1949 Henney Packard Hearse - Restoration
I've long been fascinated by hearses, but never thought of actually owning one. Then during filming of The Crypt Club I came in close contact with Hearsella, a beautiful 1954 Superior Pontiac hearse. (Thanks Thea!) And, Presto! The concept of hearse ownership took deep root. Since then I've been searching for a doom buggy, a dead sled, a crypt carriage to call my own.
In 2006 it finally happened. My friend Roger B. spotted a hearse for sale by the roadside at an auction house. When Roger asked about it the auctioneer, Steve, told Roger it was already sold, but the money hadn't come through. A pair of days later Steve called Roger to tell him the hearse was back on the market. Roger called me and I hightailed it to Palgrave, ON for a look-see.
Here's my first glimpse of the hearse:
As I walked toward this hearse I heard the theme from Jaws in my head.
It's massive! (shut up, Freud) This vehicle is over 6 feet tall, almost 6-½ feet wide, and about 23 feet long on a 156 inch wheelbase.
The interior was originally crimson, but the sun had faded the drapes and sun visors to a dull tan colour. The hydraulic seat and windows hadn't worked in ages, and the car had been stored outside - with an open passenger side window! Years of weather and nesting critters had torn the front seat apart.
But the engine turned over and didn't stall! The odometer read only 28,397 miles. There was life left in her yet.
We struck a deal and she was all mine. Now what? It's not like you can just park a hearse anywhere. It's a really big car. I needed a safe place to store her for a (long) time while I figured out how to bring her back from the brink of vehicular death. Again, Roger to the rescue. He had a vacant paint shop on his property that would just about fit a beast this big.
The next challenge was getting the hearse down the road to Roger's place. With my friends Daryl P. & Roger lending a hand we managed to get her onto a flatbed truck - barely.
That summer and the next were spent taking the hearse apart, piece by piece, bolt by bolt. Some days there was much progress. Other days not so much. There have been several friends who've come out to lend a hand, or at least an opinion. Thanks to Wilf E., Derek P,. Daryl P., Larry F., and especially to Roger B. and Karen P.B., for their unwavering support. It's satisfying work - but it's not over by a long shot.
I've done some on-line research to learn about this car. If you, or someone you know, can supply images or more details (especially about original interior finish options) I'd appreciate it if you would please contact me.
When I got the car from the auction house I checked the registration for the previous owner's contact info to see what I could learn about the car's history. The previous owner's address was in Alliston, Ontario. I looked up the funeral home in Alliston and discovered it had the same family name as was listed on the registration.
I called and asked to speak to the gentleman. Sorry. I was told he passed away a few years earlier. When I explained why I called they connected me to the nephew of the car's original owner.
It turns out the nephew now runs his own funeral home (with the same family name) in Alliston. He remembers his dad and uncle going to Ohio in 1949 to take delivery of this coach. It served at their funeral home in Alliston, ON until 1960. It was then stored in their garage until the business closed in 1970. Since then, from what I gather, it's had 3 or 4 owners, none of whom changed the registration.
The nephew was pretty disappointed when the hearse was sold off. He'd love to see it again. I can't wait to get this baby back on the road to pay a visit to its old stomping grounds - forty years later.
This hearse began as a commercial chassis in Packard's Warren, OH plant. From there it traveled to Freeport, IL to the Henney Motor Company to be converted into a funeral coach. Hence its designation as a 'Henney Packard'.
It's a 1949 Henney Packard hearse, 23rd series, chassis model 2313, based on the Packard Custom Eight. The body model is 14992 with a manual Nu-3-Way side service. That means it's got suicide doors on both sides so the 3 way casket bed can extend out the rear door or out the side for sidewalk loading. Some models had electric or hydraulic casket bed controls. This one is manual.
Some models featured a hydraulic levelling system (long before bouncing low-riders became a big deal) for use on highly crowned roads. This particular coach does not have this feature.
Under the hood is an in-line 8 cylinder 'L' head with 356 cid engine connected to a 3-on-the-tree manual transmission.
Now that the car is in pieces comes the task of fixing and/or replacing all the bits. I'm not a gear head, so if you have tips on how to best go about it, contact me. I'm open to suggestions.
The hearse hasn't yet been christened. I think the car's a 'she', but my wife thinks it's a 'he'. We're still looking for a cool moniker for our big black beauty. Any suggestions?
Some mornings I wake up and wonder what have I got myself into. Restoring this hearse is definitely an uphill challenge. But the dream of pulling this baby onto the road and merging with traffic is too strong.
We might do a cross-country trek to stretch its legs and help promote Crypt Club Productions Inc. If anyone's interested I'll offer it to the professional coach & livery trade. You might even see it in a movie or two. Who knows?
Keep checking your rear view mirror... and listen for the theme from Jaws.