By on October 30, 2010

Where have all the old hearses gone? There was a time when these body haulers were a common alternative to the VW bus (conveniently displayed in the back) if you wanted to hit the road as a group, or just collect a group as you rolled along. Plenty of stretch-out room, and gas was cheap. Throw some mattresses in the back, and scrounge some cans of left-over paint to redecorate the outside. Go somewhere, do something. Riding around in a hearse was a perfect way to express one’s youthful immortality. Have kids stopped being immortal?

I googled endlessly to find one with a a nice psychedelic paint job, but this ’55 is the best I could do. But the vintage is about right; our CC 1970 hearse was still in front line duty back then. But Caddy hearses and ambulances from the early fifties were common and cheap back then, since funeral operators couldn’t be seen driving such outdated iron, thanks to Detroit’s rapid styling changes. Nowadays, I see hearses twenty years old sitting under the carport of the funeral home, waiting patiently for the next revenue run.

The business end of a hearse is always the rear door, even if it is a handsome vintage Caddy. The big question is always what’s inside, especially if you were hitchhiking, and one pulled over. Would it be this?

Depends on your luck. More likely a band, all jammed in with their amps. I do remember a mixed-gender ride in one somewhere near Medocino which led to a chilly overnight camp-out on the beach, but the details are a bit fuzzy right now.

Thanks to the magic of google, I did stumble on a site devoted to the cult of the hearse, but with a more current flavor than the hippie-flavored hearse culture of yore. Times change; tastes change.

No Caddy hearse/ambulance piece would be complete without the above picture of a rather famous ’59 .

And since we’ve taken that detour, let’s go ahead and add in another stellar ’59, like this wild one.

And the “Cathedral”, complete with VW body as part of the upper structure.

Enough temporal distractions; let’s not ignore this handsome 1970 Cadillac which supplied the basis for this hearse. I wasted so much time trying to find an image of a proper psychedelic hippie-hearse, that I haven’t tried to identify the maker of this particular hearse body. There used to be quite a few of them, but it’s dwindled down, over the decades. Do they throw a funeral parade when a hearse maker shuts down?

There’s plenty of power under this hood in case someone wanted a high-speed funeral parade. The 472 CID (7.7 L) mill churned out 375 hp, a high water mark for hearses , perhaps. I do wonder if some of the hearses built with Caddy’s 140 hp 4.1 L engine in the eighties struggled a bit.

The funeral business is intrinsically a traditional one, or at least slow to change. Hearse styling cues have forever aped the old horse-drawn hearses of yore, although that textured bright work is a distinctly contemporary seventies touch.

Actually, the funeral business is going through changes too, and natural burial sites are a hot thing here now. And how best to get you there than this bike hearse. Where is this service located? In Eugene, of course. Now I know why I’m not seeing as many old hearses around.

I’d be quite happy to roll out to a natural burial site in a meadow, encased in a quickly-decaying basket or cardboard box. But I think I’d feel bad about someone trying to pedal me out that far; all that huffing and puffing. I’ll take this fine old Caddy, preferably with some nice low-restriction mufflers or glass-packs on that high-compression 472. Got to have some music to go out with.

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43 Comments on “Corpseside Classic: 1970 Cadillac Hearse...”


  • avatar
    twotone

    No appreciation for “Harold and Maude” either. I still want a Jaguar hearse.

    Twotone

  • avatar
    Libertyman03

    I really can’t believe you didn’t include a shot of this:
    http://www.rightbrainresource.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/2419574293_5d609d034d.jpg
    And I thought you, Paul, of all people, would love this too:
    http://media.ebaumsworld.com/picture/riched/100_0723.jpg
    Great article, as usual.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Used to dream about restoring one of these bad boys and trying to install a second row of seats.  But now I’m with a lady who is perfect except she thinks this  http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/00/1970_Buick_Estate_Wagon.jpg looks too much like a hearse.

    Oh, BTW I can’t help but wonder if the dude who took the pick of the “hippie chick” (I use the term loosely) then set the camera down, ran and pounced on her, in a Tigger worthy fashion. (Yes I did just use an A. A. Milne character in a suggestive sentence.)

    • 0 avatar
      thebeelzebubtrigger

      That ’70 Buick wagon is gorgeous!
      Love those hearses, too. My step-dad managed a custom bike shop in the ’70s, and there were several hearses among the biker clubs and their extended “families”. I always admired them greatly, especially a particular black 1962 Caddy hearse we used to see semi-daily.

  • avatar
    Syke

    Try Castle Blood in Beallsville, PA; just a few miles east of Washington, PA on US40.  Ricky and Karen Dick (the owners) have at least two of them, although current running condition is not known.  The two of them are incredible costumers and absolutely abysmal car mechanics.

  • avatar
    Steinweg

    I used to think an old Cadillac hearse was the bomb, but the social stigma is so great even I, a committed misanthrope, could not endure it. Then I realized, the ambulance, of course! Get ride of the vinyl roof and the chrome landau brace and what have you got? The ambulance version of the commercial chassis, which with its enormous glass area is far less creepy. You give up a little stately elegance but you gain social acceptance.

  • avatar
    mdensch

    You ask “where have all the old hearses gone?”  I saw at least a couple of them at every old car show I went to in southern Wisconsin this summer.  And it seemed that the smaller the car show, the more old hearses that showed up.

  • avatar

    For a while I thought an old Caddy ambulance would work well for transporting my wife’s craft show furniture and merchandise, but I discarded that idea when I found out that nearly all these rigs have fixed driver’s seats with the room in the back maximized and not enough legroom for 6′ 2″ drivers.

  • avatar
    Garak

    When my grandfather died a couple of years ago, the hearse was a 1980s Caprice Classic wagon with dented chrome bumpers and a rumbling V8. It felt a bit out of place in a quiet rural Finnish town.

  • avatar
    Jerry Sutherland

    Here’s a 31 Buick hearse that’s not quite factory correct.The owner is having the “time of his life” driving the spooky old beast.
    http://www.mystarcollectorcar.com/2-features/stories/266-scary-rides-1931-buick-hearse-a-tribute-to-the-real-heroes.html

  • avatar

    I do wonder if some of the hearses built with Caddy’s 140 hp 4.1 L engine in the eighties struggled a bit.
    That’s a rather optimistic assessment of the HT4100, as it only had 125hp.
    Unless you’re talking about the 4.1L V6 engine found in the big Caddies between 1980 and 1982.  No idea how much power those made, although it probably wasn’t much.
    The later Broughams flipped-flopped between the 5.0L Olds V8 (140hp), 5.0L Chevy V8 (150hp) and 5.7L V8 (170hp).

    • 0 avatar
      npbheights

      My parents had a 1981 Cadillac Sedan de Ville with the V6 4.1  It was very underpowered, but considering the other engine options offered that year, probably the best choice.  Always wanted to drop a nice 350 in it.

      Back in the late 1990′s I remember a Cadillac Eldorado ad that said something like “Cadillac Eldorado – Always two doors, Always a V8. I remember thinking “What about the 1957 Eldorado Brougham 4 Door… What about the V6 Eldorado in the early 80′s!!! Back then there was no ttac to talk about that though.

    • 0 avatar
      Roberto Esponja

      I may be mistaken, but I think GM never actually used the 4.1 on chassises built specifically for hearse and livery car duty conversion.  I think they kept offering the 400 c.i. engine for those purposes.

  • avatar

    John, how do you only pull 170 horses out of 5.7 liters of displacement? The current Tundra pulls about 400? out of 5.7. So how did GM get only 170?

    • 0 avatar
      rpn453

      At that time, nobody had figured out how to meet emissions regulations while also making decent power.  Toyota’s pickup of the same time period made 96 hp out of its 2.4L engine, and that was probably overrated.

    • 0 avatar
      PeriSoft

      Hell, even in the early ’90s there are some magazine articles talking about Ford’s ‘high output’ V8 making 180hp. It’s easy to forget that 200hp was a lot of power not too long ago. In 1985 8-second 0-60 times were getting into pretty high end sports sedan territory; these days it won’t even get you a raised eyebrow in a base model minivan…

  • avatar

    A hearse is a fitting image for GM today.

  • avatar
    skor

    Where did all the old hearses go?  They’re all doing service as tour cars now.  Check out this beautiful 1960 Caddy at Dead Apple Tours:
     
    http://www.deadappletours.com/hearse/

  • avatar

    Hippies might prefer this one:
    http://www.google.de/imgres?imgurl=http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a4/VW_T2_Leichenwagen.jpg&imgrefurl=http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:VW_T2_Leichenwagen.jpg&usg=__k0dV9mY7bONbt-X8lTfurk0-G_M=&h=1086&w=1651&sz=429&hl=de&start=11&zoom=1&um=1&itbs=1&tbnid=zX2XXGCXpDifjM:&tbnh=99&tbnw=150&prev=/images%3Fq%3DLeichenwagen%26um%3D1%26hl%3Dde%26sa%3DN%26tbs%3Disch:1
     

  • avatar

    1974 picked up at the then new Tampa International by my cousin and a friend in a look-alike of the OP. Then, on to the Frankenstein bridge.

  • avatar

    My all-time favorite still s the E-Tye hearse from “Harold & Maud”: http://i.auto-bild.de/ir_img/72545202_c048fa780c.jpg

  • avatar
    Patrickj

    My guess is that the reason that old hearses aren’t roaming America’s streets as funky cargo haulers is twofold:
    1.  Given the stable styling of Cadillacs and Town Cars, a 20 year old hearse looks pretty much like a new one and can stay in service.
    2.  If it gets too disreputable looking, it can be sold into a poor country much more easily than in the past with the Internet and immigrants from most everywhere with instant communications back to their home countries.

  • avatar

    Got Corpse? Too funny.
    Neil Young used a hearse (a 47 Buick I believe) called Mort (get it?) when touring around Ontario and he used it in his move to California in 1966.
    It’s the same car that Steven Stills noticed in a LA traffic jam, and the rest they say is Rock and Roll history. It’s also immortalized in the song “Long may you run”
    Many years ago a friend of a friend showed off a 56 Lincoln hearse he claimed to buy for $1500 from a rural Saskatchewan funeral home. That car was mint and it still had the rollers in the back for loading the coffin. No idea what he did with it though.
     

  • avatar
    Dimwit

    Ha! I was only off by a couple of years.

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    I worked at a Funeral home part time in college - my best friend’s mother owned the place. This was in the late ’80s. They had a Cadillac hearse that was around that vintage, though it was a nice shade of silver. It had been retired to second car status, they had a much newer Cadillac that actually went to the cemetary. But when doing removals my friend and I would always take the old beast. That monster V8 would lay rubber like nobodies business! It was pretty short-geared, so acceleration was rapid, to say the least.  Some less than dignified shenanigans happened on various backroads around town. Unladen, it had a surprisingly firm suspension and handled OK for something roughly the size of an aircraft carrier. The steering had absolutely NO feel though, and the brakes were hopeless too.

    I also recall that the thing had the FASTEST power windows known to man, and no safety limiter built into them at all – I sliced off a raw carrot with one like it was nothing. Would NOT have wanted to have a limb in the way!

    • 0 avatar
      CynicCritic

      I also recall that the thing had the FASTEST power windows known to man, and no safety limiter built into them at all – I sliced off a raw carrot with one like it was nothing. Would NOT have wanted to have a limb in the way!

      Any lost appendages can be tossed in the back cargo area.

  • avatar
    bill h.

    While in high school in the 70s, a friend would bring home interesting used cars from his dad’s Dodge dealership used car lot.  One time it was a ’67 Caddy hearse, all-white with a little Western style cemetery scene painted on the side panels, along with the moniker “The Boot Hill Special”.  So that Saturday night cruising in said hearse with a third friend, we decided to spook out passing motorists by pulling over to the side of a dark neighborhood street, and leaving the back door wide open.  Third friend would lay on the road behind the hearse, and whenever a car’s lights showed up, we would make out like our “body” had rolled out of the back of the hearse and we were trying to lift him (stiff as a board of course) back into the rear door.  Needless to say, a slightly dangerous but awfully fun way to generate some amusement for passing cars–I don’t think for a minute we actually fooled anyone into thinking we were stuffing a corpse back into the Boot Hill Special.

  • avatar
    supremebrougham

    Take the time to read this and watch the video. I so wish I knew this kid. I’ve visited his grave a few times…
     
    http://www.bside.com/films/theboywholovedhearses

  • avatar
    donkensler

    What a coincidence – one of my partner’s nephews just bought an 80′s Caddy hearse.  Family opinion was about evenly divided between “oh cool” and “eww gross”.  I’m in the former camp, just because of the outrageousness of it all.
    The nephew’s older brother bought a ’72 Z-28 – much more my taste.  Callifornia car, so has good bodywork – just needs some engine work to be back to fighting trim.  It was refreshing on Friday night to look into an engine compartment and not only see an engine, but also space around the engine.

  • avatar
    redmondjp

    Wow!  This post is right down my alley, as I owned and drove a 1969 Miller-Meteor 42″ (rear headroom) combination (ambulance/hearse) from 1985 to 1995 (in other words, before it became cool).  I drove it during college, took it from Indiana to WA, and then from there down to CA and the southwest on a couple of road trips.  Lost a rear axle bearing (45 miles) south of (nowhere) Ely, NV on the way back on the second road trip, on Memorial Day Weekend.  I could write a book about that trip! 

    Back in the early 1990s I even traced its history starting out at it’s manufacturing plant in Piqua, Ohio, to the small town of Colfax, IN where it was the ambulance/hearse for many years, and then went on to another couple of owners before I got it in Kokomo, IN.  Now they have annual meetings of Miller-Meteor owners in Piqua, but I did it first!

    I can answer the question of what happened to all of the old hearses.  Answer:  there never were that many!  For decades, Cadillac churned out +/- 3000 commercial chassis annually, which were split up amongst all of the various bodybuilders to make hearses, ambulances, limousines, and flower cars.  So any given model year, there may have been 1400-1600 hearses built.  There are some great books on hearses, written by Thomas A McPherson, check them out at Amazon.com.

    And one of the other commenters nailed it – these cars had LONG service lives.  When my grandparents died back in the early 1990s, they were carried to the graveyard in their small rural town in a 1966 Cadillac hearse that had I think 35K original miles on it (I just had to know) and was still the primary car for the funeral home. 

    I’d submit pictures of mine, but they are all pre-digital and in storage at the moment.

    • 0 avatar
      econobiker

      “For decades, Cadillac churned out +/- 3000 commercial chassis annually, which were split up amongst all of the various bodybuilders to make hearses, ambulances, limousines, and flower cars.”
      The ambulance trade would have dried up when the safety/transport specs required van and truck based vehicles.  And yes on the long service life for hearses.  I always liked non-Caddy hearses like the few Buick, Oldsmobile, and Ford Country Squire/Crown Vic ones probably based on station wagon chassis…

    • 0 avatar
      SaveFFTF

      That trip through Ely, etc. sounds like quite an adventure.  Who would have guessed a recent engineering graduate would have thought it was a good idea to take off around most of the western U.S. in that ride vs. an unlimited mileage rental?  But, it certainly attracts more (ghostbusters) attention and has the option to sleep in the back when you do something silly like not making reservations and look to find a hotel room in Reno the weekend the pro bowler’s tour is in town.  In hindsight, the considered plan to stay off the main highways made it all the more magical.  But, someone who daily drives a vintage Caddy ambulance could never be called mainstream.

  • avatar
    armadamaster

    I am currently looking for a hearse after letting one slip through my fingers a year ago to replace my Home Depot truck, 1991-1996 B-body hearse is on the shopping list, and the neighbors will love me for it.

  • avatar
    jjklongisland

    This website is dedicated to those who love Hearses amongst other unique rides.  They even host THE GREAT AMERICAN FUNERAL MEET.
     
    http://www.professionalcar.org/

  • avatar
    fastback

    Awesome!

    http://www.professionalcar.org/forums/index.php?/gallery/image/373-greene3/

  • avatar
    FWTyler

    First off I’d like too thank Paul for totally hacking this article, it is full of misinformation. This is what happens when when people get lazy and start basing their articles on internet information instead of personal knowledge and information.

    Talk to any “hearse owner” and one of the first things you’ll learn is that the correct term is funeral coach, not hearse. Hearse’s were horse drawn,funeral coaches are powered by mechanical means.

    Also, if Paul had done a little research he would difference between manufacturers, it’s in the roof lines. Thus, learning that this coach built by Superior.

    Also, the 1970 Superior Funeral Coach came with the 500cid engine, not the 472cid as stated by Paul. Although displacement was increased, this engine had less horse power than the 472.

    The internet can be a wonderful tool,please learn to check more than one source when looking for information!

    And lastly I’d like to thank Paul and The Truth About Cars, thank you for using my car (the 1970 Superior Funeral Coach pictured in the article) and 6 of my photos, without asking my permission or even giving me credit for my photos.

    FWTyler
    Eugene,Oregon


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