1953 Superior Cadillac Combination.
This beautiful 1953 Superior Cadillac combination coach is finished in sable black with a burgundy vinyl interior. A funeral director in 1953 would have paid his local Superior Coach dealer about $7,057.00 for this coach which he could use in his business as both an ambulance and a hearse. It is one of only 760 Superior Cadillac commercial chassis cars produced that year and rides on a 157-inch wheelbase. Superior Coach Company on Kibby Street in Lima, Ohio was celebrating their 30th anniversary in 1953.
The 1953 Cadillacs including the limousines and special long-wheelbase commercial chassis (now designated as model 8680-S) used by the coachbuilders were powered by a 331 cubic inch, 210 horsepower V-8 Cadillac engine. For 1953 a 12-volt electrical system was introduced and passenger cars could be ordered for the first time with air conditioning, which was a trunk-mounted unit.
This particular coach is nearly devoid of options. There is, fortunately, an automatic transmission. There is no power steering, power brakes, air conditioning, or radio. It does have a heater in both the front and rear of the coach. Without power steering this car is a challenge to park and drive. Once moving though, you really don't miss the power steering . . . too much!
This funeral coach does have some of the features Superior Coach Company had pioneered in the years since the World War II. On the passenger side of the casket compartment are two folding attendant's seats. “Fold-N-Seats,” as Superior called them. The burgundy phenolic floor has reversible casket rollers so that when used as an ambulance there was a smooth surface for the cot to roll over. The "Flxible" brand cot bar on the left-hand-side wheel well housing anchors the two-man ambulance cot in place during transit.
Since this coach has Superior's optional suicide doors, it also has Superior's “Safe-T-Bar” door locks. Superior Coach Co. made this standard equipment in 1947 as a safety precaution to prevent the rear suicide doors from coming open unexpectedly. There is a dial on the partition, operable from either the front or the rear compartment, which effectively "bars" the doors closed, much like a dead bolt lock. This car also has Superior's “Roto-Hex” bier pins. We take adjustable casket holders for granted now but they were new and special advancements in the post World War II hearse world.
The windshield mounted, cast aluminum FUNERAL COACH sign, a common sight in the pre- and post-war era, marked the most dignified car in the funeral procession. From the front you may also notice the red lenses in the parking lights. These red lights were used when the coach was being used as an ambulance. It was common in many communities - until the late 1970s in fact - for the funeral home to also provide ambulance service. Wikipedia has an article on Combination Cars here.
My 1953 Superior served the Dodd Funeral Home owned by second-generation funeral director Eldo Dodd and his wife, Cora, in Paris Crossing, Indiana from 1953 until it was sold at an auction on December 12, 1992. The next owner, Mr. Norman Norvell owner of Norvell Funeral Homes of nearby Mt. Vernon, IN, purchased the vehicle for $6,200. Although Mr. Norvell rarely used the 1953 Superior Cadillac for funeral services it was often displayed outside of the funeral home for passers-by in downtown Mt. Vernon to enjoy. In August 2001 I purchased this 45,000 mile vehicle from Mr. Norvell who was in failing health and retiring from his life-long career in funeral service. It now enjoys the leisurely life of a retired funeral coach. Sadly, Mr. Norvell passed away shortly after selling the car. The Norvell Funeral Home is now the Schneider Funeral Home. Here's an interesting article about Norvell Funeral Home from 1979.
If you can find it, purchase the book The Country Undertaker's Wife by Cora Deputy Dodd published in 1993 by Still Waters Press. You'll enjoy a fascinating look at life from the view of Mrs. Dodd, and a few shots of this 1953 coach as well! Amazon usually has the book here.
[Special thanks to Matthew Coon of Ligonier, Indiana for his information on this car's history!]
The Miracle Match.
This car appeared in the 2005 movie, The Game of Their Lives, which was renamed, The Miracle Match. Filmed in St. Louis in the early 2000s, Gerald Butler plays Frank Borghi, a local funeral director's son who is a key member of the 1950 U.S. soccer team. The movie is available from Amazon.