What’s in a hearse?

Charles 15 Comments

All cats famously look the same in the dark. All hearses look the same whatever the light conditions.

What a thing to say!

Undertakers, we know we sometimes get up your noses and you probably think we do it for sport. Mostly we don’t. In the matter of the above outrageous statement, we assure you it’s true. Trust us. We are industry outsiders. We speak for the people. We are the people.

We know what auto-lust consumes you as you finger your Binz catalogues. We know how you bask in the envy of your fellow undertakers. We know you believe your vehicles to be an inextricable constituent of your identity. We see the photos on your websites of your glossy flocks fanned out behind you. You believe they warble siren songs to funeral shoppers. We worry about the repayment charges you have to pass on to said shoppers.

When bereaved people climb aboard, where do you think their thoughts lie? Hmnn? There should your focus be also. So long as it’s big, black and shiny, that’ll do, thanks. 

To be fair, the only way to test this would be to conduct a survey. We haven’t done that. Nor in the interest of market research, have you. Is your case for shelling out all that money as strong as you think it is?

Actually, in the case of AW Lymn, in Nottingham, it may be. Lymn’s has a fleet of Rolls Royces. Rolls Royces are the epitome of stateliness, very distinctive. 

Someone who has done a survey is the blogger at The Other Side of Funerals in Sydney, Australia. Over there, funeral directors go to great lengths to customise their hearses so that they embody their identity:

For example, WNBulls bought their chrome bars (used on the roof and inside the back) from overseas so nobody else in Sydney could possibly have similar bars.  Then when they sold an older hearse they deliberately sold it out of state.  Despite the fact that it was an older design for the company.  Another example is of how Elite Funerals have a patent on the design of the roof for their hearse.  So again, nobody else will have a hearse like it.

The results of the survey make for fascinating and illuminating reading:

Those who never work(ed) in the industry were unable to recognise any hearse correctly.  Yet for those who work(ed) in the industry this category had the highest correct recognition.

We urge you to pop over to The Other Side of Funerals and have a look. It’s as thorough a piece of research as you will ever see, a really excellent piece of work.

There are three posts. Read the first here, the second here and the third here


  1. Charles

    There are a few of us undertakers who don’t have hearse envy. There are even a few of us who LOL at (and I quote from the website of a funeral director firm not far from me, complete with random capital letters and spelling mistakes):

    “Monday the 24th September saw T L Cobbold take delivery of its brand new fleet of Mercedes vehicles. 2 E class hearses and 2 six seater Limousines replace our previous vehicles which in themselves were only 5 years old.

    The Mercedes name is Synonymous with quality and these new vehicles certainly live up to that reputation, with a sumptuous leather interior and ample leg room, our Limousines will convey you on your journey in perfect comfort.

    As well as their style, the Mercedes name brings with it their unrivaled reputation for environmentally friendly technologies. The new BlueEFFICIENCY measures on our new vehicles brings significant cuts in fuel consumption helping to lower both CO2 emisions and running costs, meaning T L Cobbold are doing their bit to help the environment, reducing emissions even further and helping to make motoring more sustainable in the long term.

    Nigel Anthony, area manager said “We are delighted to be able to introduce these wonderful vehicles. T L Cobbold are committed to providing the very highest levels of care to our bereaved families, we know these vehicles will enhance that already high standard”

    You can hardly ever open a copy of a funeral magazine without seeing keys being handed over to someone or other. It seems to be what makes funeral directors tick (in addition to seeing photos of themselves of course).

    A couple of weeks ago I sang the praises of Ford Galaxies on this blog. Ours is used more and more frequently as a hearse, with clients commenting that they like its discretion and its darkened windows. “He didn’t want to be paraded down the road” is something we’re getting used to hearing.

    The ability to adapt to clients’ demands, rather than the need to maximise profit, seems to be one of the reasons that there has been a surge of advertising in St Neots recently!

    1. Charles

      aah yes Andrew

      the usual promotional blurb from the house of Lodge Bros

      they’re big in this on their websire and at the same time displaying all of their good works for the local communities dah de dah etc etc

      a strong Indy, Lodge certainly are but they too seem awash with Area Management etc etc and all of the bells and whstles which come with it, whereas as you rightly state, none of that baggage comes with your business

      why, why, why, large Indy’s such as Lodge cannot display their prices on their website is a mystery to me? Lymm’s who are the same size give or take a bit here and there have nil problem with announcing their charging structure. And hats off to Leverton’s too, they do not mind either

      apologies for slightly hijacking this thread



  2. Charles

    A truly thorough survey, Charles.

    Style and function are often inseparable. Attention to detail is a good thing but what become company obsessions behind the scenes don’t need to be shared with their public. We don’t need to watch the chef to appreciate a well thought-out dish.

    Too much emphasis on the hearse can also give off the impression that surface considerations are deemed more important than, say, caring human service. If I’m booking an Addision Lee cab to the airport, I expect it to be clean and comfortable but this would be negated if the driver was surly.

    An average member of the public might care about the overall appearance of the hearse—size, shape, sheen, colour. Some may even be taken by the fact it’s a status brand such as a Mercedes. But they’d only notice, say, the design mechanisms allowing smoothness of the exit of the coffin if the handling looked clumsy. Please don’t drop him/her.

    To have trade insights pointed out in advance could cause more anxiety than peace of mind. We don’t want a pilot to point out that our plane has been engineered to withstand the worst turbulence.

    I guess what customers subliminally think when they see a car, whether brand new or vintage, is that if it looks well-kept it’s less likely to break down. Get me to the church/crem on time.

  3. Charles

    I seem to recall a number of comments relating to the hearse used at the funeral of princess Di.

    Some comments at the time intimated that the hearse was old and rusty, and one police motorcyclist was quoted as saying that he feared that it wouldn’t last the journey.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I understand that the Daimler concerned was one of Leverton’s fleet. It was a perfectly roadworthy vehicle, which I believe was professionally resprayed especially for the occasion.

    Apart from the obvious worries of Daimlers of that vintage (press the starter button and hope to hell that the bloody thing will start), they did look the part on the day.

    The point that I’m trying to make (I think), is that perception is the key. I personally feel that an older hearse, with some miles and a bit of history to it, is more “appropriate” for the occasion than a brand new, out of the showroom offering. My friends down the road with their brand new aussie Ford fleet obviously disagree.

    Ah, I hear you say, but all hearses have to be new at some time! Well yes, someone has to “run them in” and get a bit of history in them. My father-in-law had the benefit of going out in style, being near as dammit the next client to be carried in a particular hearse following good ol’ Les Dawson’s last journey. He’d have been chuffed if he’d known.

    Remember, all that glisters is not (necessarily) gold. Black’s not bad either… charcoal’s even better…

  4. Charles

    Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comfortable, Andrew.

    Love the charcoal, Nick. And the famous former occupants link. FDs ought to market this, offering the hearse that bore the remains of a famous rocker, movie star, politician, scientist…

    I wonder, Ru, if your used motor is imbued with sufficient Dignity and Reverence.

  5. Charles

    I think vehicles are very important. We have just purchased our own fleet of Jaguar Vehicles, and feel we made the right choice.

    We previously hired all of our vehicles from a well known carriage master, who provided us with brand new, extremely clean Jaguar Vehicles with smart drivers etc. We opened in 2009, carried out 78 funerals in our first year, but last year carried out 250 funerals so decided on the back of that to invest in a fleet.

    Most of our competition run Jaguars by either owning or hiring them. We did consider Mercedes to differentiate ourselves, but felt the Jaguar XJ was of much superior quality to the E Class.

    There are a number of local firms running very old Vauxhall and Ford fleets which regularly receive bad comments from our clients at the crematorium when they see them parked up looking tired and dated.

    Maybe different areas are different, but we couldn’t afford to provide those kind of vehicles to our clientele.

  6. Charles

    I cant’ bear the traditional black hearse and limo! at the National Funeral exhibition I asked why they were all the same and why couldn’t some one design something more modern! No one could give me a valid reason, lets see if anyone has anything different this year. I hope that if I am ever lucky enough to be able to buy a fleet I can find something far more interesting!

    1. Charles

      ….with you entirely here Linda

      there are the silver alternatives of course

      my preference would be for the burgundy/brown colour livery that were infrequently seen on Merc’s a few years back, classy imo



  7. Charles

    Another good talking point,
    Im all for it, Andrew agree with you ref the Merc how different would that look and with a touch of class thrown in.
    Poppys in London (and the outskirts) use a vehicle that represents this very subject, and the good lady has recently updated there website,I like the fact her prices are clear and understanding, I have taken the bold move and put my prices in my shop window, The touch paper has just been lit and im sure ill get some comments on here, but not everyone feels they are comfortable in asking for a price, and in my area not everyone has the internet.

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>