28 October 2015

Collecting Vintage Hearses: A quirky, passionate hobby

The rarity and exquisite craftsmanship of hearses makes them some of the most unique vehicles available in the classic car hobby. Even better, most funeral directors took great care of their hearses, but due to competition and keeping up with the times, upgrading to modern coaches was required and good for business. So hearse collectors not only get limited production cars, they also get low-mileage and well-kept vehicles.

Hearses are not just for Halloween season either; these cars are so much more than a goofy Halloween prop. They are rare, elegant cars with a respectful purpose, and there are many passionate people from all walks of life who celebrate the history and importance of these service cars, including the club featured in this article, the Hardcore Hearse Club in Illinois.

Darlene Daniels, President of the Hardcore Hearse Club

As a child, I lived on the south side of Chicago and had a few funeral homes close by. I was fascinated with the big fancy cars that I would see in front of them. I wanted a purple hearse with hippie curtains and a red one with flames. In high school I took auto shop classes, still dreaming of owning these hearses.

My first hearse was rusty with flat tires sunken into the ground. After filling the tires and adding oil, it came to life. I drove it home with the power steering whining loudly, ball joints squeaking, engine knocking and pieces of rust falling off, but I didn’t care —I was in love. I spent many hours scouring the junkyard for parts and endlessly grinding away rust. This gave my obsession a jumpstart, and as soon I would begin to fix up a car I would find another that I wanted even more.

Each hearse holds a special place in my heart — I have even cried tears of joy during a car purchase — but if I had to pick only one of them, it would be my 1968 Superior Crown Cadillac. I bought the car from a funeral director who had a terminal illness. He absolutely loved this car, and it only had 25,000 miles on it. My husband and I spent days cleaning up the interior and taking every piece of chrome off of the car, stripping it down for paint. There wasn't a single inch of the car overlooked. I sold it soon after it was painted because it would not fit in my garage and I couldn’t bear to see it parked outside in the elements.

It is always hard for me to sell a hearse; I develop a relationship with every car that I work on. I soon realized my mistake, and when the opportunity came, I eagerly bought the car back.

There were no car clubs doing what we wanted to do, which was spend time with friends and drive our hearses, so my husband and I started Hardcore Hearse Club. All year round we have something to do, whether it is a haunted house, a convention, a TV or film appearance, a charitable event, a party, a funeral or a car show. Hearse shows are just like other car shows: friends, cars, discussion, trophies, raffles and good times — true camaraderie. Hardcore Hearse Club holds a rapidly growing show in Lombard, Ill., with live bands, vendors, entertainment and flame-throwing hearses.

One of the best perks of this hobby is meeting so many like-minded and absolutely wonderful people. We have all ages involved, from the teenager with their first car to the funeral directors and the hearse-driving grandma and everyone in between. I am thankful for meeting many lifelong friends through the hobby. There are a great variety of people who all come together because of their love of hearses, and despite being so different, we all get along wonderfully.

Frank and Nicole Garcia, Chicago, Ill.,

We are proud owners of a 1983 Cadillac S&S Fleetwood Hearse named Frankenhearse. We wanted to own a hearse for years, not just because we find them interesting and love the “creepy” factor, but because we have full respect for what the ride stands for. It being considered a "last ride," the car can tend to freak people out, but not us. We have a bit of a monster addiction: Frankenstein and his bride were incorporated into various aspects of our Halloween-themed wedding. When we saw this hearse for sale on eBay, it called to us, and we immediately started to refer to it as "Frankenhearse." We had it shipped it all the way from Nevada to our home in Illinois, and soon after the purchase, we immediately took a liking to the Hardcore Hearse Club. When we found them online we knew we would fit right in. The best part about owning a hearse is that you get looks no matter where you go. When you take it to a car show it's a show-stopper and everyone gets a kick out of it. We have owned many hot rods, muscle cars and others, but nothing has been this much fun!

Rob Hardenburgh, Coopersville, Mich.

I went to my first funeral when I was 8 years old, and it was there that I laid my eyes on the funeral coach; it was the prettiest car I'd ever seen, and I repeatedly told my parents that I would own one someday. As I grew up, got married and started a family, I forgot about those big sexy cars and considered getting a street rod like the rest of my family. When I was married, the Dodge Magnum came out. I wanted one so badly that I could taste it, but my wife told me, ‘No way, it looks too much like a hearse.’ After our divorce, my first big purchase was a Dodge Magnum, and my second was a 1978 Cadillac Miller Meteor hearse. I've spent the last three years fixing her up and have several years ahead and am loving every minute of it!

Lynn Johansen from Franklin Park, Ill.

I drive a 1990 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham, otherwise called ‘The Beast.’ It’s not your average-looking — or sounding — funeral coach. It’s painted flat black with cherry-bomb exhausts, has a hood scoop and is equipped with a 350-cid 5.7-liter V-8 engine. While researching family history and later writing a book on zinc grave markers, the opportunity to purchase the hearse presented itself to me and it seemed like the right thing to do. I have owned her since 2010 and I have made wonderful friends who share the hobby. It has become a family affair with both my daughter and son-in-law also owning hearses. My 14-year-old granddaughter likes to ride in the back; when we pull up to a stoplight she opens the side curtains and smiles at the people in the cars next to us. My hearse is the best vehicle I ever owned!

David Mendoza, Berwyn, Ill.

I have been a horror fan since I was a child going to the video store to renting scary movies, but the first time I fell in love with a hearse was during my senior year in high school. I was having a horrible day; it was raining and I had just missed the bus. As I stood there soaking wet, waiting for the next bus to come by, I saw a white 1970-74 Cadillac Hearse drive by. It looked so awesome that it put a smile on my face, and I told myself, ‘I need to get one.’ Several years later, I purchased my first and only Hearse, a 1968 Cadillac Miller-Meteor. I named her Marilyn after the famous actress, Marilyn Monroe. When I joined a local hearse club, I was surprised by the great group of friends I gained. I love it when people stop me to ask questions; it makes for great conversation, and I’m able to educate everyone on the history of these beautiful coaches and show them that owning one is not scary at all. I have owned my hearse for eight years and still love driving it and making memories with friends new and old.

Patrick Scoleri, Chicago, Ill.

When I was a toddler, my father would buy and sell some very nice classic cars. I remember being upset every time he sold a car that I really liked. I bought my first classic when I was 17 — a 1968 Mustang coupe. Over the years I would buy more classic cars with the thought of fixing them up and selling them for profit; however, I would fix the cars up and become too attached to sell them.

One thing I love just as much as cars is Halloween, and nothing combines those two loves better then a hearse. I appreciate the style, the craftsmanship and the presence of a hearse. Mine is a 1979 Cadillac Victoria made by the Sayers & Scovill coach company, and I named it ‘The Cremator.’ It has a 425-cid. V-8 engine and is pretty much stock aside from the paint, custom hood ornament and the flame-throwing exhaust — of course! It's been fun taking the hearse out to all the events and shows that the Hardcore Hearse Club puts on. They have certainly renewed my love for this beautiful car

Cindy Pecenka Bonzani, Chicago, Ill.

I fell into the hearse hobby by accident. Over the past several years, I started photographing cemetery monuments and headstones. My husband thought it would be cool to have a hearse to drive to the cemetery. He bought our first hearse on Halloween 2014 — a 1992 Cadillac S & S Victoria hearse named Stella. She loves showing off her ‘bling,’ especially at Halloween, so we nicknamed her ‘The Crypt Keeper.’ A second hearse arrived that same year for Christmas. Since then, we have met people from very diverse backgrounds, and everyone is so awesome that we consider them family.

Andrew Seifried, 21, Chicago, Ill.

I got into the hearse hobby thanks to my great uncle. He was an iron worker in the city of Chicago and had owned hearses for 35-40 years to haul tools. One day he heard I was looking for a car for school, and he told me if I helped him find another hearse, he would give me his, and that is exactly what I did. I have owned the 1994 Cadillac Fleetwood Sayers & Scovill Victoria for about a year and a half. I love driving it and I really love telling people what I drive — their reactions are priceless. I can honestly say that I don’t have a desire to own any other type of vehicle other than a hearse.”

Chris and Linda Trenhaile

We were house shopping in 2006, and in the process of looking at a house we also checked out the neighbor’s place; they owned a hearse that was parked outside. Seeing that the other neighbors weren’t bothered by the hearse helped us decide to purchase our current residence. Now that might sound like an odd reason for buying a house, but not to us — we have always marched to our own beat. Fast forward to 2010, and our neighbor put that hearse up for sale. The timing was not right for us, but it was for my mother, and she became the new owner. As a result, we became more acquainted with the intricacies, beauty and craftsmanship that goes into making each coach. We were hooked and suffering from what I refer to as ‘hearse fever.’

I bought my 1986 Oldsmobile 88 Royale Coach Eureka Conversion in August 2012 and my husband Chris purchased his 1991 Lincoln Town Car Coach M-M Conversion in November 2013. Since then, we have fallen further and further in love with the vehicles and are planning to add to collection with one or two older cars. We enjoy going to regular car shows and getting a lot of attention, and we don’t go out of our way to spook anyone, but rather educate people about them. For example, they are all original custom cars: No two are exactly alike. They are the most luxurious and beautiful vehicles we’ve ever owned and we hope to share our passion with the world.

Guy Durham, Collinsville, Ill.

I’ve always thought of them as pieces of art. My childhood friend’s parent’s owned a funeral home and I helped them wash and wax the cars. I always said I would have a hearse of my own. When I was finally able to afford my dream car at age 35, I began searching on the internet for a 1959 Cadillac, but the first hearse that popped up was a 1938 LaSalle Carved-panel Hearse and I just knew it was the girl for me — the hearse of my dreams. My favorite show as a kid was the Addams Family, and I named the hearse ‘Morticia.’ I love the history and the craftsmanship that goes into these cars, not to mention the great people that I meet along the way.

Silver Sorensen, Saint Charles, Ill.

I was one lucky 17-year-old when my parents purchased my hearse after I earned straight A’s on a report card. I couldn’t believe it. I was driving a beat-up 1985 Oldsmobile Tornado, and my report card came home the same day that I failed the emissions test for the second time. I was a pizza delivery guy, and I came home from work the next day to find a blue 1982 Mercury Grand Marquis Hearse sitting in the driveway! I was delivering pizzas in a hearse the next day. I’m now on my third hearse: a black 1992 Cadillac Brougham built by Miller Meteor. My license plate is ‘RU NEXT.’ I’ve gotten people laughing about my license plate and taking pictures of my car, or looks of pure disgust, genuine curiosity and everything in between.

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