Napoleon’s Coronation Coach
In 1804, Napoleon Bonaparte became the Emperor of France and held an enormous coronation ceremony. An intricate royal coach decorated with gold was designed to carry Napoleon through the grounds. Its breathtakingly detailed and high-end design made it the aspiration for all elite coach manufacturers. The coach was later captured in the battle of Waterloo when Napoleon surrendered, and eventually put on display in the Piccadilly Museum in London where it is still housed today. This coach became a symbol of quality craftsmanship and its iconic status lasted for centuries…
Fred and Charles Fisher, with backing from their uncle, opened the Fisher Body Company in Detroit, Michigan in 1908. Charles Fisher, who had a background in carriage building, realized that automobile bodies needed to be styled differently than carriage bodies. He began designing closed sedan models that could better handle the stresses of rear wheel drive and withstand all weather conditions such as heavy rain and snow. This was at a time when the Ford Motor Company was dominating the automobile industry.
Also in 1908, Ford’s competitors came together and formed the General Motors Company with the intention of creating luxury vehicles to compete with Ford’s simple-styled Model T. General Motors bought 60 percent of the Fisher Body Company in 1919 and the other 40 percent by 1926. Fisher Body became an in-house automobile body building division of General Motors. Starting in the 1930’s the Fisher Body division placed an emblem on the doorsill’s step plate of their cars. The famous “Body by Fisher” logo was an image of the Napoleonic Coronation Coach.
In the 1930’s the Fisher Body Division within General Motors began a competition to scout for talented auto body designers. Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild was formed and a contest was implemented. The competition was open to youth, ages 14 to 19. First prize was a full scholarship and a guaranteed job with General Motors. The 1934 prize money was $80,000, an incredible sum of money for the time. The competition required entrants to build a ½ scale model of Napoleon’s Coronation Coach. The model of the Napoleonic Carriage was a difficult, time-consuming project. Intricate models took an average of a years’ time to slowly build and complete. This was a serious commitment.
The last competition took place in 1968. The winners of the Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild still come together for a reunion periodically and bring their winning models for display. The Past Antiques Marketplace at Nature’s Art Village has a vintage Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild competitor’s completed Napoleonic Carriage as well as many other automobile memorabilia for sale among its over 90 vendors. Visit The PAST Antiques on Route 85 in Montville, Connecticut to see our full selection of antiques and vintage collectibles.
Check back next week for a new Throwback Thursday post.