There’s a celebrity chef named Alton Brown who talks about his dislike of what he refers to as unitaskers, tools in the kitchen that only do one thing. Perhaps he would really appreciate the 1965 Superior Combination Car that’s the perfect vehicle to think about on Halloween.
It’s funny to look inside this car which served two purposes - it was an ambulance if things weren’t going well and it was also a hearse if things went really badly. These kinds of combination cars were not unusual, especially in small towns where resources were a little more scarce. While a big city like LA had lots and lots of dead folks looking for a ride, Humptydump, Tennessee might have only the occasional need to haul around those whose library cards had, like the owner, expired.
So first and foremost let’s say you did something really, really stupid after asking your friends to hold your beer and “watch this.” Ooops, fortunately one of them had the sense to put down the film camera and call the authorities who would send several attendants in this car to come see if they could rescue you from your own stupidity, or whatever disease you were suffering from. Plus they’d have to wait 50 years for YouTube to be invented so they could post and monetize the video.
Now since this fancy ride was a proper Cadillac and all, you would expect certain luxuries inside.
Out back where the customer would ride there were several convertible items that made it possible for two ambulance attendants to take care of the patient. The black-and-white “fenolic” floor had panels that could flip over - one side was smooth and the other had rollers. If uncle George was in a stretcher, which had wheels, the smooth side would face up. If he were in his final resting box, you could flip the floor panels over and there were wheels to allow the coffin to ease in and out.
Two “Fold-N-Seats” allowed the attendants to sit back there while their customer was in a state of distress and hopefully keep them alive through whatever means possible. The attendants’ needs were also taken care of by the company so there were ash trays, cigarette lighters and buttons to turn on heaters and other ventilation.
Yep, the attendants could smoke away back there with their patient. They were definitely different times to be sure.
On the exterior of the car are two search lights and you could put a red beacon on top magnetically. Under the floorboards is a hidden siren so the black car could easily be switched from hearse to ambulance in a manner of minutes.
According to the owner, it was not unusual that the town’s funeral home was also the company that handled the ambulance service. How convenient! Kind of like one-stop shopping.
Funeral cars were, then, as now built by aftermarket companies who created all sorts of specialty vehicles. While the Cadillac brand was the source of a lot of the chassis for these vehicles there were plenty of examples with chassis provided by others. Many of these cars were based on GM platforms but there are examples from other manufacturers as well.
There were also several manufacturers of these specialty vehicles, each of which took pride in trying to create the most ideal vehicle for the job. They also built other specialty vehicles and, while you can still buy a brand new hearse today, combination cars are a thing of the past as are things like airport shuttles with eight doors and several other kinds of specialty vehicles like this.
This 1965 example is beautifully restored and takes us back several decades to a time when there was a different reality for those who were ambulance attendants. It was a time when you might get two rides in a Cadillac - neither of which was particularly pleasant. But, hey, at least everybody could light up a cigarette so there’s that.