Sunday, July 20, 2014

Show Car Sunday returns with a 4-wheeled vase!

On a Gowanus dead-end street so insignificant that it still wears it's cobblestones from 100 years ago I recently found this: 
A Cadillac El Camino? Kind of, sort of; this is a 1979 Cadillac-based Flower Car! Everyone knows what a hearse is, but this is a much rarer funeral vehicle meant to transport all of the flower arrangements from the service to the burial. Flower cars would start out life as a regular 2 or 4 door car (usually a Cadillac) which would be sent directly to a company that specializes in professional car conversions. The cars would then be converted to either a hearse, a flower car, and ambulance, or a motorhome. The company that made this conversion is the now-defunct McClain Sales Inc.
From this angle you can see this started out as a 4 door. The rear doors are still functional, usually with a spare tire behind one side and storage for all of the various flower stands, signs, or astroturf you might need when setting everything up on the other.
The front is all executive-looking Caddy. These cars are super rare from any era, as they were not only more scarce than hearses, but designed to hold cargo that was wet. No matter how waterproof the cargo area was when it was new a couple of decades of hauling flowers and soil around will invite corrosion.
Alices car in the movie Alice's Restaurant was a 1953 Cadillac flower car. Similarly, the Ecto-1 from Ghostbusters was a 1959 Cadillac converted into an ambulance by one of the same companies that made these. 
I like how how they reattached the Cadillac symbol to the upper rear stainless steel band above the license plate area. On most flower cars that top curved section is either stationary, or hinged in the front and can be lifted a bit, but is separate from the tailgate itself which would open down to allow access.
From this angle you can see the double use these cars offered; those rollers are meant for caskets! Occasionally the casket would be driven to the cemetery under all of the flower arrangements. Other times there would be a plain cover that would keep a casket out of view if it were being transported empty, or from a morgue to the funeral home for preparation. Everything is stainless steel to fight rust.
Like most funeral cars this looks to be in immaculate condition! Chances are excellent that it spent most of it's life within 10 miles of the garage it lived in, driving short distances when needed. Even a 35 year old example such as this might have 20,000 miles on it.
Well there we have it! A very classy, somewhat morbid, useful yet useless vehicle for Show Car Sunday. Hearses always have a second life waiting for them in retirement as a band tour vehicle, advertisement, goth dream car, etc, but finding a purpose for this is a little tougher. Either you're that guy who collects professional cars, or you want a gargantuan El Camino that gets horrible gas mileage and has relatively restricted cargo area access. Regardless I'm happy to have found it half a block from the canal.

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