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.

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 Co-op Funeral Services were by far the biggest customer for DS420 hearses and limousines. See this photo on my "contemporary photos" webpage.

Woodall Nicholson Woodall Nicholson   

Until 1979, all Woodall Nicholson hearses were sold exclusively via the showrooms of Stratstone in London. Below is an advert that appeared in the The Funeral Director magazine from November 1970.

Stratstone advert

After 1979, WN set up its own sales network. 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.

Woodall Nicholson  
 
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.

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.

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 he sold to 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 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).

 
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)
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 County 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

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

 

  

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 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.

Embedding these 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.

 

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. It was taken shortly after the plane with the coffin arrived from France at RAF Northolt airfield. This hearse, B626WRX, 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.

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

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