Graveside Classic: 1970 Cadillac Superior Funeral Coach – Got Corpse?

(first posted 10/31/2014)   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?

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from the early fifties were common and cheap back then, since funeral operators couldn’t be seen driving such outdated iron, thanks to Detroit’s rapid styling changes.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

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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.

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Would it be this?

hearse occupant

Or 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 Mendocino which led to a chilly overnight camp-out on the beach, but the details are a bit fuzzy right now thanks to what was circulating in our bloodstream.


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.

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No Caddy hearse/ambulance piece would be complete without the above picture of a rather famous ’59

caddy 59 hearse dragster

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.

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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 didn’t try to identify the maker of this particular hearse body. Turns out it’s a Superior. 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?

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There’s plenty of power under this hood in case someone wanted a high-speed funeral parade. I assumed these commercial chassis came with the 472 CID (7.7 L) mill that churned out 375 hp, but the owner of this “funeral coach” as he pointed out was the correct term has the 500 CID (8.2 L) engine. Hmm; can anyone confirm that’s what the commercial cars came with in 1970? Either way, it’s the high water mark for classic Cadillac hearses (oops). I do wonder if some of the hearses built with Caddy’s 140 hp 4.1 L engine in the eighties struggled a bit.

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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.

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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 big V8, whichever size it is. Got to have some music to go out with.