The Pros and Cons of Owning a Hearse
The fascination with death and the macabre is never-ending. Some people fear death and others embrace it. They say that you can’t take your mortal belongings to the grave when you die but these people will be taken to the grave with theirs.
These are people who buy and collect the somber, death car that cranks its own funeral march; the solemn and majestic hearse.
Hearses are not just for funerals anymore. The popularity of the hearse keeps growing and I had to find out what it was like to own a hearse. When I started my investigation I found numerous hearse clubs throughout the world. I spoke with many of the club’s representatives about their cars, their organizations and their lifestyles. I met many wonderful people that all had amazing, unique and interesting things to say. These people are rockabilly, goth, funeral home workers, morticians, car collectors, house wives, EMT medics, shop owners, retail workers, club owners, punk rockers and people who all happen to love funeral cars. I will share with you some of what I have learned so that it might educate, amuse and hopefully give you a few pointers on buying your own hearse.
First I learned about the hearse clubs. The clubs were formed so people could talk about their cars and share their common interests. Mark Villarino who is the Phantom Coaches Hearse Club web spinner told me his club’s main purpose is, “To put the FUN back into FUNeral, of course! Well, that’s the primary reason. Other purposes are to introduce the general public to our cars and to educate them about their function and their diversity. We also maintain the only online library of original sales literature for these fine automobiles. Another purpose is to offer a network of automotive experience and sources for hard-to-find parts. A club has collective bargaining. Simply put, strength in numbers. Seeing how these cars are more specialized than any other type of vehicle, including orphan cars, many of the owners will individually happen upon or discover a valuable resource such as a specialty repair shop or parts house. Other benefits include meeting other folks that share your interests. Odds are that if you interact with a large group of folks that share something as unique as hearses, some of these folks may share many of the same interests you do. After all, it takes an odd type to appreciate these cars to begin with. Then there’s the comradeship we have for each other. Often we consider ourselves an extended family. When a club member has car problems or is in need of help, we’re always there to help each other out.”
The clubs have a great array of information and all of them have something special to offer. They have classifieds; books on buying and collecting, parts, tips, merchandise, newsletters and some even offer hearse rentals. They also have lots of pictures! Many of the clubs participate in different events such as car shows, parades, cemetery cleanups from vandals, guided tours through cemeteries and one even has casket races in empty parking lots.
If you are interested in buying a hearse there is no need to go knocking on funeral home doors, there are plenty of ways to find them. You may go through a dealer, search through the classifieds or use the Internet. Don’t go running to your computer to look on eBay just yet. I strongly advise that you go to some of the club sites first. Grim Rides offers a classified page on their site as well as links to hearse dealers. They also give pointers on how to find a hearse. Mark recommends Ronnie Grubbs and Paul Nix who are their local dealers in California and where most of the club members themselves have found their hearses. Ronnie Grubbs, founding member of Phantom Coaches explains, “I personally buy and sell hearses and limos that are coming out of service. I work in funeral service part-time by choice and know who is getting a new hearse months in advance. If anyone is interested, I always have a few in stock.”
I have spoken to collectors who are purists and collect hearses to keep or restore to their original condition. I have also met collectors who customize their vehicles such as having them airbrushed or having flames shooting out of their tail pipes. So where does one start in learning about hearses and what to buy?
There is quite a selection out there so the first important thing to learn are the different types of hearses. Mark explains, “Well, you have several coach builders through out the years but the main builders were S&S, Superior, Miller-Meteor, and Eureka. Each builder offered several different styles and several options. Realize that each hearse is a custom car. A coach builder wouldn’t make a hearse until they got an order for one and you can order anything you want. The standard styles are the End-Loader (the casket loads through the back door only), the Side-Loader or 3-way (the casket sits on what is called a casket table and the side doors open to allow the casket to be loaded from either side of the coach as well as the back door), the combination coach (a combination hearse/ambulance), the flower car (a car that carries all the flowers from the church to the cemetery, some are designed to carry a casket under the flower deck) and the ambulance. Probably the most famous hearse is that seen in Harold and Maude, a 1959 Superior Landaulet 3-way on a Cadillac chassis. Consequently, it’s the most sought after of all hearses. Second to that would be any 1959 Cadillac hearse.”
The cost of a new hearse is astronomical. They are made with industrial parts since they must carry lots of weight, so they are usually made to order. Amy of Grim Rides advised me of some of the costs. “Considering a brand new hearse sells for well over $70,000, people buy 'em used. Even the late 90's ones go for up to $38,000. Predominantly, you see mainly hearses in the private sector that are 20 years old out there with finny hearses being the most desirable. Folks usually want anything with fins, which were designed from the 50's up to 1964. They can be nightmarishly expensive.”