Halloween is a celebration of ghouls and ghosts. Even a seven year old will dress up to look like a shriveled witch who lives on the other side.
So it’s a great day to venerate the grim reaper’s own taxi service: the hearse.
The hearse is the last ride a person will take. It projects the somber significance of the occasion. It’s black (or not), because for the principal passenger the future is indeed dark.
The hearse doesn’t have a bright future either. According to the National Funeral Directors Association, this year will be the first in which more dead Americans are cremated than buried. If you’re cremated, your remains will fit in a smart car. At some point in the future, the only buyers for a hearse will be the Ghostbusters.
That said, the hearse has provided a fascinating evolution in design like other car categories. From his experience in the scale model business, Legendary Car Guy confides that precision model hearses sell faster than a marathon of zombies attacking a country club.
Here are some hearses Kevin Wilson of Car & Driver highlighted in his buoyant report of the Concours d’Elegance of America at Saint John’s in Plymouth, Michigan earlier this year. We have borrowed amply from his commentary.
1916 Winton by Crane and Breed
“Notice the ornate wood carvings on the sides to resemble pillars and the heavy drapes used in earlier carriages. Those had big windows to let bystanders view the deceased or the coffin as the procession passed.”
1934 Pierce-Arrow Arrowline Henney 3-Way Funeral Car
“The 3-Way was an innovation that allowed the casket to be loaded from either side or through the back. Rear entry was inconvenient because it made pall-bearers step into muddy streets versus from the curb. This Pierce-Arrow’s body, in a somber blue with black fenders, was built by Henney, the biggest coachworks in the field for decades. The red velvet and oak interior trimmings resemble those of a mid-century church sanctuary, meant to comfort mourners.”
1937 Cadillac LaSalle 510-C by Meteor
“Stage your funeral through Pray Funeral Home in Charlotte, Michigan, and you could still go out in ’30s style. Joseph Pray rescued this V-8–powered LaSalle from a previous owner’s intent to make it into a hot rod, and instead treated it to a frame-off restoration. He now offers it for use, weather permitting. Professional-car collectors prize Meteor’s carved-side hearses, in part because the curtain design is so elaborate.”
1938 Packard Town Car
Wooden carved side curtains grace this Miller-built funeral coach, built on a Packard Eight chassis. Packard didn’t dig it, so they ended up making an exclusive deal with Henney, instead.
“Owner William C. Peoples of Marietta, Ohio, makes the restored Packard available for use in funerals, still. The arched “window” interior door trim and exterior opera lights suggest more care for the occupant’s comfort and convenience than seems strictly necessary.”
1954 Cadillac Landau 86 Series
“Remember Landau bars? Hearses had ’em first, supposedly as a suggestion that the leather-covered top could fold. (It couldn’t, and why would it?) The landau style supplanted the earlier carved drapery exterior décor, though, a development for which even a dead guy might be grateful. Instead, the rear window has genuine curtains for you.”
Apparently Landau bars piss a lot of car guys off. Read the Jalopnik rant. I think they’re still in vogue. See a 2014 hearse below…
So boo! If the dead are riding this Halloween, they’re riding in style!