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Henrik Fisker Was A Coachbuilder Before He Started His Own Car Company

Image: Fisker
Image: Fisker

By all other accounts, Henrik Fisker has been pretty successful. He had a hand in designing some of the most iconic cars ever made, like the original BMW X5 and Z8, Aston Martin DB9, and Vantage. However, after years in the auto design business, Fisker decided to leave to pursue making cars. Since then he’s had two unsuccessful attempts — and a third currently on the ropes — at trying automaking. His first try didn’t take much effort.

After leaving BMW, Fisker became design director of Ford-owned Aston Martin in 2001. There, he was put in charge of the design of the DB9 and was the sole designer of the V8 Vantage. Right before he left Ford, Fisker had become head of the brand’s Southern California-based Global Advanced Design Studio.

But around 2005, he wanted more. Fisker partnered with a man named Bernhard Koehler (who has also served in various automotive roles at BMW and Ford) and founded Fisker Coachbuild. The goal? To shortcut the whole automotive design and build process of making custom sports cars. According to a Wired story from 2007, doing so would avoid “enduring the indignities of focus groups, marketing data, and concept-to-production compromises.” Simply put, they wanted to make cars, without having to make cars. That’s how Fisker described his coachbuilding to Motor Trend in 2005:

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In the auto world today, You have two types of design. There’s concept design, where automakers build cars to show the industry and journalists how great they are. Then there’s the production design, where that cool milled-aluminum center console from the concept car becomes spray-painted plastic. I wanted to build a car where some of these concept things actually made it into production. We don’t have marketing data here. If we feel a car is right, we just do it.

Image: Fisker
Image: Fisker

Fisker Coachbuild ended up with two models based on existing sports cars made with premium materials and exclusive design work by Fisker himself. The first was the Tramonto, which was based on the R230 Mercedes-Benz SL. The process of turning an SL into a Tramonto was pretty straightforward. Customers could choose whether they wanted their Tramonto to be based on an SL55 AMG or the monster SL65 AMG. Once that and any other Mercedes options were chosen, customers could let Fisker know through their Mercedes dealer or Fisker’s site that they had chosen their SL, and Fisker would arrange for the car to be taken from the dealer to its Southern California facility. Then the conversion from SL to Tramonto would take place over two months.