Corpseside Classic: 1970 Cadillac Hearse

Paul Niedermeyer
by Paul Niedermeyer
corpseside classic 1970 cadillac hearse

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from the early fifties were common and cheap back then, since funeral operators couldn’t be seen driving such outdated iron, thanks to Detroit’s rapid styling changes.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.

More New Curbside Classics Here

Join the conversation
2 of 44 comments
  • FWTyler FWTyler on Feb 12, 2012

    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

  • Aaron Hudacky Aaron Hudacky on Oct 30, 2022


    If your 1970 commercial chassis has a 500, it was swapped. RWD Cadillacs, commercial chassis or otherwise, didn't have the 500 ci engine until 1975. In 1970, only the Eldorado had the 500, rated at 400 gross horsepower, vs. that year's 375 hp 472 in RWD Cadillacs. A 500 with lass hp than a stock 70 472 is a detuned 71 or later 500.

    I love the Superior roofline. I own a 70 Eldorado and would like to buy a 1970 Superior-bodied Cadillac hearse of any trim level, but that won't happen until I have a large enough garage to own one. I first saw one fresh out of service at it's original funeral home in 1989, and it made quite an impression.

  • MaintenanceCosts We need cheaper batteries. This is a difficult proposition at $50k base/$60k as tested but would be pretty compelling at $40k base/$50k as tested.
  • Scott ?Wonder what Toyota will be using when they enter the market?
  • Fred The bigger issue is what happens to the other systems as demand dwindles? Will thet convert or will they just just shut down?
  • Roger hopkins Why do they all have to be 4 door??? Why not a "cab & a half" and a bit longer box. This is just another station wagon of the 21st century. Maybe they should put fake woodgrain on the side lol...
  • Greg Add me to the list: 2017 Sorento EX AWD w/2.0 Turbo GDI 68K miles. Changed oil religiously with only synthetic. Checked oil level before a rare long road trip and Ievel was at least 2 quarts down. That was less than 6 months after the last oil change. I'm now adding a quart of oil every 1000 miles and checking every 500 miles because I read reports that the oil usage gets worse. Too bad, really like the 2023 Tuscon. But I have not seen Hyundai/Kia doing anything new in terms of engine development. Therefore, I have to suspect that I will ony become a victim of a fatally flawed engine development program if I were to a purchase another Kia/Hyundai.