Daimler DS420 Hearses


  logo (1.7kB)
Last Mile in Style

Roughly 18% of the DS420 production (903/5044) was delivered in chassis-only form to coach building companies, to be converted to hearses. The pictures below (press photos 279041, number unknown and 279042) show such a chassis ready for delivery. The DS420 hearse has dominated the English funeral trade (as well as many Commonwealth territories) for decades as "the" typical English funeral car.

  chassis test drive
hearse chassis   hearse chassis   hearse chassis

The most important hearse coach builders for the DS420 were:

Hearses are not sold with abundant promotion, and overall production figures are very small: only 903 DS420 hearses have been built in total. Documentation from hearse manufacturers is scarce.

Two specific design details are remarkable, especially for viewers from outside the UK. First the position of the coffin: it is displayed in clear view as in a show-window: high up, and not hidden behind curtains. Second is the typical "double-deck" design of many hearses (clearly visible on several pictures on this page). To save an extra trip to the morgue when two funerals are booked on a single day, a holding space below the upper deck is available for a second coffin.

The various Co-op Funeral companies were by far the biggest customers for DS420 hearses and limousines. See this photo on my "contemporary photos" web page.

The very first hearse chassis, 1M1003H, was bodied by Woodall Nicholson. A photo of that hearse "on duty" is shown here, but on the "contemporary photos" web page it is accompanied by many more DS420 funeral cars. The photo to the right shows the construction of that first WN hearse. This photo was contributed by hearse historians Sandra Mitchell and Dean Reader.

Until 1979, all Woodall Nicholson hearses were sold exclusively via the showrooms of Stratstone in London. After 1979, WN set up its own sales network. Below is an advert that appeared in the The Funeral Director magazine from November 1970:

Stratstone advert First DS420 Woodall Nicholson hearse Constructing the first Woodall Nicholson DS420 hearse

The content of the Woodall Nicholson brochure text (below, left) is almost identical to the text on the two photographed pages (below, right), although there are minor differences. The texts specify the Borg Warner 8 gearbox (before 1974), which is consistent with the car shown on the photo in the middle. The photo on the brochure shows the rectangular air inlets (after 1979), while both texts still mention the BW8 gearbox (before Feb. 1974). This suggests that the photographed leaflets are much older. So these specs are sloppy....
The two photos and the photographed leaflets came from a press pack that was offered for sale on eBay, but unfortunately the seller did retract it, which cancelled my bid, before the auction had ended. Therefore I show the eBay photos here.
The documentation describes three different bearer seats configurations: none, two and four.

Woodall Nicholson
Woodall Nicholson
Woodall Nicholson Woodall Nicholson Woodall Nicholson Woodall Nicholson Woodall Nicholson
Woodall Nicholson  

This picture is from a Coleman Milne brochure around 1987, although the chrome wheel embellishers show that this particular car was photographed before 1984. The entire brochure, covering various Coleman Milne limousines and Woodall Nicholson hearses can be seen here. No other vehicle in the brochure is DS420 based.

An interesting remark is on the last page of the brochure: "All vehicles are protected against corrosion, and guaranteed for six years from the date of delivery (Footnote: Excludes the Daimler DS420)". This footnote was probably not because the DS420 deserved an extended warranty.

I received this photo (right) from Georg Dönni from Dönni Classic Car in Roggliswil, Switzerland. The two Woodall Nicholson hearses shown here are early models: car XJF701J is from 1970, and car LAY574P is only a few years younger. Click on the photo to enlarge and to see more comment.

More information on Coleman Milne - Woodall Nicholson can be found on "the AROnline" web site. A reference is on my web links page.

  Dönni Classic Cars


When the DS420 was introduced in 1968, Alpe & Saunders was based in the Kew suburb of London, near the famous Royal Botanical Gardens. They built hearses but also supplied DS420 limousines to their customers: from 1968 on 14 hearse chassis and 29 limousines were ordered. But this stopped suddenly in May 1973, and after that their name does not come up in the DS420 sales records anymore.

The two photos shown here were kindly provided by hearse historians Sandra Mitchell and Dean Reader. They suspect that the design of the A&S model then was transferred to Th. Startin in Birmingham, to become their "lowliner" model.

   Alpe&Saunders DS420 hearse Alpe&Saunders DS420 hearse

The picture below is an advert for Thomas Startin Jr. hearses that appeared in the The Funeral Director magazine from April 1975. The middle photo shows the handover of a new hearse to a customer at their site (then) at 71 Aston Rd. North, Birmingham, and at the right is a publicity showroom photo:

Startin advert(334kB) Startin showroom outside   Startin hearse in showroom  

The B&W brochure leaflet shown below contains the remarkable statement that "all panels are hand beaten", thus illustrating the very small production volume. This design dates from early 1969.
The poster publication (below right) was kindly made available by the Startin Group. It cherishes the hearse building craft that the company once practised. Click on the illustrations to enlarge:

Startin hearses 1 (221kB) Startin hearse construction
Startin hearse construction Startin hearse construction Startin hearse construction
Startin hearse construction Startin hearse construction Startin hearse construction

The following pictures were made at Jaguar's Browns Lane site, in front of the management office building (demolished in 2008). The buildings in the background of the 3rd photo were later replaced by the Browns Lane JDHT museum and archive building. The last photo shows a rare 4-door lowliner model. The first and fourth photos were used for the "Designed and built" advertisement shown here-above. The third photo was already published in "The Driving Member", magazine of the Daimler and Lanchester Owners' Club, in April 1971.

Startin photo at Browns Lane Startin photo at Browns Lane Startin photo at Browns Lane Startin photo at Browns Lane

Startin lowliners That Startin lowliner is my absolute favourite. Bob Boston from Atlanta, Georgia USA sent a series of pictures of two of these lowliners, that he sold to Christchurch, New Zealand. If you click on the image the entire series will appear:

Thomas Startin finished its first DS420 based hearse on April 17th, 1969. Almost exactly 25 years later, on the 9th of February 1994, they delivered the last one, registration No. ROV2Y, to a customer. Produced around June 1992 at Jaguar's this car was one of the very last DS420 chassis (the last three went to Wilcox, the five before that were for Startins). Tony Bagley reported about this "hand-over" event in the May 1994 issue of "The Driving Member", magazine of the Daimler and Lanchester Owners' Club (vol. 30, No. 12).

The photo at the far right probably is a pose for some special occasion.

My collection of Thomas Startin photos is much larger than can be shown on this page. Therefore I have added a photo gallery with a few dozen additional photos. The majority of the cars shown have the chrome bumper overriders, so they date from 1968-1976.

Last Startin hearse delivered Startin construction and people

Wilcox Hearse specs (1) pg.1 Wilcox Hearse specs (2) pg.1   

The photographs below, and the corresponding specification texts, show a very early hearse by Wilcox Limousines. The specification texts don't have a year, but the leftmost one dates from around 1970 and the rightmost one is slightly younger. Their content is almost identical, but the one on the left is much better legible. These specifications mention "extended front doors".
Wilcox used two of these photographs in an advertisement in the "The Funeral Director" magazine of April 1975, with the remark: "New Daimler Hearse as supplied to Rowland Bros. of Croydon".

early Wilcox hearse 0 (33kB) early Wilcox hearse 1 (24kB) early Wilcox hearse 3 (24kB) early Wilcox hearse 2 (24kB)

The Eagle/Wilcox hearses in the brochure leaflet below and to the right are much younger than the one shown above. These cars have the bumpers with full rubber strip, which Daimler introduced in 1987. Note that this Eagle design uses its own tail lights, with integral reversing lamps.

Eagle hearses 2 (22kB)
  Eagle hearses 1 (46kB)

The following photos have faded heavily, because they have decorated the offices of Wilcox in Chalfont St.Peter for many years:

early Wilcox hearse early Wilcox hearse early Wilcox hearse
early Wilcox hearse early Wilcox hearse early Wilcox hearse

Hearse by Mangan and Sons Hearse by Mangan and Sons   

Quite exceptionally, a DS420 chassis (No. 1M3112BW) was sold to the Irish Republic and converted to a hearse by Mangan & Sons in Edenderry Cº Offaly. The chassis was ordered in February 1975, and was ready for delivery in May. But a strike at the Irish BL concessionary postponed the final delivery to October. The coach builder finished the vehicle in June 1976. It remained in service in Sligo, Irish Republic, until 2005, It currently (2019) is still in storage with the original owner.
This coach builder was selected because they already had delivered another hearse, based on a 1968 Rover 3.5, to this customer.
The first two photos are taken at the coach builder. On the next row the first two are at Drumcliff Church in August 1976, the next one shows both the Rover and the DS420 hearse, and the last one is from the handover at the BLC concessionary. Clicking on the last photo also shows the original invoice of the purchase. All photos are provided by Declan Foley.

Hearse in Sligo Hearse in Sligo Hearse in Sligo Hearse in Sligo


  Daimler-Hearse-jp  'Daimler hearse'

These pictures (right) are from the web site of Carmaking Manabu's from Japan. They show a one-off conversion done by that company.

  Manabu's hearse 2    Manabu's hearse 1

Unknown Coach Builder
These photos appeared on eBay many years ago; the "watermark" in the lower corner was a typical eBay addition in those days. This body is from an unknown coach builder, and the difference in height of the side windows before and after the B-post is remarkable. The buildings and the license plate suggest that this is German. Click one of the photos to enlarge.



On May 31st, 1972 a DS420 hearse (GGH830J) was used for the funeral of the Duke of Windsor, formerly King Edward VIII.

The vehicle was no. 1M1818H, built in December 1970 and bodied by Woodall Nicholson. It was owned by J.H.Kenyon Funeral Directors in Paddington/London.

Two photos can be (pre-)viewed from the collection of Getty Images. The photo shown to the left has Getty Images number 3397216. Apart from the DS420 hearse, it shows several DS420 limousines to the left and one limousine at the far right. The photo to the right is Getty Images No. 3379855. Photographer is George W. Hales, Hulton Royals Collection. Click the photos to enlarge.
Embedding the above photos in this web page is done by inserting HTML code provided by Getty Images. It is mandatory to use this code verbatim; modifying it is not allowed. Nor is it allowed to download the photos to our server first. Unfortunately, the code is not flawless. But let's not look this gift horse in the mouth.

Duke of Windsor hearse

Apart from the two getty-photos I found another photo (left) showing this hearse GGH830J carrying the Duke to the gates of Windsor Castle.

The photo to the right is from August 30, 1979, when the coffin with Lord Mountbatten was brought back to the UK. It also shows a Wilcox hearse (VLR644S). The Getty Images collection has a photo taken at the same occasion.

Lord Mountbatten hearse

A very visible event for a DS420 hearse was the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, on Sept. 6th, 1997, with a 1985 Daimler (B626MRK), owned by the Funeral Directors Leverton&Sons.

At the time of the funeral, this hearse was already 12 years old. The BBC have an extensive documentary film, in which the police officer responsible for a smooth trip through the London traffic, tells how frightened he got when he saw the hearse approaching: "it was old and dented, and I worried that it might stop unexpectedly". More pictures here. When Leverton wanted to sell the hearse in 2003 (asking £ 100,000.- for it), public reactions appeared as if this were a sort of desecration.

Incidentally, this hearse was the last one built by Wilcox Limousines under its own name, before Wilcox transferred the hearse production to its sister company Eagle Specialist Vehicles. The photo here below is shown by courtesy of the Getty Images embed mechanism. It is Getty Images No. 52102933, from the Tim Graham Photo Library. The photo was taken shortly after the plane with the coffin arrived from France at RAF Northolt airfield. This hearse, B626MRK, was also used in the following days.

  Princess Diana (17.6kB)
Embed from Getty Images

For the funeral (in 2002) of the Queen Mother, who was a fan of the DS420 herself, a more modern Daimler hearse was used. Most probably, the Royal Family wanted an immaculate vehicle, and a DS420 hearse in immaculate condition was already very hard to find in those days. Here is another photo.

The picture to the right shows a 1971 Woodall Nicholson, restored in 2001 to return it to active service. The horizontal chrome plating over the door sills, and the chrome cover between the side windows, were added during this restoration (as were the wrong overriders on the front bumper). The widening of the door post camouflages the fact that the driver seat was moved backward several inches. This way a very comfortable driver position could be realised.
This hearse is owned by Kramer Funeral Directors in Arnhem (NL), which is not far from where I live. The photos below show the hearse, in a cortege with my two limousines (in Jan.2019). Photos courtesy Ms. M. van Dijk.
   Kramer Arnhem
Kramer Arnhem Kramer Arnhem Kramer Arnhem

Beacham hearses 1 Beacham hearses 2    Some funeral directors, such as the owner of the hearse shown above, re-invest in extensive (and expensive) restorations. Beacham Jaguars from Havelock North in New Zealand was one of the parties to offer such restorations, including a transplant of engine and gearbox to very modern standards. Their brochure at the left shows the details, for hearses ánd limos. A 1999 magazine article tells more. For the sake of completeness: the hearse above was not done by Beacham's.

Even a hearse must finally be laid to rest. Most DS420 limos have left the streets as vehicles for commercial use in the taxi and rental car business. Their use has shrunk to either wedding services, or classic car hobby vehicles. Hearses seem to last longer than limos, so DS420 hearses can occasionally be seen on the British streets. But many have departed already, and they are offered for sale at rather low prices. Very few "ordinary" classic car lovers will buy a hearse with other intentions than cannibalising it as a parts car.

After having cared for many customers' "last mile in style", the hearses themselves often get their last miles under conditions that their original owners (and former passengers) never have dreamed of. This can vary from an extravagant admiration (e.g. www.dailymail.co.uk and Digital Mechanic's audio hearse) to a last performance on the banger track.

hearse cartoon This cartoon was designed for the (now deceased) Classic Hearse Register UK. club.

Back to the indexHomepage.