Hampton Coach Sells Stitches from the Past

Business New Hampshire

October 1989

PATCHES OF THE PAST: Jim and Pat Roll have assembled a library of old patterns and authentic materials to recreate the interiors of vintage Chevrolets and Buicks.

Jim and Pat Roll of Hampton Coach have the market for interiors of vintage Chevrolet and Buick cars virtually sewed up.

With more than 200 patterns for interior upholstery for cars dating from 1916 to 1954, Hampton Coach can help vintage car buffs reproduce the look and feel of these antique cars that have become collector's items. An entire interior kit runs from $1,300 for some four-door models to $3,000 for a convertible with leather upholstery.

Hampton Coach was started in 1976 by an old-car enthusiast and acquired by the Rolls in 1987. Working in a Hampton mill building, its 20 employees assemble and stitch the seat covers and side panels that are ready for installation. As the only production shop in the world specializing in old Chevrolet and Buicks, the company has customers from as far away as New Zealand.

Hampton Coach receives around 5,000 queries a year for 1930s Chevrolet models that account for 40 percent of the business, but there's increasing interest in cars from the 1940s and 1950s. Roll recently obtained the pattern for the first Buick Skylark, a 1953 limited-edition convertible.

The company doesn't provide upholstery kits for cars built after 1954 when plastic materials came into widespread use. But Roll sees plenty of future growth in other early General Motors models.

"When we introduce a new Buick model, we've got orders for it right away," he says. "There's a pent-up demand. And I'm sure there's also a pent-up demand for Pontiac, Oldsmobile and Cadillac."

Roll says that the toughest task is finding materials. Demand for materials that were common 50 years ago tends to be low, and products that Hampton Coach relies on are in constant danger of being discontinued. Roll had to find a supplier in England for mohair, which was used for interior upholstery in the 1930s.

The company takes about four months to fill an order, because it doesn't keep a big inventory of materials and doesn't make anything without a commitment from a customer.

Even though its production tehniques are outdated, Hampton Coach makes use of computerized customer lists for marketing. Potential customers are offered a free rear carpet worth $90 if they place an order within 90 days, and a follow-up mailing reminds them not to miss out on that opportunity.

After 27 years in the corporate world including a stint in New York City, running Hampton Coach has been like coming home for Roll. While growing up in Iowa he helped out at his father's service station, and now he's glad to be working on the cars of his youth again.

Big bucks for vintage autos

Buying and selling vintage automobiles has become big business. A recent auction held in Bartlett netted almost $5 million, as 61 old cars sold for average prices of close to $80,000.

About 200 people paid $100 apiece just for the opportunity to bid on the rare vehicles, including 36 from the Grand Manor Antique and Classic Car Museum. A 1935 Duesenberg went for $395,000 and a 1930 Packard Boat-Tail Speedster sold for $380,000.