|Back in ’98, I did what I knew I shouldn’t do, and telephoned the number which accompanied an advertisement for a 1937 LaSalle Hearse, just out of curiosity of course (too many episodes of The Munster’s as a kid?).
Whilst we’d heard of Cadillac’s, a word conjuring up ideas of vast expanses of metal and chrome, neither of us had any idea what a LaSalle was but let’s face it, it sounded a bit French and special, didn’t it ? I’d just go and look to see what it’s like, because we didn’t really have much cash to spare (we were house hunting, not hearse hunting) and had nowhere to store the Holden, let alone a hulking great hearse. No, I’d just go and look.
Paid cash in about two weeks !
Welcome to Cadillac Land. We finally did a deal with former Club member and all-round good guy Stuart Leal, whereby we handed over the folding stuff and we got the hearse and a couple of huge white cars for our wedding about 4 months later. What do we do with it now ? After testing the water with a relative or two for garage space (“You bought a what ?”), we then tried a couple of friends and had similar results, and then started looking for storage space and found just the ticket out at Berowra Waters. It was here that our beloved investment would live for a couple of years whilst we worked out what in heavens name we were going to do.
After some very encouraging words during our initial contact with Allan Cool59 Levinson and Gordon Smith we went along to a club meeting and somehow left as club secretaries. I’m still not sure how this happened. It was around this time that Allan gave me the phone number of Kevin Hardiman – who has since made me promise not to give it to anyone else. A man of rare talents, Kevin began work on the mechanical restoration of the LaSalle and I’m sure had no confidence at all of it ever being finished. As things were dismantled we started to get the picture, especially when the sump was found to contain a great deal of sludge and a head bolt. This bolt had certainly been around. It had found its way through each of the cylinders, it seems, destroying a set of pistons and two rods on the way. A leaking head gasket on one pot confirmed that a rebore really wouldn’t be a bad idea at all. Around this time we were living in Houston, Texas, and managed to secure a few parts and some good supplier’s names but even so it was club member Robert Mitchell who found the two rods we were needing. Restorations are one thing, but restorations by email and telephone are something else again.
Now she was running and we were back from Houston and living in our own house it was time to do something about that flaky baked enamel: enter Greg “Beach” Ball of Pro Street Restorations. Never again will I use the phrase “can’t be done”. Now I know that anything at all CAN be done, but it costs a lot of money if you want it done properly, which is really the only way to do it. The chemical stripping of the removable panels revealed some very dodgy repairs and loads of the creeping car cancer (the beaver panel just did not exist anymore). Chequebook time, all twelve months of it.
We’re now in 2002, we’ve missed the national Canberra rally, the year is coming to an end and the hearse is ready for registration having replaced the chrome-plated brass flower rails, wreath-rails, installed the rollers from Allan RIP100 Levinson’s 1967 hearse, replaced the headlining, side glass etc., had it “officially” weighed, “officially” inspected, “officially” scrutinised, baptised, circumcised and had an 8 inch pile of paperwork to prove it, we decided next Saturday morning was the day to pick up the license plates and give the RTA a big pay rise. What we hadn’t expected was the message on the answering machine that Friday from a Caddy Club member asking us if we’d be able to help out with a funeral on the following Monday!Work started that night to finish everything else and the next morning the RTA, after an hour of checking each sheet of paper, gave us our plates: CFC 001. It was then off to the shops to buy a new black suit. At 11:30am Monday we received approval from Shannon’s of the cover note and at 11:45am I rolled out the front gate to do the funeral (the first one for Classic Funeral Coaches !) while the last of the contact adhesive for the trim in the back set. We were really pleased to be asked to take part in the funeral and when it was all over we were very happy and very relieved.
Since then we’ve taken part in many more funerals and it’s really pleasing to see every head turn at crematoriums – no doubt wishing they’d had a Cadillac LaSalle instead of a late model Ford or Holden plastic hearse.
Or at least, I like to believe that’s what they’re thinking.
by Stuart, Marie and Jacqueline Rowe