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The Last Car Journey You’ll Ever Take

Two things are inevitable in life, they say: death and taxes.  Taxes come annually and don’t usually mean a ride in a special sort of vehicle (unless you’ve been dodging taxes but that’s another story). But when the ultimate inevitable comes for you, like it came for my father-in-law recently, you will take your last trip inside a hearse.

I used to think that a hearse was a specially built type of vehicle, something along the lines of a London taxi or an ambulance. This is not the case – and it isn’t the case for an ambulance, either, as quite a few around the world are modified trade vans along the lines of a Ford Transit. . Hearses are also modified regular vehicles. Not too much modification is required, either. You just have to choose your car right.


So what are the requirements for a hearse?

First of all, you’re going to need a five-door job, as the coffin goes in and out of the tailgate. Obviously, a five-door hatchback isn’t going to do the job, as it isn’t long enough in the back.  Oddly enough, MPV vehicles don’t seem to be used as hearses, at least as far as I have seen, although this may change, given the carrying capacity of these vehicles and the increase in crossover vehicles that combine elegant styling (a must for a hearse) with a long rear load space.  According to one undertaker I spoke to about preferred vehicles, Ford Falcon  and Holden Commodore  station wagons are pretty popular, and just about any big station wagon would do, as long as the rear seats fold completely flat. A quick flick around a used hearse sale site (you really can find anything online), reveals that the Saab 9-5 , Mercedes Benz E Class  and even the odd Daimler gets used.

Next come the styling considerations.  Obviously, something in bright zippy red isn’t going to go down too well.  Black seems to be the most popular choice, although dark greys, deep green and navy blue would also work, although I haven’t seen a hearse in these colours yet.  A touch of chrome isn’t out of place here and there. Big rear windows are also on the shopping list for a lot of undertakers, or they get added as a modification.

Power and performance aren’t high on the list of considerations for a hearse, although a canny undertaker would probably want something with decent fuel economy.  Hearses don’t have to go fast, seeing as funeral processions to the church and the graveside tend to be solemn, dignified drives. Or should be – at my father-in-law’s funeral, we had quite a way to go along rural roads to the grave site and the hearse driver didn’t half plant his boot and nearly lost some of the other drivers in the procession.  Good suspension and handling for smoothing out bumps and corners without sending wreaths slithering and bouncing all around the place are a bonus.

Then come the modifications. The most important modification is a little roller device mounted in what was the back of the rear seat so the coffin slides in and out easily.  Another common modification in hearses is a “wreath rail”, designed to rest floral emblems on so they can be seen clearly from outside the vehicle.  Other modifications are possible, including the flamboyant additions seen on some Japanese hearses.

Some hearses are quite old vehicles that are starting to push classic status. Hearses don’t get driven every day and when they do, they’re usually given short, sedate drives. This means that they don’t see as much wear and tear as other commercial vehicles and last a lot longer.

Some car enthusiasts, usually those with slight Goth tendencies, search out used hearses as their regular cars.