CC Capsule: Classic Ambulance Wagons

This shot is from the small town of Wallan, just north of Melbourne, back in June when I was passing through town.  I don’t know why there was a display of classic ambulances, but why not let this shot of a 1957 Ford Mainline and 1965 Studebaker open the door for a look at some of the old ambulances because they were quite different.

I thought I would expand on this photo and tie in to a visit to the Ambulance Museum in eastern Melbourne that I made about 18 months ago as well as the Museum’s display at the Winton Historic races.  They have a great display dating back to the origins of the modern ambulance during World War 1.  There were earlier automobiles used as ambulances, but as with so many areas the automobile became much more widespread during that terrible conflict.  Things were still fairly primitive, aimed at transporting a patient to medical treatment rather than the reverse.

The two above are recreations, but this 1927 Nash started life as an ambulance.  The body was built in the motor trade precinct on the north side of central Melbourne, before it was delivered for service in Sydney.  It was restored about 40 years ago, with photos of the original used to re-create the body.  This Nash is typical of early ambulances – a big, powerful car with space to carry a patient or two, and often an attendant.

While there were exceptions, this is typical of how ambulances were patterned in Australia for many years afterwards.  Ambulance services were locally-based and in most cases not properly funded, and the 1957 Ford here is an example of that.  It started service on the Snowy Mountain Scheme, the large hydroelectric project in the alpine area of New South Wales, and upon replacement in 1977 was put into service with the North East Victoria Ambulance Service.  It was not noted when it finally retired.

Here is the largely standard interior, with a radio of course and the once-universal dymo labels for extra switches.  Using a standard passenger car chassis and body as a base made for the most economical ambulance, so long as a stretcher could be accommodated.

This is the business end, showing the basic nature of the fittings.  A second stretcher could be slung above using the hook seen at the top of the picture – more of that soon.  I suppose if pressed the ambulance could transport 4 patients, without an attendant.

This 1960 Chrysler Royal V8 ambulance that the Museum had on display at the Winton historic races is an example of 40 that were operated throughout Melbourne.  This one is based on the station wagon but several different coachbuilders did conversions.  In Sydney a Chrysler Royal ambulance was built with a fibreglass body, the first of its type here.  Apparently during its unveiling the demonstration of the new wonder-material’s toughness went slightly wrong: instead of the sledgehammer merely bouncing off the side of the vehicle leaving not a scratch, it made a rather large hole.  Oops!

The interior shot of this ambulance shows the roof rail that could suspend a second stretcher.  This model worked while ambulances were still working on the basis of keeping the patient alive until they got to a hospital, rather than being a mobile hospital.  Indeed one of the first Mobile Intensive Care Ambulances (MICA units) is housed in the Museum.

The 1965 Studebaker Cruiser would seem to be much more of a rarity, although they were built alongside the CKD station wagons in the assembly factory in Melbourne.  This one has the 259 V8 and was one of five run by the East Gippsland Ambulance Service, based out of Bairnsdale and Sale in eastern Victoria, before being acquired by a Studebaker collector in Brisbane Queensland.  He displayed it in a museum for many years, before the Ambulance Historical Society purchased it after his passing.

The final ambulance shown by the Museum at Winton was an early example of the change in direction of Australian ambulances, a 1963 Ford F100.  As the years progressed, the evolution of this model would comprise the majority of the ambulance fleet, having space for the additional equipment that would be of use to more and more highly-trained paramedics.  This one operated in south-western Victoria.

There is quite the contrast between the 1963 F100 and the last of the line, a 2005 F350.  This is one of the last pickup-based ambulances; all current units are based on the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van.  Full-size US vans were never popular here.  The payload required kept increasing over the years; at one point there was a scandal because F250 ambulances were exceeding GVM when fully loaded.

The Museum has one of those too, and surprisingly there didn’t seem to be a lot of difference inside space-wise.

There are several steps in the ambulance story that can be filled in, if there is interest?