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.
Automotive History: A Tale of Two White Wagons, by Imperialist
Curbside Classic: 1962 Cadillac Series 62 Town Sedan – Don Draper’s Dream, by Laurence Jones