Let’s feast our eyes on this great example of how ambulances used to be.
Great Find! Now that CCR song is in my head –
Weird CCR Effect ;o)… I just got off the phone with my sister wishing her a happy birthday today. For some reason we got on the subject of Creedence….
Then I see this post. I had to scroll back up to see what you were talking about.
Let me cue some up here at my desk now. I think I’ll start with Green River. ;o)
The only car-based ambulances I remember seeing were Cadillacs using their commercial chassis. It’s been about 35 years since I’ve seen a working ambulance that wasn’t a van or cutaway.
My hometown had 1 based on a ’71 Olds 98. Not long after I saw some around our area based on Chevy or GMC Suburbans, or even an occasional IH Travelall. The 1st box ambulance was on the TV show “EMERGENCY!” using a Dodge pickup cab and chassis. From there to GM and Ford van cutaway vans and now mostly Fords.
I have only the faintest memory of these. Because I always saw Cadillac-bodied hearses, I may be incorrectly remembering Cadillac ambulances.
A couple dozen more pictures here: http://coloradoguy.com/1970-pontiac-bonneville-ambulance/
I freely admit to knowing nothing about ambulance service in this era. Yet I can’t help but wonder why a sedan/wagon conversion was a better choice than converting a cargo van, or previously, a Panel Delivery.
My only guess is that passenger-car-based ambulances would have had a smoother ride, reducing the jostling of patients. Is that it?
Evan Reisner, the mid-1970s seems to have been the pivotal point in the transition to van-based ambulances. Here’s a New York State community that chose the van for more space and the cost savings ($8000 in 1975 = more than 4x that today):
Maybe it was a western cultural thing. I remember from our time in Germany those Mercedes W115 Ambulances, and even MB W123. They disappeared around the same time. Whereas in the communist block ambulances always where vans.
Car based ambulances were once very common here too, meanwhile the MB Sprinter has become the norm.
I seem to remember that it was the smoothness of the Cadillac ride that was the reason they were used as ambulances. It’s what my Dad always told me.
What I really suspect was the Hearse connection, since they already existed. It was probably a similar conversion.
The vans came along when I was a teenager in the 70’s if memory serves.
I’ve never seen a Pontiac though. I thought they were all Caddys.
In the rural midwest around 1970, the ambulances and hearses were sometimes one and the same. Ambulances had very little medical equipment then. Our local ambulance driver kept at least one of each, though, for his two professions – a blue Pontiac ambulance, and a hearse for his main business.
It seemed normal at the time. In retrospect, I wonder how it felt to be driven to the hospital by a funeral director.
I think, but I don’t know for sure, that box trucks caught on shortly after that due to an increase in Federal funding and/or requirements for emergency services.
“It seemed normal at the time. In retrospect, I wonder how it felt to be driven to the hospital by a funeral director.”
It does make one wonder about any potential conflicts of interest…
Just kidding, I am sure the funeral directors were very diligent about their ambulance duties.
It was only in the 60s-70s, I think, that medicine advanced to the stage where they sent attendants along for trauma pick-ups. One thing – it was only then that electronic equipment had advanced to where useful stuff could fit in an ambulance. Transistors were commercially sold starting in the mid ’50s, I think. Until that time, they scooped you off the road and just hoped you were still alive when you got to the emergency room.
I think you’ve nailed it, Richard. The Wikipedia article on the television show “Emergency!” mentions the role of the show (which started in 1972) in familiarising people with the concept of paramedics.
That show also documents over its 6 seasons the shift from car- and truck-based ambulances to van-based models, and open-topped fire trucks to enclosed.
These ambulance/hearse Pontiacs burst into my conscience in November 1963 when my grieving family and I were watching a big B&W TV and saw Jackie try to get into the left rear door of a Pontiac hearse carrying her husband only to find the door locked.
I remember it like it was yesterday.
She stopped, froze, and then someone unlocked the door.
Some memories never go away.
Found some film (if you’re interested):
There’s an early 70’s Olds ’98 based ambulance in Waukesha, WI.
If a coachbuilder could modify a Caddy, they could modify a Pontiac or Olds or Buick also.
The odd part is that van-style ambulances came first. In WW1 all the carmakers turned out box-trucks as military ambulances. Dodge was still making them in the ’50s, looking pretty much like the modern style, but they weren’t selling well.
I’d guess that speed and handling were the main reasons for using big-engined cars like Caddies.
The main reason for the discontinuance of car-based ambulances was a change in Federal ambulance requirements that was enforced through Federal funding mechanisms, along with update and safety regulations and evolving user/purchaser requirements. This combination effectively killed car based ambulances after 1977.
There is great coverage of this topic in the book “Miller-Meteor: The Complete History Illustrated History”, which covers the history of the company that made many hearses and ambulances.
A.J. Miller was my great-great grandfather. A book was written about the business, got to the typewritten draft with photos stage. Not sure if it was ever professionally typeset and bound. I think my mom has a copy; don’t know where it is.
Duh. Wish I could edit out the part about the book not being published.
Pontiac, Oldsmobile and Cadillac all catalogued long-wheelbase commercial chassis for the hearse/ambulance trade from the 1930’s through the last 1970’s until the Federal requirements obsoleted the car-based versions. Being coach-built, purpose-specific vehicles makes them a unique collector niche. The Professional Car Society is the club focused on these cars.
As mentioned above, a big reason for the car based ambulances was that the hearse makers also usually made ambulances, the difference between carrying a casket or carrying a stretcher was minimal as far as the vehicle was concerned. Some did both, since it was common for funeral homes to also run the town ambulance service.
In addition to the regulatory factor mentioned by mercury6768, the change to truck based ambulances coincided with the increasing sophistication of prehospital emergency care. Advanced life support paramedics became widespread in the 70’s and it was better to have some room in the back to work on patients and store equipent. Before that, bandages, blankets and maybe some oxygen was the extent of prehospital treatment. A hearse would do just fine for that!
Cadillac was the most common ambulance from about the 40’s on, but Olds and Pontiac were also used a lot. I think GM dominated the market for the most part. Not that I was there, I’ve just read a lot as an emergency vehicle (and hearse) buff!
This Pontiac was a conversion by Superior. Most Pontiac ambulances were by Superior.
Oldsmobile conversions were generally Cotner-Bevington. Buick was Flxible
Gee, Pontiac went from top of the US styling game with their 67s through to its nadir with these 70s.
I never like the 70 Pontiac either, what a comedown from the glorious 60s. I did think the 69 was an improvement over the 68. I also thought the bloated 71-72 models were the worst; I’d call those matronly.
Ambulances were once used exclusively to transport patients to the hospital for treatment and offer first aid. The big box ambulances coincided with paramedics stabilizing patients in the field so that their prospects were better when they got to the hospital.
The transition you describe was once explained to me like this: in the old days ambulances ran the sirens on the way to the hospital, now they mostly run them on the way to the patient.
Also, until they get to the patient, they don’t know how much of an emergency they have on their hands.
In my city the big funeral home ran two full-on ambulances and had two more vehicles called combinations that were hearses that could double as ambulances in a pinch. Plus two dedicated funeral coaches. They could not have been happier to get out of the ambulance business, which was right around 1977 or the beginning of 78 as I recall.
As noted above, the car-based ambulance was fast and smooth, which were the best things for getting someone quickly to the hospital. The EMS services changed all that with trained paramedics who could do a lot more than basic first aid.
The only ambulance like this I ever rode in was a Pontiac – a blue 1963. I was about 6 or 7 years old and my aunt (a nurse) had accompanied a patient from her small town to the big hospital in Fort Wayne. It had been planned that I was going to visit and she and the ambulance driver picked me up. There was a really teeny seat in the back. It was not very comfortable, and they never used the siren even once. I was disappointed.
Bob G, the ambulance in Emergency was a Chevy truck based beastie, it had that yellowish butterscotch color front end. The truck for the paramedics was a Dodge. Both live at the Los Angles County fire museum. The Dodge has been restored, as of the last time I visited the Chev was not but there are plans afoot for that. My dad worked with the first 5 LA county paramedics and also helped get the fire museum rolling. A bunch of exceptional people.
Hard to believe they were once wagon based. I remember those days but when I see a picture of one now, like the one above, I think movie car. It is that enduring aspect of Ghostbusters that makes them look like right out of the cartoons or movies.
Australia got its share of car based ambulances, Galaxies were a favourite. I used to look into ambulance stations as child and be disappointed if it was merely a converted Fairlane sedan.
Please keep these coming to the cohort, Curtis! Another set of really impressive shots. (Of a hideous car.)
Alex Archbold bought one a few years ago that he uses in his antique/collectibles business. Here’s the first video he did on it. Great channel, BTW.
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