In the Case of This 1965 Cadillac Hearse, I Said Good Riddance to Bad Rubbish

John L. Stein

When you’re intrigued by the illogical, strange things can happen. And in the fall of 1980, in steamy Miami, they did.

With a work-related relocation to New York coming up, my company had agreed to pay all moving costs, including airfare. Too easy. Instead, some masochistic penchant compelled me to spend my own money on this abandoned hearse and drive that up there instead.

1965 Cadillac Hearse rear 3/4 for sale
John L. Stein

Spied in a weed-choked lot beside an old clapboard house, the S&S-bodied Cadillac looked like Johnny Cash’s “Man in Black” on wheels. I should have walked on by but couldn’t. Instead, I stopped, stared, and approached the car in a trance. I should have been the predator here. Instead, I was prey.

1965 Cadillac Hearse close up door open John L. Stein
John L. Stein

Inside the home, an elderly lawyer explained that he’d taken the car in payment for services rendered to a local removal service and would happily sell it to me for $350. Why fly 1100 miles in a comfy wide-body jet, chatting up flight attendants and sipping Miller High Life, when driving this haunting relic seemed doable?

The commercial-spec 9.00 x 15-inch tires, each sporting knife punctures in their sidewalls courtesy of neighborhood thugs, explained the hearse’s low stance. Thus, testing the car first required laboriously jacking it up and taking the wheelset to a shop for tubes—unsafe, of course, but cheaper than new treads.

Prior to the move, I made a 190-mile trip to Melbourne, Florida, to run the Space Coast Marathon (without training—more masochism) and slept in the rear space the night before the race. Didn’t go well. After cops booted me from a school parking lot, I found a church lot to continue my slumber, my windup clock ticking forebodingly beside my head, like in some Edgar Allen Poe tale. Later, two muscle cars squealed into the lot and inebriated partiers surrounded the hearse. They shrieked to find someone in a sleeping bag inside, and thankfully departed. (They departed; I was not departed…)

A week after the marathon, my roommate and I headed up Interstate 95. Equipped with a 429-cubic-inch V-8, the 3-ton hearse loved a street fight, and we didn’t lose a race until Richmond. A bigger loss, however, took place on the George Washington Bridge, at night, as we headed into Manhattan, when a rear wheel hub separated from the axle and ended our journey there and then.

We arrived at our high-rise apartment behind a tow truck where, indignantly perched on three wheels, the hearse quickly amassed $135 in parking tickets. With costs rising fast, we got the car to a shop to address the wheel, then sold it to a punk band at a loss. Which was actually a win.

1965 Cadillac Hearse front 3/4 missing wheel
The three-wheeled hearse, parking fines climbing by the day, shortly before it went away. John L. Stein




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    The mistake was not buying a hearse. It was moving to NYC. Nice place to visit but not a place to live.

    That would have made a great car in Escape From New York. Snake Plisskin “I thought he was dead.”

    Thanks for your story. I have had the same irrational desire to have an old hearse (or limo), and I have been able to deny myself the commitment, though I frequently entertain the temptation. Your experience demonstrates that I am neither rich nor skilled enough to handle how torturous this perceived luxury would become.

    Back in 1966 we were juniors in high school in Billerica, Ma., one of my best friends bought a 1956 Caddy Limo, 2 or 3 times a week we went to the local junk yards, looking for Caddy wheels with good tread, for cheap money! That winter we were picking up waste paper baskets & polishing floors every night at the Hanscom Field AFB, in Bedford, Ma.. What was funny every night as we approached the Main Gate, the MP’s would salute us, & way us on, coming & going, it never got boring, always a good laugh? Then in Jan. of 1967, another friend bought a nice 1956 Superior Caddy Hearse from the Tewksbury, Ma. funeral home, it had 4K miles, a Mystery Dispenser on the firewall, it fed into the carb, He bought it for $250.- He was building one of Mass’s 1st choppers, so He sold the Caddy to me for $300.-, min. wage was $1.50, $60.- a week gross, $46.- take home, Framing Houses, brand new split entry ranches, sold for $25k, today that same house is $1M, go figure? The Caddy had red velvet in the back, a beautiful wooden slab, that could go out all 3 doors to the back! The front had a nice dark red leather front seat, the E-eye for headlights, everything , but a radio? I drove it about 5 months, in the snow it was a Tank, 3 tons! One rainy night with 6 girls in the back, the oil light came on, being 17, I didn’t know what it was, my gas station hang out was 2 miles away, didn’t make it? It died in front of another friends house, I left it there a couple of days, my friends Dad wasn’t impresses? The Dad was the Head salesman at a large Ford Dealer, the Dad, my friend & his twin brother all drove real nice Black 57 Chevy cont., white top , red interior, what a sight in their driveway? Anyway, what killed the Caddy, somebody had changed the oil sending unit, it was too long, it was rubbing against the firewall & the brass cracked! I kept it for a few months, by then I was working in a friends junk yard, we kept the torches in it? Then one day, it was time to take it to the Shredder, which was in the same town that the Caddy spent it’s entire life? The truck winch had a hard time getting it on, we watched the giant magnet pick it up & feed it to the Shredder! The man that paid us, said it was the heaviest car He ever put thru the Shredder?

    I then bought a 54/55 Hearse/ Ambulance, didn’t like it, sold it? Then I bought a mint 1960 Superior Hearse, black on black, 4k miles, $400.-, went to Niagara Falls in Aug. of 1971, Honeymoon? We has the doors open, Hibachi going, they had a small scale train running around, the Japanese Tourists were taking lots of photos of us! After 21/2 years , I needed a truck with a plow, sold the Caddy for $400.-, also took it to the Laconia Bike Rally, the Hells Angels wanted to buy it?
    PS, If you ever watch Counting Cars, there is a Gray 56 Superior just inside the gate, just like mine, MEMORIES!!

    At almost 40 years old, having cycled through countless cars, I still have the irrational desire to own an old hearse or one of those “short” limos. I’ve wanted one since I was a kid, and it has to be 1970s or older, and preferably in the 1960s.

    I think hearses look kind of cool at a car show (for some irrational reason). As long as they belong to someone else, that is. I cannot imagine owning (maintaining, fueling, parking) one. You had a grand adventure, but you did the right thing. After all, that thing just screams “Punk Band”, right?

    I was into late 70s Cadillacs in my younger days, and one of the local funeral homes had a pretty clean 78 Cadillac hearse for sale for 1200 bucks. A little bit more than I wanted to spend for a car I didn’t need at the time, but I thought about it every day I drove by it. Right about at the point I was ready to go for it… it was gone

    My late Brother in Law owned a Hearse and Ambalance service here in Connecticut. In a barn on a farm he owned was a mid 1930’s Packard Hearse, agreat looking beast. I could have had it for free, BUT being 13 years old at the time it wasn’t to be. The last time I saw it it was in a junk yard with no doors and a welding unit in the back of her, they used it in the yard to take parts off old cars. I still regret not gett’en it, imagine rolling into a car show with that..

    Late ’70s, I drove past a Packard 8 hearse on the way to work. Thought it was real neat, but I bought a new Civic instead. As Spock said: “Wanting is better than having – just dreams and no problems”

    Great story…..’65 Caddy anything is my favorite ’60’s Cadillac year, so I’d not have been able to resist it either…..let’s see, 1980, I was 15 and on my learner’s permit…..close enough…..I’d have driven that baby home and used it as a daily too! You can’t even buy a fender for ’65 Cad for $350…..

    When I was in college back in the 60s, I’d pass by a shop between Durham and Raleigh where a guy was converting old hearses (50s vintage) into campers. He’d cut the body down just aft of the front seat, then build brackets to hold a (presumably used) pickup truck camper, which he’d permanently attach to the car. The hearse’s heavy duty suspension easily handled the weight of the camper, but they did look kinda strange going down the highway. He must have sold ’em, though because every time I went by he was working on a different conversion.

    One of IBM’s managers at Poughkeepsie had one, built on a 60s era hearse. I saw it once at a Bluegrass music convention (I was camping nearby in a 61 Econoline). His SO told me that he had built it himself.

    When I was a college freshman at ETSU, the 50s era hearses (the ones with “Dagmar” bumpers) were very popular with the Greek fraternities.

    My dad was always a Pontiac man, so in the 1970s we we had a 1965 Pontiac hearse/ambalance. It was silver with a dark blue vinyl roof. My mom put some stick on flower decals on the outside. My dad replaced the old muffler with a “thrush” glasspack muffler on it, so the big v8 sounded nice. It was our camping and traveling car. So when other girls saw me at school they would say “oh ish, you guys have a funeral car”. Then latter in high school I had a rusty and primered old Jeep, maybe that’s why knowbody wanted to go out with me.

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