Daimler DS420 Hearses

 

  logo (1.7kB)
 
Last Mile in Style

Roughly 20% of the DS420 production was delivered in chassis-only form to coach building companies, to be converted to hearses. The pictures (to the right is press photo 279042 and below is 279041) 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.

hearse chassis (16.7kB)
   
 
chassis test drive (92kB)
 
hearse chassis (16.7kB)

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.

 
Woodall Nicholson   The picture to the left 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 was probably not because the DS420 deserved an extended warranty.

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.

Woodall Nicholson Woodall Nicholson   

The Woodall Nicholson leaflet to the left specifies the General Motors gearbox, which dates it after July 1980. The car has the chrome wheel embellishers: before 1984.

Note that this leaflet describes three different bearer seats configurations: none, two and four.

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 many 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.

More information on the company can be found on "the Unofficial Austin Rover Web Resource" web site. A reference is on my web links page.

Woodall Nicholson  
Startin hearses 1 (221kB) Startin hearses 2 (267kB)

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

      Startin lowliner
 

Thomas Startin published the brochure to the left. It contains the remarkable statement that "all panels are hand beaten", thus illustrating the very small production volume. Brian Long's book Daimler and Lanchester suggests (pg. 294) that this design dates from mid 1969.

The picture below is an advert that appeared in the The Funeral Director magazine from April 1975. The lowline model as shown is an especially handsome estate car:

Startin advert(334kB)
 
Startin hearse 1 (57kB) Startin hearse 2 (36kB)    These promotional photographs show the same Startin hearse design as in the brochure above. The rightmost picture has two stamps on the back (shown at the right), suggesting that it was shot in Birmingham. The leftmost picture has the Startin stamp only; it was obviously shot at Browns Lane in Coventry (the low buildings in the background were later replaced by the JHT museum). Startin hearse 1 (57kB)

Last Startin hearse delivered
 
 
On the 9th of February 1994 Thomas Startin delivered its last DS420 based hearse, registration nr. 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).

 
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)
  

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

Two photos can be (pre-)viewed from the collection of Getty Images. The one shown to the left has Getty Images search number 3397216. Apart from the DS420 hearse, it shows several DS420 limousines to the left and at the far right. The one to the right is Getty Images number 3379855.

 

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.

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.

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.

  Princess Diana (17.6kB)

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.

 
Manabu's hearse 2   Manabu's hearse 1    Daimler-Hearse-jp

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

 
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.    Kramer Arnhem (18kB)
 
Beacham hearses 1 (214kB) Beacham hearses 2 (250kB)    Some funeral directors, such as the owner of the car 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 car above was not done by Beacham's.

But even a hearse must eventually 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 (www.dailymail.co.uk and Digital Mechanic's flickr-photostream) to a last performance on the banger track.

 
  hearse cartoon Cartoon for the
Classic Hearse Register UK.

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