The original Ghostbusters was the first movie I saw at a real cinema, so it kind of made an impression on me. And thanks to countless subsequent viewings (in the original language, as my first screening took place before I spoke English), it’s one of the few films I can practically quote in its entirety. So when I found this Stay-Puft Marshmallow Caddy a few weeks back, the first thing I said (almost out loud) was “You can’t park that here!”
That’s what Bill Murray’s character says when he sees a dirty and clapped out black ’59 Miller-Meteor combination ambulance/hearse stopping in front of the Ghostbusters’ HQ. Ray Stantz (i.e. Dan Aykroyd, who co-wrote the script and knows his onions, car-wise) gets out of the Cadillac, exclaims: “Everybody relax, I found the car. Needs some suspension work… and shocks, brakes, brake pads, linings, steering box, transmission, rear end…” Venkman (Bill Murray) interjects: “How much?” Stantz, unfazed: “Only 4800. Maybe new rings, also mufflers, a little wiring…” Just to note that $4800 in 1984 would be worth about $13,000 in 2022.
Does this 1962 version of the famous ECTO-1 need similarly diligent and copious TLC? Well, it sure looks bit peaky, but complete. Better than the black one in the movie, to be honest. There aren’t exactly many ancient Commercial Caddys about anywhere, least of all on this side of the Pacific, so let’s hope this one would do. But do what exactly? Well, looks like it used to belong to someone who liked big dogs and I guess if you wanted to haul a pack of hounds, you could do worse than getting a boat like this, depending on how the interior is set up.
I’m guessing this cavernous cabin must have seen its fair share of changes. For a start, that rear bench seat may not have been there when the good people at Miller-Meteor made this contraption. No sign of a gurney or anything back there, though it might just be hidden from view. At least, the hubcaps are accounted for – and there is a spare back there, too.
CC has looked at the 1962 Cadillac a number of times and in great detail (see end of the present post), so there is no need to rehash all the technical stuff. I’m guessing we have a great big V8 in there, drum brakes and automatic transmission. We’ll get to that eventually, but that’s not this post’s most pressing concern. Let’s delve into the great unknown and unsung Cadillac that is the Commercial Chassis.
The Cadillac Commercial Chassis was a mainstay for many years. After Packard quit making theirs in 1954, Cadillac pretty much had the top tier of the professional car market all to themselves for a good 20 years, although there always was a trickle of low-spec vehicles based on various (e.g. Buick, Ford, Olds, Chrysler, etc.) production wagons. By the late ‘70s, ambulances switched to sturdier truck/van-derived bases and Cadillac’s Commercial Chassis production quickly declined before being halted altogether in 1980.
The Commercial Chassis was theoretically a Series 75 variant, but was distinct in that it was even longer: for 1962, the Fleetwood 75 sedan/limo had a 149.8-inch wheelbase, whereas the Commercial’s wheelbase was 156 inches. Since 1957, a tubular X-frame was used for all Cadillacs, including the Series 75. The engine, since 1959, was the standard-issue 325hp (gross) Cadillac 390ci (6.4 litre) V8. The main mechanical differences with a normal Cadillac chassis was the reinforced rear suspension and beefier axle, which also had a wider track, as well as separate circuits for the front and rear brakes – the latter being a MY 1962 innovation.
The other big difference was that Cadillac usually sold the Fleetwood 75 fully built, whereas hearses and ambulances were strictly a third-party affair. Every year, GM produced around 2000 Commercial Chassis and ship them over to various “Coachcrafters,” as per Cadillac’s modest sales brochure. By the early ‘60s, there were four such “crafters” worthy of being featured in Cadillac brochures: Eureka, Hess & Eisenhardt, Superior and Miller-Meteor. Cadillac provided the rolling chassis, engine, the front sheetmetal up to and including the A-pillar, the windshield, the dash, some additional bits and pieces of bodywork (e.g. rear light bezels, bumpers, front doors), but the rest was made by the coachbuilders – often in minute quantities.
Miller-Meteor alone had a dozen or so variations to choose from, with landau roofs, high roofs with or without integrated warning lights, suicide rear doors, etc. That company was formed in the mid-‘50s when Indiana bus bodymaker Wayne bought A.J. Miller Co. and the Meteor Motor Car Co., both professional car specialists based in Ohio. By 1962, half of the professional cars made in the US were made by M-M. They went out of business in 1979, pretty much in parallel with the demise of the old-style Commercial Chassis.
Our CC is the Futura Limousine model that was probably used as an ambulance/hearse (known in M-M parlance as a Duplex Combination) and features a “limousine-style” (i.e. no landau, no fat D-pillar) greenhouse. That makes it pretty much identical to the famous 1959 car used in Ghostbusters, save for the 1962 front clip and fins. This limousine style and that tan re-spray makes the car look like a giant wagon, which is what it essentially is. Total length: a whopping 248.3 inches, or 6.3 meters. No wonder it was impossible to get a full profile shot.
It looks like the 1959 dash was carried over unchanged until the Series 75 / Commercials of MY 1963, so we still have the older dash in our feature car. That awesome wraparound windshield, for its part, remained unchanged in the Commercial Chassis until GM updated the Series 75’s cowl in 1965. According to (sometimes confusing) online sources, it seems the Fleetwood limos kept the old cowl and the ’64 styling through MY 1965. Commercial Chassis-based vehicles made that year, on the other hand, look completely different, i.e. without a dogleg windshield and with the ’65 Cadillac’s stacked headlights. Go figure.
Even in today’s environment, where massive SUVs look like civilian APCs and lifted 4x4s tower over pesky pedestrians, the sheer size of this Cadillac remain impressive. The length is without parallel in present-day production. Width is also consequent, but to literally top it all off, the roof is actually quite high on these things. This is the big, beautiful triple-XL Detroiter in all its (faded) glory. Can’t imagine what it must have looked like to folks back when it was new.
It doesn’t seem as if it would take too much to get this 3-ton slice of Americana back on the road. Even if the engine is shot, or the transmission (or the brakes, brake pads, lining, etc.) need tending to, remedies can be found. The body looks pretty neat. The only issue I would have would be the colour – something else would be better. But not white with red fins, please. The world has more than enough ECTO-1 tribute cars as it is.
This might be the least usable car in Japan I’ve ever seen. Streets here are best suited to kei cars; there would be a considerable portion of the road network that would be impossible to attempt in a Miller-Meteor Futura. And let’s not even think about finding a parking space. $4800? Even adjusted for inflation, I’ll pass. But I’ll still gawk as it like a 6-year-old kid seeing a movie star in real life.
Graveside Classic: 1970 Cadillac Superior Funeral Coach – Got Corpse?, by PN
Automotive History: A Tale of Two White Wagons, by Imperialist
Vintage PR Photo: 1957 Miller-Meteor Crestwood Limousine Combination – A Di-Noc Hearse To Die For, by PN
Curbside Classic: 1962 Cadillac Series 62 Town Sedan – Don Draper’s Dream, by Laurence Jones
Curbside Classic: 1962 Cadillac Series 62 Coupe – Coupe de la Creme, by JPC
Museum Classic: 1962 Cadillac Convertible – Living In A World Made Of Papier Mache, by Aaron65
In Motion CC: 1962 Cadillac Sedan DeVille – Sucks More Fuel Than Three Prii, But Does It In Style, by PN
eBay Find: 1962 Cadillac Fleetwood Sixty Special – Instant Respectability., by Gerardo Solis
Cohort Classic: 1962 Cadillac Convertible – My PCRS Antidote, by PN
Cohort Outtake: 1962 Cadillac Still Hauling Loads On Its Roof Rack, by PN
Cohort Outtake: 1962 Cadillac Series Sixty-Two Six-Window Sedan – Plug-In Version, by PN
The Cadillac Commercial Chassis is not very well documented online. Wikipedia says that the final ambulances on the commercial chassis were built in 1979, but that was not the end of the chassis. While ambulances moved to van platforms due to Federal law, funeral cars continued to use it. One source on funeral cars indicates that the actual commercial chassis ran through 1984, with later vehicles using a stripped automobile chassis for the funeral and limo trades.
When I was a kid, there was a plumber who lived down the street from my best friend. That plumber used a 1960 landau coach, and I think it may have been an M-M. This would have been in the 1972-74 period.
I cannot imagine a less likely American vehicle to turn up in Japan. Well done!
There is some info out there, but it is a bit contradictory.
Some of the best info, because it contains lots of photos, is this page:
Some say the Commercial Chassis was downsized in 1977, so the cutoff date should be 1976.
Some claim that it was built up to at least 1980 and possibly beyond, though production data become fuzzy.
For their part, GM seem content to stretch the definition all the way to 1996, when the last BoF cars were made.
I certainly don’t claim to know these cars well, but I don’t merely parrot Wikipedia. Not that you were implying that, eh?
The manual for my 1984 Cadillac Sedan deVille mentions the Commercial Chassis, as it was the last year for the carbed 368 V8.
I think the definition changed from a stretched frame to a option code of whatever RWD model Cadillac was producing.
I’ve seen factory photos of a downsized Commercial Cowl and Chassis, but don’t remember the exact year.
While they did drop the cowl and chassis version they continued to produce a Commercial Chassis for at least a few more years. It left the factory with a full body but had the larger brakes and other heavier duty components to suit getting a stretch job. For a standard limo the full body is a better deal for both GM and the coach builder.
I think the consensus is that the downsized 1977 version was still a legitimate commercial chassis, just an updated one. I know that the professional car builders continued offering hearses on the “classic” Cadillac chassis all the way to 1991, but I understand that at some point Cadillac stopped considering it a separate thing, and started selling cut-down cars with HD components.
The other confusing thing is that starting in 1985 there was a chassis offered to builders based on the new FWD Cadillac, so both kinds were offered. That would make sense as a reason to kill the older Professional chassis, with the company now offering two separate versions, and perhaps there was no desire to keep up with a third one (that I think was still offering the 368 after it had been discontinued from retail cars).
I got to drive at least one Superior or an M-M version of these from each year from 1976 to 1980 at a job I once had at a funeral home. I only got to drive the 76 one time, and only a couple of blocks – it had been relegated to “spare” status in 1978 or 79 and was being sold to a smaller funeral home.
I’d like to know how Cadillac painted the recessed part of the vaned wheel covers so neatly. Has anyone done that since (with body color)?
After Cadillac switched the rear nacelles from horizontal in ’61 to vertical so there’d be more open space in the rear fascia, it doesn’t look like they used it, but they did widen the bumper by a couple of inches.
I might suggest this could be used as a modest apartment in Japan. The interior likely has comparable square footage.
That observation aside, comparing the details of the four manufacturers in the Cadillac ad is interesting. The Eureka looks like it has the best styling for a landau top car. It’s also worth noting that only one (the Miller) retains conventional opening rear doors; the other three appear to have suicide doors.
Probably doesn’t mean anything significant, but three of the four manufacturers are located in Ohio, with the fourth in nearby Illinois. It would make sense to cut down on shipping from wherever GM assembled Cadillac chassis (Detroit?).
Finally, these hearse/ambulance conversions would seem to fall into the same category as the subcontracted limousine conversions the manufacturers used to do, and that always reminds me of what was a major component of John DeLorean’s ouster (he said he volunarily left) from GM. In one of his non-authorized biographies, I remember reading that Ed Cole supposedly claimed he was fired over involvement in some sort of shady limousine conversion kickback scheme.
Kei car indeed. K as in King size
I know this is a 62, but it certainly looks like a 60 back end, no?
I see what you mean. I think they might be 60 fin taillights, and maybe some part of the fin. Then the rest of the sheet metal updated to be look like 62 and fit 62 lower light pods/bumper
Nope, its a 62. 61 and 62 Cadillacs have that funky lower reverse fin on the rear quarter. Theyre my favorite years other than the 1959 for that reason alone. Personally I like the gold, its very 1960’s and a bit reserved, which looks good on a big formal Cadillac like this. Save the turquoise, red, pink, pastels etc for the fun convertibles and coupe devilles
Also would be interesting to meet the crazy man who imported this thing to Japan in the first place. Its bigger than the fire trucks they have in Japan lol, the spot in a parking garage would be the same size as a small apartment in Tokyo
Can’t say I’ve ever much like those lower, reverse, ‘ventral’ fins. At least Cadillac’s versions looked a whole lot better than what was tacked onto the 1961 Oldsmobile. While Cadillac kept the upper fins, which lended some balance to the gimmick, it was a really odd look on the Olds since, by 1961, they had shaved the fins off the top of the quarters which gave the appearance of gluing them onto the bottom.
Strangely, neither Ford, nor Chrysler (especially) ever copied the idea.
It was beautiful in 1962 and remains so today .
My old S & S Victoria hearse was built on a 1980 Fleetwood chassis .
The main mechanical differences with a normal Cadillac chassis was the reinforced rear suspension and beefier axle,
It wasn’t just a reinforced rear suspension; it was a totally different one: big beefy leaf springs instead of the coils on the passenger cars. This was essentially a truck rear end, with a HD axle to handle the significantly higher loads.
The question I have is was this leaf spring rear end carried through to the next generation (or two) of Commercial Chassis.
According to (sometimes confusing) online sources, it seems the Fleetwood limos kept the old cowl and the ’64 styling through MY 1965
There’s no question that the ’65 Model 75 was a carryover from 1964, wile the Commercial Chassis went with the new ’65 design. It’s in the brochures and such. The logical explanation is that the 75 limo/sedan was built by Cadillac, and presumably they either had leftover stock of body parts, or just didn’t want to spend the money on new tooling yet, or something like that. Meanwhile, since the Commercial Chassis was without a body, there was no reason not to start selling it to coach builders.
I answered my question, at least as regards the ’71-’76 CC: it has a coil spring rear suspension. I rather suspect the ’65-’70 generation does too.
The ’48-49 Series 75 looks like a ’47 Cadillac (no fins), but it did get the new engine in ’49. I wonder if they stamped an extra thousand or two body panels all at once and stored them or kept the tooling handy and had a 75 day when needed. We read a lot about auto design and engineering, but not as much about unglamorous manufacturing.
Looking for a classic large-car chassis from circa 1930 to compare to that handsome Cadillac Commercial one, I found this undated Rolls Royce example. I though to do so after recalling a photo in a high-school library book about the marque, showing a Springfield Rolls chassis without bodywork that caught my fancy once upon a time . . .
There was a time many older limos and I imagine hearses and ambulances, were often modified into tow trucks, motor homes and other heavy duty uses. There isn’t much demand for old limos and so many many end up being scrapped. Many times an enthusiast might buy one with the intention of restoring or preserving it but it will end up deteriorating in outdoor storage. Limos are one of the most expensive cars to restore. there is just so much more of everything. My favorite limos are the factory Cadillac 75s from the late 1940’s to the beginning of the ’70’s.
The full windows and right hand side hinges point towards an ambulance or dual use configuration. I chased up my recollection of hearses and ambulances having the rear door hinge on opposite sides and all of the ambulances have the hinge on the right and the door handle on the left while many hearses have the hinge on the left and handle on the right. I’m going to surmise this has something to do with whether the driver or the attendant normally opens the rear door and its relation to the curb.
Gorgeous machine. I wish you had gotten photos of the “midsection” of the interior that would show where that rear seat was mounted and how, umm, professional the workmanship and trim was.
The window sticker says “Golden Retrievers in transit.” Did they paint it to match or choose it for its color?
I have a 1960 M/M hearse in need of glass, anybody know where to find that ?