabriolets Rolls-Royce Corniche III and Bentley Continental were sent during the following years from the MPW plant near Acton directly to Crewe where all the finishing work was done. There were no more Rolls-Royce Phantom VI motor cars after the very last one was delivered in 1992.
It was a drastic loss when the closure of Mulliner Park Ward was announced, even if the name remained to be used in future. Closing down one of the last factories where considerable number of craftsmen had been employed who shared an unrepeatable knowledge of traditional skills also meant that an era ended which had coined the impression of motorized transport for decades. Mulliner Park Ward lives on more in line with present market conditions as Rolls-Royce's coachbuilding division. And a bright future might be expected, because more than half of the customers ordering a new car, decide to add special features offered by Mulliner Park Ward or commission special work to be carried out to their car -making it a one-off. A great many still consider Mulliner Park Ward to be the most noble division of Rolls-Royce.