(first posted 10/28/2014) There were those who considered Vernon O’Neal a cumbersome and plodding businessman; far more people admired his Texas pluck, which manifested itself in his cheeky exuberance to shake things up. His instincts had paid off quite well; he owned the biggest-by-volume mortuary/ambulance service in the city, which included an all-white fleet of professional vehicles–white, since he believed that while death should be treated seriously, it should not be thought of as something depressing. His newest vehicular acquisition was an Aspen White 1964 Miller-Meteor Cadillac hearse, purchased just three months earlier at a national funeral directors’ convention in Dallas.
It was a stately presence, based on the code 6890 commercial chassis that underpinned most contemporary ambulances, hearses and other professional cars. One of 2,527 produced that year, it was whisked off to Miller-Meteor, in Piqua, Ohio, for funeral coach conversion. It would be hard to imagine another vehicle better suited to its intended mission.
The 1964 Cadillacs, only slightly changed from their 1963 predecessors, enjoyed credibility that was not to be found in contemporary Lincolns and Imperials: This is a legitimate luxury car, dignified and substantial in every detail, and thus the equal of every other such vehicle in the world. The design was pure Bill Mitchell–an impossibly masterful combination of knife-edges and soft curves all falling together in precisely the right places. What made Mitchell’s designs unique was that the finished product looked so natural, so effortlessly right–a fact that belied the intense thinking-through of even the smallest design details.
The fine horizontal grille bars, for example, were set an the angle that reflected the maximum amount of light for a jewel-like appearance. There were fins, naturally, but just tall enough to impart a crispness and motion to the overall design.
Inside, the driver faced an equally well-considered instrument panel that, despite a copious amount of brightwork, was remarkably simple and functional. Two chrome-ringed pods defined a control center that included a speedometer, gauges, radio and something new for 1964: a thermostat and controls for an automatic climate control system. The finishing touch was a curiously delicate two-spoke steering wheel with an elegantly weighted dial at the top of the column that unlocked its telescoping adjustment.
Underhood was Cadillac’s new 429 CID (7.0 L) V8, mated to a Turbo Hydra-Matic transmission. With 340 horsepower and 480 lb-ft of torque, it was, pardon the expression, overkill, with far more than enough power to motivate a fully loaded funeral coach to speeds that seldom exceeded 40 mph.
Cadillac at the time owned the U.S. luxury car market. More than 165,900 Cadillac models would ultimately be produced for model year 1964, vs. just over 36,000 Lincoln Continentals and some 23,300 Imperials. The DeVille series, comprising four- and six-window hardtop sedans and a hardtop coupe, was the volume leader. The entry-level Cadillac–if one could call it that–was the Series 62, available as a pillarless coupe and a six-window hardtop sedan. Topping the Cadillac range was the Fleetwood series, which included the Eldorado convertible, 60 Special sedan, the Series 75 sedan and limousine and the aforementioned commercial chassis.
Unlike the 1964 Cadillacs, the 1962 Fords had been significantly restyled from their immediate predecessors. Ford’s 1960 attempt at “batwing” styling (on left above)–clearly a response to Chevrolet’s 1959 styling–had been wildly unsuccessful, so much so that many Ford stylists denied responsibility for the production design. Unlike Chevy’s go-for-broke horizontal fins, the Fords’ fins seemed a half-hearted, play-it-both-ways effort that in rear view looked a bit like floppy terrier ears. looked Indeed, it would be years later before stylist Joe Oros owned up, and many more years for the 1960s, particularly Starliners and Sunliners, to became genuine collector cars.
Not surprisingly, the 1961 Fords (on right above) dialed things back a bit with less radical styling and short, slightly canted vertical fins.
Sales rebounded, and Ford had learned its lesson: for 1962, Ford styling was linear and conservative to the point of anonymity, with rear fenders that (probably coincidentally) sloped at the same downward angle as GM’s ’62 full-size Chevrolets and Buicks.
In the 1962 Ford lineup, the Ranch Wagon was analogous to the base model Galaxie. Available as a two-door sedan and a four-door sedan, the Galaxie sold almost as many units of each as the Galaxie 500, despite an MSRP only $160 less than its flossier stablemate. Buyers not fond of B-pillars would have to move up to the Galaxie 500 Victoria or Victoria XL hardtop sedans or coupes, while sun lovers could choose between Sunliner and Sunliner XL convertibles.
Naturally, there were wagon equivalents to the upscale models; the Country Sedan corresponded to the Galaxie 500, while the top-of-the-line wagon, the Country Squire, boasted Victoria trim and appointments. Oddly, the new-for 1962 intermediate Fairlane series did not offer a station wagon; buyers desiring something smaller than the big Ford wagons had to choose from the Falcon range.
Also part of O’Neal’s fleet was vehicle # 605, a Corinthian White 1962 Ford Ranch Wagon. One of 33,674 produced and as plain as its Cadillac garage mate was grand, it was used primarily for ambulance duty but also served as a first-call vehicle used for transporting bodies to the mortuary from the place of death. Today it probably seems strange that many funeral homes operated the only ambulance service available–there was, to put it quite cynically, no real incentive to transport the injured quickly–but that was the case, especially in rural areas and smaller towns.
Under the Ranch Wagon’s plebian hood rested a 292 CID, Y-block V8–the same base V8 that powered the dressier Galaxie 500. Mated to a 3-speed Cruise-O-Matic transmission, it developed 170 horsepower. An automatic transmission, power steering and power brakes were among the very few options on this particular Ranch Wagon. There was no carpeting; only textured rubber mats separated the metal floor pan from the soles of the passengers’ shoes. The only audio system to be found was the emergency scanner/two-way radio that monitored police and fire calls. Neither air conditioning nor tinted glass protected its occupants from the brutal Texas sun.
It was a sunny Friday afternoon when O’Neal got the call. “This is agent Clinton Hill of the United States Secret Service, and this is a legitimate call.” O’Neal never doubted it. “I want you to load the best casket you’ve got into your best hearse and bring it over to Parkland Hospital ASAP.” Oneal instinctively selected the Elgin Casket Company’s Brittania model, a solid bronze affair weighing some 800 pounds. Unable to load it by himself, O’Neal was forced to wait until several of his employees returned from lunch before the casket could be lifted into the Cadillac’s white and turquoise interior.
Two days later, the same phone rang. This time, it was the Dallas police frantically demanding an ambulance be sent to police headquarters. This time, it was the Ranch Wagon’s brief turn in history. A worn gurney was hustled aboard, and the Ranch Wagon sped away.
Two vehicles, two missions. One carried a slain president to his final flight to Washington; the other, his dying assassin. On the next work day, Tuesday, November 26, 1963, both vehicles were washed and then returned to the garage, waiting for their next assignment.
History can sneak up on you. I didn’t see it coming.
I started to suspect something as I spotted the framed pictures on the top of the Ranch Wagon…
An excellent piece! The third-to-last paragraph sent chills down my spine.
Chills indeed. My parents have recounted the story to me several times about how my Uncle John (still alive) told the family after the assassination that in a day or two the assassin himself would be shot and sure enough he was.
Way to tell a story Imerialist, I also did not see that coming.
It always appeared to me that the Ranch Wagon was smoking pretty badly as it was shown driving out on to the street. With all of the weight, it was also riding pretty low. I’m glad it was preserved.
The full wheel covers are from 1963 and were not on the ambulance as shown in this video:
I was 10 years old, and clearly remember watching on TV, the ’62 Ford leaving the sallyport of the Police Station, with Oswalds carcass in it. I don’t believe it was oil burning smoke, as it was a new that year car, and being a service car, probably not too many miles in it, and serviced more than most. Judging by the way people where dressed in top coats and such, I do think it was cold that day in Dallas, and it was exhaust vapor.
Great article, when I saw both of the headlights in the first picture, I was pretty sure I knew what the article was going to be about, it is interesting how something ordinary can be called upon for an extra ordinary event.
Whats interesting to see from footage from that afternoon in Dallas is how level that Cadillac hearse is, considering how much weight was in it, its pretty impressive, the Cadillac was carrying the 800lb bronze casket, with JFK in it, Jackie and several Secret Service agents and its not dragging ass at all, pretty stout.
I always thought that it was interesting that O’Neal was there both times at such massive events, both the transport of Kennedy on Friday afternoon and transporting Oswald to, ironically, Parkland Hospital as well.
Supposedly, from what I have read, the owner of O’Neal had to fight for a couple of years to a get paid fir JFK’s bronze casket from the GSA, I think the original price was something like $7500 in 1963, he didn’t get paid for it until like 1965. It was not the one that JFK was buried in, that was one that was supplied from a Washington DC parlor, the Dallas casket’s upholstery was too bloodied on the inside and couldn’t be used, Bobby Kennedy had holes drilled through it and weighed down with sandbags and ordered it dumped into the Atlantic from a military cargo plane.
You’re mostly correct, Carmine. The Britannia bronze casket listed at $3,995, and according to all accounts Mr. O’Neal had to jump through hoops to get paid. He eventually settled for a somewhat lesser amount as payment in full. It was dumped into the ocean in 1965 at the request of Robert Kennedy. I learned way too much about this subject while doing research for my upcoming novel. Here are a couple of links if you’re interested:
$3995 seems more reasonable, but still crazy expensive when you consider that it was 1963, that was like the price of a nice Buick. I’ve been a big Kennedy assassination buff for a while. Dumping the coffin was destruction of evidence, but in comparison to some of the other things that went on, it’s really on the smaller scale of things.
Agent Clinton Hill wrote his own book detailing his time as Mrs. Kennedy’s bodyguard (Mrs. Kennedy and Me), including details of the events of that day. He was the Secret Service agent who was seen climbing onto the back of the Presidential limousine immediately after the shooting.
You gotta love car guys. Here Carmine is describing a scene from perhaps the greatest American tragedy ever, in a hearse with the recently assassinated US president and First Lady in tow, and he talks about how the Caddy isn’t dragging its ass. Next there will be an examination of the Lincoln cornering abilities around the grassy knoll 🙂
Great presentation and juxtaposition, although I had a sense of where it was going as soon as I heard “an Aspen White 1964 Miller-Meteor Cadillac hearse, purchased just three months earlier at a national funeral directors’ convention in Dallas.”.
As a follow on, I heard about that in conjunction with the kerfuffle over an an attempt to auction off an ex-Navy Pontiac ambulance as the one used to transport JFK at the other end of the flight from Dallas. The Professional Car Society did an excellent job of digging up the truth, which may warrant a CC feature of its own.
It’s true. The ambulance was auctioned by Barrett-Jackson but they couldn’t verify its authenticity. With help from the Professional Car Society, it was established that the B-J ambulance was indeed a fake:
Truly outstanding piece. This caught me by surprise, a definite sparkle in the day.
Remarkable that both men were handled by the same company.
I suspected the ending as soon as I scanned the pictures; even before reading the text.
Staying awake in Modern History class in college has it’s benefits.
A thoughtful, well thought out and logically laid out article; much along the lines of Paul’s pieces here that I enjoy so much.
Modern History class? I lived that history. The announcement of President Kennedy’s death came in my English composition class. I was a senior in high school. When you get old, you can look back at all of the momentous occasions in history that you have witnessed. All of you young people will see so much that I will miss.
The ’60 Ford was not in response to the ’59 Chevy as is widely reported due to the 3 year lead time of design-to-production. The ’59 Chevy design was actually a 2 year crash course response to the ’57 Chrysler, so the ’59 Chevy and ’60 Ford were designed at the same time!
Well, here’s the story as it was recounted in our 1960 Ford CC: https://www.curbsideclassic.com/curbside-classics-american/curbside-classic-1960-ford-starliner-haste-makes-waste/
“The roots of the 1960 Ford stretch back to that watershed year in American automobile history, 1957. That year, Ford outflanked its old rival with two Fords–the Custom series on the 116-inch wheelbase, and the swank Fairlane on a two-inch longer span. The 1957 Chevrolet so revered today looked stodgy by comparison, so for the first time since the 1930s, Ford beat Chevrolet in the sales race.
During this time, Ford was planning its 1959 and 1960 models. By now, Robert McNamara was in charge, and he couldn’t see the point of having Fords on two wheelbases. So for 1959, they would all ride on a 118-inch wheelbase. Ford bucked the trend towards soaring tail fins and even sleek rooflines, and the midyear Galaxie series was set to feature a boxy, square roofline lifted from the four-seat Thunderbird.
Then Ford obtained the tooling plans for Chevrolet’s 1959 models. Ford officials initially couldn’t believe that GM was planning to build a Chevrolet with such wild, radical styling. Meanwhile, Chrysler’s 1957 models were still selling as fast as the corporation could–or more accurately, couldn’t–build them.
When Ford management realized that GM was serious, the proposed 1959 Ford suddenly looked as stodgy as the 1957 Chevrolet did against those flashy, low-slung 1957 Fords and Plymouths. What to do? It was too late to junk the planned 1959 Ford.
While all of this was happening, several Ford stylists were working on an advanced styling study dubbed Quicksilver (above). When top Ford executives, including Robert McNamara saw it, they thought it could be used for the 1960 Ford, as it looked sleeker than the planned model, which was a facelift of the 1959 model. Henry Ford II enthusiastically agreed, and since his name was on the building, the planned 1960 Ford was junked.
The Quicksilver was adapted as quickly as possible for production. Unfortunately, this meant altering the dimensions of the styling prototype, as Ford still needed to use the 1959 frame. The Quicksilver had to be raised two inches, altering its proportions. The final car was very wide–so wide, in fact, that it was over the legal limit for a vehicle to be classified as a passenger car in some states. Those states agreed to look the other way for one year.
Whether it was tooling info or some other leak, it appears that Ford had some early advance knowledge of the ’59 Chevy’s design and rear fins.
Interesting recount of the ’60 Ford, Paul. Do you have a link or pictures of the planned facelift of the ’59? Would love to see that, our family car in those years was a ’59 Club Victoria Galaxie, my dad loved the Thunderbird roof on the large Ford model.
And I can’t absolutely confirm the accuracy of this account. But that CC was written by one of our more serious historians. And I’ve heard the same story elsewhere.
I have read a similar account of the 60/quicksilver by the designer of the Quicksilver. It was a stylist interview in Collectible Automobile but unfortunately i dont have the issue anymore.
Don, was that the Joe Oros interview in the October 1995 issue?
Old Pete, I can’t remember. I think its the same issue that discusses the evolution of the Pontiac Grand Prix nose.
Here’s an account from ‘Full-Size Fords: 1955 – 1970’ by David Temple. Page 53.
The story line above does say Ford had tooling drawings for the ’59 Chevy. It also says that the Quicksilver was in the works as a showcar and was quickly adapted to be the ’60 Ford. Here is the Quicksilver and you can see the gullwings were already there. I worked with someone years ago who worked in the auto industry in the 60’s and he said there was so much job hopping going on they posted the phone numbers of the competitions HR dept right there on a post (I’m sure not “officially” company policy). There are so many ancillary people involved (sheetmetal draftsman, clay modelers etc.) that perhaps someone jumped ship and leaked the gullwing fin, but it is also plausible that they were both done concurrently. To say it was a copycat I think is going too far.
BOD: I realize that Quicksilver had bat wings; they weren’t totally unique at the time in terms of concept/show cars and such. I think the key point here is that (presumably) when Ford got wind of what Chevy was planning, they adopted the Quicksilver not only so much because it too had batwings, but also because it was a much more bold and advanced design than what they had been planning for 1960. The fact that it too had batwings likely was coincidental.
That’s what I presume likely happened, but I wasn’t there. 🙂
agree that seeing the tooling drawings pushed Ford in that direction. The Quicksilver was much better looking than the production car, but i like the ’60 anyways. Some people say it wasn’t “Ford” enough. True, they should have locked on the jet exhaust tail lights, but it looks Ford to me. My brothers wife had a powder blue ’60 Sunliner new, so I’ve always liked them. Funny thing, he had a ’60 Impala.
Thanks, Paul, for the kind words. I wrote the original article, and everything I’ve read says that the original 1960 Ford was supposed to be a facelift of the 1959 Ford. It would have continued the same styling themes – very conservative and with the square “Thunderbird” roofline.
Ford obtained the information on the upcoming 1959 Chevrolet through a source at a supplier. Ford leadership was initially concerned that the planned 1960 model would look old hat.
Remember, it was to be a facelift of a design that had been on the market for one year. This was during the “newest is best” era of the auto industry. Hence, the crash program to turn the Quicksilver show car into the production 1960 Ford.
When management saw how well the 1959 Ford sold against the all-new 1959 Chevrolet – particularly the Galaxie versions – they had serious misgivings about the 1960 model. But it was too late to stop it. It didn’t help matters that the rush to get the car into production resulted in serious quality control problems.
Ford’s fear about the facelifted 59 was probably reasonable in 1957-58 since that body was planned to have already done a two year tour as a Mercury before it became the 59 Ford. The fact that the car would be competing against much newer products that were going in a new direction was probably pretty big.
Overlooked fact: sales of the full-size Ford actually declined in 1961 from 1960 totals. So, was the 60 Ford really an unsuccessful design or did Falcon simply steal away sales from the big car?
Even in the rebounding car market of 1962, Galaxie sales continued to fall. With weak competition from both Ford and Plymouth, Chevrolet market share reached an all-time high in 1962.
Yes. And that’s a story I will eventually get to. Ford’s big cars kept declining during the early 60s, apparently because of cannibalization by the Falcon and Fairlane, as well as perhaps because folks didn’t like the styling compared to the Chevys of this vintage.
It was a serious problem masked only by the eventual success of the Mustang. By the later 60s, the big Fords improved their sales and share.
Wasn’t it the LTD that turned things around?
It undoubtedly helped substantially.
I never realized how much Ford had declined during the early 1960s. Most historians and writers examining the early 1960s focus on Studebaker’s impending demise, or the chaos at Chrysler Corporation. Ford’s struggles during these years are a lot less dramatic.
It’s interesting that the two most successful domestic car makers during the very early 1960s were GM and AMC. Chevrolet was definitely on a roll in the early 1960s, as was Pontiac.
Geeber: Here’s the stark number from 1959-1965. I’m eventually going to do some posts on sales trends during each decade. I’m compiling the stats first 🙂
In 1962, full size Chevys outsold the Fords by more than 2:1. No wonder there’s so few of the Fords around!
Thank you for posting that chart.
It’s interesting that sales of the full-size Chevrolet kept growing, even as the division added the Corvair, Chevy II and Chevelle/Malibu. If I recall correctly, by 1962 Chevrolet was outselling the entire Ford Motor Company, not just the Ford Division!
Wow, great read Imperialist, never saw it coming, I was so engrossed in the Cadillac and Ford descriptions. This reads like an O. Henry short story. Nicely done!
The 1964 Cadillacs, only slightly changed from their 1963 predecessors, enjoyed credibility that was not to be found in contemporary Lincolns and Imperials:
Very nice story, but I’d beg to differ with you on this one line. The “Kennedy” Lincolns of this era enjoyed a decidedly more prestigious image at the time, thanks to their higher price, more exclusive/unique styling and smaller sales numbers. Cadillacs were starting to become a bit too common and accessible. The Imperial is a different story…
Excellent piece, sir. Unlike some others, I did not see just where it was headed when I first read it. The ending was certainly a surprise to me.
The two vehicles are quite the contrast.
Very moving ending, well told.
Nope, I didn’t see that ending coming, even with the “clues” that were sprinkled in.
BTW, a funeral home offering an ambulance service seems strange, but in many areas probably made sense. In the very small town I grew up in, the ambulance service was all volunteer, like the fire service. In even smaller towns fielding an ambulance, volunteer or private professional would not have been economically possible.
My family had a 60 Country Sedan and it was one wide car. Certainly wider than the 58 Chevy Brookwood that preceded it, to the point that it barely squeezed into the garage. Our neighbors had a 61 Country Squire. What a difference that year made. The 60 looked like it was on stilts compared to the long and low 61.
technically the ’60 was too wide for some state laws! Fact
And here I thought the JFK Hearse/Ambulance was destroyed. Wonder who got stuck drilling the holes in JFK’s original coffin and interesting to read the GSA was even difficult back then.
In ithaca there is Bangs Funeral Home and Bangs Ambulance, but no idea how much the two are related.
The Pontiac based Navy ambulance that was used in Washington was destroyed by the Kennedy family around 1986 or so, though it probably should have been saved and placed in the Smithsonian.
Quite interesting was that after the assassination the infamous Lincoln Continental limo was given a new grille, repainted and placed back into service. It was actually owned by the Ford Motor Co. and leased to the government for a nominal amount. It’s currently on display at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn. Quite an emotional experience to see in person perhaps the most instantly recognizable and famous car in the world, and relive its role on that fateful day.
Simply… Well done!
” to put it quite cynically, no real incentive to transport the injured quickly” (in reference to funeral homes running the ambulance service back then)
Total Bull crap. The author obviously is expressing his un-researched opinion on that matter. What good would it do for a funeral home to kill off its customers? Many funeral directors had other businesses on the side, especially in smaller towns where the death rate isn’t as high like in larger places. It would become quite obvious if every time an ambulance rolled, the person didn’t make it, that something was up.
Funeral Directors offered this service, for free, or next to nothing, mainly because they were the only people in town who had a vehicle that could carry a person in a recumbent position comfortably. It was their way of giving back to the community, a way to offer compassion, care, and that they are there at any time for help.
And by offering ambulance services for free or next to nothing, they in the end got the business when that person’s time was up by other means. Why you ask? Because of the trust they had built in doing this, among other things.
The quip about funeral homes taking their time to take the sick and injured to help is slanderous, libel, and irresponsible.
Sad a jab like that puts a black eye on a pretty good article. One of which I think the funeral industry would have liked to have read.
No offense intended, only my own cynical observation/gallows humor. Mea culpa.
Marvellous storytelling Imperiallist.
Great read! I was clueless until the end of the connection. White color makes sense when some of these vehicles were ‘dual purpose’.
It didn’t occur to me either, but I never knew the make/model of the Kennedy hearse, let alone Oswald’s final ride. So quite a surprise to read those final paragraphs. So, a very well told story, and fascinating to know that both still exist.
Well written .
I still miss my 1962 Country Sedan Wagon ~ a stripper yes but a great car it was .
And this is why I return to CC. Clever drawing together of apparently disparate threads. Didn’t see that coming. Thank you!
Well told story, I remember the Pontiac ambulance recently auctioned, so it was a fake I didnt follow that tale till the end.
Very well done and interesting article! I didn’t know where it was going until the museum picture of the Ford. After reading the story, I remember seeing in documentaries that the President was transported to the airport in a brand new 64 Cadillac (a Lincoln hearse would be more appropriate, except they probably didn’t exist!) and Oswald was taken to the hospital (Parkland) in a Ford station wagon.
Times have sure changed. As a paramedic myself, it is hard to imagine today a stock passenger car (or SUV or minivan) being used as an emergency ambulance anywhere, let alone in a major city. Nowadays, of course, Dallas Fire Department runs the emergency EMS there and has large, custom built, truck based ambulances.
I agree that the quip about funeral home ambulances was a bit in bad taste, but I didn’t figure the author meant it slanderously.
I’ve never seen one in person, but here’s an early 1960’s Continental hearse. Must be as rare as the proverbial hen’s teeth:
Outstanding read and a wonderfully told piece of American history. KUDOS Imperialist!
Great read. First time I saw both of those cars I was seven years old, watching the assignation news coverage on a black and white TV. Initially, the Cadillac didn’t ring any bells, but as soon as I saw that Ford, all the memories came back to me. Thank you for saving the Ford till the end. Love a surprise ending!!
Good story! In relation to comments on ambulance service, when I was a cub reporter and a bit later a deputy sheriff as well, the funeral directors provided the ambulance service. There were no paramedics or custom equipment. All they could do was scoop ’em up and head for the hospital at best speed. Many of the morticians used their secondary vehicles as ambulances and used their best ones as funeral hearses.
I knew where you were going, but a great read in any case. In terms of funeral directors running ambulance services, it wasn’t just a small town phenomenon. McKeesport, PA, the steel town outside of Pittsburgh where I grew up, had about 50,000 people in the mid-50s, and funeral directors provided the ambulance service.
They used what was called a “combination” hearse, which could quickly be converted to an ambulance — in truth, it’s probably more accurate to say they were used as ambulances that were quickly converted to hearses when needed.
Sometime in the 60s, the Police took over ambulance duties, and well into the ’70s all the patrol cars were station wagons fitted as ambulances, a la the ’62 Ford here, although if memory serves, the conversion was more rudimentary.
Thats the way it was in my home town of 50,000 in the 50s and into the 60s also. About all the ambulances did was transport people to the hospital in a hurry. I don’t think they had much in the way of life saving equipment on board. Also, I think the service was frequently free as the various funeral homes were competing for community goodwill.
Perhaps one (or several) of the great CC writers could do a history of ambulances.
I wonder how people would like it if they called for an ambulance and this rolled up.
Back in the late 80’s I inspected an Amblewagon that was for sale in the local Cleveland Plain Dealer classifieds. Only had 17k or so but was pretty rusty. Was used by a local funeral home…
Rogers: The fire department of the small northern Colorado town of Wellington owns a 1958 Edsel Amblewagon. I believe it is original to Wellington. It appears in public every year at the 4th of July parade; I was there again this last year and it appeared, proud as ever. It is white.
There are photos of the Amblewagon in the parade at the Wellington Fire District’s Facebook page.
When you need them you don’t really care about what they show up in because you are really glad they’re there. There’s been a couple of times I was thankful to hear that siren coming to help.
Great story! It’s good that these pieces of history have been preserved. I wish that the Pontiac ambulance used to transport the President’s body after it arrived from Dallas had been preserved as well.
Nice job Tony! I did have an idea where you were going when I saw the white Cadillac. At first I thought maybe it was about a Caddy converted to a luxury station wagon for some Texas oil billionaire. The Ford, of course, would’ve been his cheapskate oil billionaire brother’s set of wheels. 🙂
What a fascinating look into events that literally changed the world. I was just 9 years old in November 1963, but even now I still remember those cold days in November.
I have a coupe of photos of the Caddy delivering JFK’s remains to AF 26000 at Love Field, and I am glad to have more info on this car, as well as the Ford.
Also, the embedded videos are also fascinating because they sharpen my memories of those events.
Thanks for a great article!
Great read, very timely. Very well done.
Why were these mid-60s Caddy hearses still using the ’59-60 wrapped windshield, if not most of the front clip?
Presumably for the same reason that Cadillac limousines kept using the 1959-60 windshield through 1964. I’d like to know why, too.
Yes, both the Fleetwood 75 and the Cadillac professional chassis kept the 1959-60 wraparound cowl and windshield through 1964 – and the 75 used the same body and 1964 front clip in 1965 as well.
The reason was simple economics. After having re-engineered an new body for the 75 for the 2nd time in 2 years for 1959, Cadillac wasn’t willing to make the cowl and windshield changes for 1961 or 1963.
That wouldn’t necessarily apply to the commercial chassis, but there was a nice continuity between the professional cars and the limousines funeral directors used, and the professional car builders were likewise in no hurry to change their tooling.
They did have a new commercial chassis in 1965, but the new 75 wasn’t ready for some reason – same thing happened in 1949.
This is a great article! Don’t know how I missed it the first time around, but glad it popped up. Any link to your novel, Imperialist?
I, too, got whammoed by the end of this piece. (I wasn’t reading this site 3 yrs ago.)
Great written piece.
I’d say Serlingesque, but it’s all true.
While it is true that Cadillac introduced Automatic Climate Control, with the trademark temperature dial, in 1964, the dash photo shows that this particular hearse (like many professional cars in the day) did not have air conditioning at all. The dash has no A/C vents, and has lever-type heater controls instead of the Climate Control dial.
I would say that the dash picture is not of the featured hearse. Maybe it was a random “snagged” ’64 photo?
Granted, regardless, per your observation the hearse may well lack AC.
Great article! I confess I didn’t see where it was going until I read the name Clinton Hill.
Thank you for it.
One minor point: the 429 V8 is not really a new engine, but the same engine as 1963 except with a larger bore and longer stroke. The 1963 engine was re-engineered to update the 1949 design to modern production, but the basic design is unchanged from 1949. Cadillac gets an all new engine for 1968 with 472 CID. This engine is then the basic design for the 500, 425 and 368 CID engines that follow.
The transmission is all new for 1964 and I suspect the change in the engine displacement was planned.