Bernard Van Hool is the founder of one of the most successful Belgian companies, the coachbuilder Van Hool NV. Van Hool coaches, trucks and lorries can be seen driving on our roads all over the world today.
Bernard Van Hool was born in 1902 in Koningshooikt, a small village near Lier in Belgium. As a young boy, Bernard took a great interest in mechanics, construction and electrics. The mechanical maintenance, repair and design of machinery at the parental farm soon became his responsibility.
In 1928, Bernard married Bertha Van Asch. They had 10 children: 8 sons and 2 daughters. From a very young age, the Van Hool children were taught that you can achieve a lot more if you all work together and that diversity is a very important value. In this period Bernard Van Hool started a diamond cutting factory. Talk about the imminent crisis (that ultimately was to come in the thirties) made him look for another product because he believed luxury products would be the first to feel the negative effects of a shrinking market. He started a company in brooding machines.
World War II then broke out and the company was destroyed. Starting up the business again during the war would have been pointless. Bernard Van Hool found a new challenge in the transport sector: almost all rolling stock had been requisitioned by the occupying forces, and transport was badly needed. He managed to lay his hands on a number of lorries and, with the help of a mechanic, he managed to get them roadworthy again. He started up a modest road haulage company together with his youngest brother, Jozef.
After the war Bernard Van Hool continued his transport company but he did not consider transport as his final goal. His ambition was to build bridges and roads. He already had a lot of the necessary machinery and tools. The only thing that he was lacking, was a vehicle to transport his men to the works. He found an old bus in very bad state of repair and practically a whole new body had to be built. This would ultimately be the impetus to go in a completely new direction. He would build coach bodies and later on complete public vehicles. After all, there was an acute shortage of touring coaches.
The workshops were prepared for the building of coach bodies. The road haulage business was converted into a coach tour operating company. Their first vehicle, the rebuilt coach, was named “De Trekvogel” (Bird of Passage). Brother Jozef ran the business and Bernard became a bus builder and designed the first Perfecta Car.
In 1947, Bernard Van Hool founded the present “Van Hool NV” company at Koningshooikt, nearby the city of Lier, Belgium. At the start of the company, there were 22 employees and 6 family members (Bernard, brother-in-law Frans Van Bouwel and the 4 eldest sons Alfons, Jozef, Denis and Paul). The first coaches were a big success: they were all expertly executed individual creations, often inspired by contemporary designs of large American cars. From the inception, Van Hool’s goal was to establish its own identity and design. In 1954, Bernard Van Hool’s one-man business was converted into “Van Hool en Zonen pvba” (Van Hool and Sons Ltd.).
Serial production was gaining importance and there was a need for specific manufacturing machinery that was not available on the market. Bernard Van Hool decided to build them himself. In 1984, the delivery of 22 huge apron buses to Milan airport was a big breakthrough. Since then, Van Hool apron buses have been servicing dozens of airports all over the world.
In the same year, Van Hool’s 18 meter long, articulated “Jumbulance” was mentioned in the Guinness Book of Records. It was and still is the largest ambulance in the world, built for the British charity ACROSS.
Today, this family business holds a strong position on the Belgian and several other markets. It is placed firm second as manufacturer and coachwork builder for coaches in Great Britain. Thousands of vehicles are produced annually and the company employs more than 4,500 people. A high degree of standardisation in the product range, a well-considered industrial flexibility ánd the craftsmanship of its employees are the cornerstones of VAN HOOL's success.
In 1969, Bernard Van Hool entrusted the day-to-day management to his eight sons. He remained active as chairman. He died unexpectedly in 1974 at a building exhibition in Brussels where he was looking for information on the latest construction developments. His motto: “Building is my life. To keep on building is your task. The way is ahead.”