Van den Plas - Willy van den Plas - Vanden Plas
Van den Plas originated in Belgium in 1870 as 'Van den Plas'. The name derives from the Dutch.
The workshops of Van den Plas started in 1870 making wheels, followed by axle units for carriages. In 1884 the business moved from Brussels to Antwerp where horse drawn carriages were produced, and with the increase in business another branch was opened in Brussels again in 1890. Work was exhibited at the World trade fairs. Carrosserie Van den Plas was formed in 1898 by Guillaume van den Plas and his three sons, Antoine, Henri and Willy. In 1900 having gained the highest award ever by a Belgium coachbuilder, work flowed in from De Dion Bouton, Berliet, Germain, Packard and others.
By 1908, Van den Plas had a workforce of 400 men producing 300 special bodies a year and this soon increased to over 750. In 1913 'The Times' stated that 'Van den Plas bodied cars had an air of distinction lacking in many of the products around them'.
Willy van den Plas, the youngest son of Guillaume, went to Paris in 1924 to serve as an agent for the paternal enterprise. Coachbuilding Company Willy van den Plas existed from 1924 to 1934.
The Belgian company Van den Plas first appeared in the United Kingdom in 1906 when Métallurgique cars were imported with Van den Plas coachwork. In about 1910 Warwick Wright, a British motor company, purchased the United Kingdom rights to the Van den Plas name and established Vanden Plas Ltd. Van den Plas Belgium and Vanden Plas UK co-existed for many years.
During World War I Vanden Plas became involved in aircraft production and was bought by the Aircraft Manufacturing Company based at Hendon, London. The company seems to have struggled to get back into coachbuilding and in 1922 went into receivership. The exclusive UK rights purchase seems also to have gone as in the early 1920s the Belgian firm was exhibiting at the London Motor Show alongside the British company.
The rights to the Vanden Plas name and the goodwill were purchased by the Fox brothers who moved the company from Hendon to Kingsbury and built on the contacts with Bentley that had been made. Between 1924 and 1931, when Bentley failed, Vanden Plas built the bodies for over 700 of their chassis.
In the 1930s the company became less dependant on one car maker and supplied coachwork to such as Alvis, Armstrong-Siddeley, Bentley, Daimler, Lagonda and Rolls-Royce.
The company also updated its production methods and took to making small batches of similar bodies.
With the outbreak of war in 1939 the company went back into aircraft work and coachbuilding stopped. With peace in 1945 the company looked to restart its old business, but a surprising new customer came along. Austin wanted to produce a luxury car and approached Vanden Plas.
In 1946 Vanden Plas became a subsidiary of the Austin Motor Company and produced its A135 Princess model. From 1958 this also started to involve chassis assembly and the Austin (by now British Motor Corporation or BMC) board recognised Vanden Plas as a motor manufacturer in its own right and in 1960 the Austin Princess became the Vanden Plas Princess.
Following the demise of the BMC Conglomerate, which at one point encompassed over 40 British marques, the Vanden Plas name was acquired by Jaguar Cars. The North American rights to the name were also sold on and reside with the Jaguar division of Ford. Introduced by Jaguar cars in 1968 (Jaguar had acquired Daimler in 1960), the Daimler DS420 Limousine was a replacement for the aging Austin Princess.