A-list coachbuilders are known for quality of construction as well as design details that culminate in a distinguished "look". At the top of that list is New York City's Rollston, Inc. Relatively few Rollston bodies were built, yet their special character continues to make them well known.
One of the firm's secrets was revealed in a 1985 interview with competitor Hermann Brunn, Jr. Describing the 1930s coachbuilding industry, he recalled, "They had the best trimmer (i.e., interior finishing) in the business." That trimmer, with the aid of beneficient circumstance, boosted the elite status of Rollston bodies to include names like Duesenberg, Packard and Stutz, among others.
Rollston was one of the newer automotive coachbuilders. The firm began after World War I as a body repair shop at 244 W. 49th St. in Manhattan. It soon expanded into coachbuilding. New Yorker Harry Lonschein and his partner Sam Blotkin were admirers of the Rolls-Royce car and wanted the name of their business to honor it, say, as a "son of Rolls". Why the letter "t" was added to the new name is not known, though Rollston was a somewhat familiar surname seen at the time. The new company's focus on carriage trade automobiles, and the fact that cars were sold there, must have made it an interesting place to visit.
Changing Rollston's primary business to coachbuilding came from work for the New York distributors for Packard and Minerva. There were often several similar designs built, but never the quantity series-custom, the 25, 50 or 100 identical bodies of the same style, that was the coachbuilding standard of the 1920s and 1930s luxury car business. The emphasis was on the one-of-a-kind body.
The new firm progressed quickly. During Closed Car Week, in mid-October 1925, held along Manhattan's Automobile Row (where Broadway approaches Columbus Circle), Packard's Manhattan dealer added a special exhibition of custom-made bodies several blocks east of the show in the Rose Room of the Plaza Hotel. Among them was a handsome Rollston-bodied cabriolet, fitted with disc wheels and whitewall tires.
A young Rudolph Creteur graduated from New York City's Stuyvesant High School three years before joining Rollston in July 1927. Design was an inherited interest; his mother was a dress designer. Creteur had been working at a large New York City coachbuilder, Locke & Co. Locke training included the Andrew Johnson correspondence school (on his own, Creteur studied design at Cooper Union at night). Johnson's lessons emphasized that many boat-building techniques were applicable to car bodies, such as making complete body drafts before building a hull or body. Another example was in the procedure of building out the hulls of ships with ribs. There, Creteur learned the ability to make a completely smooth curve in a convertible top.
(source: Auto Quarterly)
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