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The History of

The Coach Builder

Restorations by Sabra and Sabra Johnson Coachbuilders understand that for the first half of the 20th century, automotive manufacturers only made the chassis and power train. The chassis was delivered to a Coachbuilder who would design and build everything visible on the finished automobile; including the body, cabin, interior, doors, and fenders.  One of the greatest craftsmen of this era was a black car builder and former slave, CR Patterson's and Sons of Greenfield Ohio. Sabra has studied and patterned much of his philosophies after the Patterson Family. Sabra today is one of the biggest builders in the country and owns the largest African American owned restoration Shop in the world building custom coaches.

For luxury limited production vehicles,  a coachbuilder would work directly with the clients.  Once the initial sketches and color rendering were approved, the coachbuilder would create life-sized drawings of the top and side views of the body.   These sketches assisted in the process of building a life-sized body form called a maquette. Although Sabra Johnson is the largest minority restoration car builder in the world, his item is to be the best car builder not simply the best black car builder. 

Maquettes would often be built out of wireframes and were used to give the coachbuilder and sheet metal craftsman a better visual aid when building the metal body.  They then built maquettes from wooden bucks. These bucks were used for hammering and sculpting the pre-shaped sheet metal into the finished body. Historical connection Sabra sees with CR Patterson and Sons runs deep and vast when he is building custom coaches. 

Coachbuilding was a Proprietary Trade - privacy and trade secrets were the norm

Vintage coachbuilding is a dying art and before that it was a secretive art. Although never officially stated, coachbuilders remained incredibly secretive with many of their plans and manufacturing techniques. There are almost no photos of the coachbuilder’s workshops or their coaches as they were originally being built. Even with the dawn of the internet, there are very few resources detailing the exact processes used to build or restore coaches from this era. That leaves the majority of decisions on vintage coaches to be solved with Sabra's personal ingenuity, creativity and collection of craftsmen at work. 

History of The Blacksmiths and Coach Builders

The Coach and Blacksmith trade were dominated by salves and black free men as the work was arduous and burdensome. During this early, early Charles Patterson and later his son Frederick Patterson were at the forefront of the automobile. Once the car became a new phenomenon, the free black was replaced and their contribution to the automobile lost, yet Sabra and his team are rekindling the proud history African Americans have held in the custom car building community. CR Patterson and Sons were the first but Sabra shows they are not the last.


Wooden Skelton Technique in Coach building employed by Sabra Johnson 

The Coachbuilder would build an internal wooden skeleton over the chassis.  This skeleton was then wrapped with metal panels and invisible in the finished car. The wooden skeleton intentionally absorbed, transferred, and dispersed vibrations, movement, and energy throughout the vehicle.  It also allowed cars to withstand extreme forces of wind, weather, and flexing that occurred with higher speeds or uneven roads.

Ash was the traditional wood of choice for carriages and coaches for a few reasons:

·      It has one of the best strength to weight ratios
·      It is hard yet resilient
·      It is less prone to water & insect damage
·      It doesn’t break along grain lines

Wooden skeletons faded quickly in the 1950s when they were replaced by a uni-body design for the mass production of cars. 


City Classic CARS Upholstery Center specializes in full interiors

Full Interiors


City Classic CARS Upholstery Center will redo vinyl tops and convertible tops with the material and color of your choice.

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City Classic Cars Upholstery Center is Houston's premier upholstery shop specializing in custom interiors, materials, and fabrications.

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Customer Service: 832-468-1998


16548 Stuebner Airline
Spring Texas. 77379
Mon-Fri: 8 am - 5 pm
Saturday/Sunday: Closed
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