1957 - 1966: A family name becomes a brand
On 15/02/1957 Van Hool signed a commercial agreement with Fiat. Van Hool would incorporate Fiat engines and other mechanical components (gearboxes, axles, steering) in its vehicles. It developed from a coachbuilder to a Belgian manufacturer of integral buses and coaches, known as Van Hool-Fiat.,Alongside these activities the company continued as a renowned coachbuilder, enabling further expansion. The cooperation agreement with Fiat was terminated in 1981. The Van Hool-Fiat co-operation immediately was a great success: already in August 1958 the 100th Van Hool-Fiat was delivered, and by July 1961 the figure had exceeded 500.
Fiat was so satisfied with the commercial success of Van Hool’s approach that it offered the exclusive distribution of Fiat trucks in Belgium and Luxembourg.
In this year this ancillary sales activity was allocated to an affiliated company, Catrabel NV. Some years later, in 1965, this would lead to the manufacturing of industrial vehicles. First remarkable order for integral buses (“Nederlandse Spoorwegen” (Dutch Rail), 53 buses). The Belgian government followed 1 year later. Van Hool was recognised as a manufacturer of complete vehicles. Many orders followed.
Completion of Van Hool’s 3,000th body. Being a coachbuilder, Van Hool obtained mostly large bodywork orders for export outside Europe. Van Hool was an ideal bodywork manufacturer, capable of taking on large and special projects thanks to its flexible attitude. During that year the creation of a separate after-sales department (founded in 1957) became necessary. It was given a new purpose-built garage complex, a parts warehouse and workshops for the overhaul of engines, transmissions and axles).
Chrome and panel straps disappeared. In came smooth stretched side panelling with flawless painting. A long service life and limited maintenance costs were highly appreciated. The regular awards at Concours d’Elégance were further confirmation of the appreciation for the new styling trend of Van Hool vehicles. Introduction of fibreglass.
Large fire in the new factory wing (seat manufacturing and electrical equipment workshops were hit particularly hard).
In order to compensate for the loss in bus production, the management decided to start manufacturing industrial vehicles such as tankers and semi-trailers. One year later, 286 industrial vehicles had been delivered. The first coaches for the United Kingdom were built on a British chassis.,Van Hool had to deal with a number of competitive handicaps mainly because of its fairly heavy totally steel welded structure. Initially there were difficulties to comply with a number of national regulations, such as a static stability test and lower permitted gross weights than in other European countries. Van Hool was awarded the “Coach of the year” title in the “Concours d’Elégance” of the British Coach Rally five times in following years.
The 2,000th Van Hool integral was delivered and by this time the company had 881 employees. The four youngest Van Hool sons (Marcel, Leon, Leopold and Herman) had gradually assumed positions in the company.,The delivery of 164 complete Van Hool-Fiat coaches, opened up the French market. The Van Hool 320, the 340 and the 340 Transligne, a double earner, were very popular with our southern neighbours. The first integral vehicles for the USA were built with GM components. They were used as shuttle service between the 3 New York airports.