Cars

The Houses Have a Hearse

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Ok, so it’s not really an actual hearse in the classic sense, but rather it is a station wagon that was a funeral car, that, yes, did have a hearse license plate. More on its history a little later.

Let’s back up a few decades to when I was a teenager learning how to drive. Most of the guys my age wanted a Pontiac Firebird, an old Plymouth Barracuda, or a Chevrolet Monte Carlo. I wanted a station wagon.

falcon.jpgSeriously. I’ve always had a thing for wagons, including the ones that my parents carted us around in over the years, like this 1960s Ford Falcon wagon, later a 1971 Ford Torino wagon and also a 1980 Ford Fairmont Squire. Evidently, my chore was washing those wagons and that cream-colored Mercury Monarch.

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Longtime readers of “the Hartfordite” know about my penchant for these cars, that were such a part of American culture, especially the ones with faux wood paneling. It is one of the many reasons my brother calls me Clark, as in the lead character in the National Lampoon Vacation movies featuring that iconic Family Truckster. The sight of a woody wagon seems to bring out the nostalgia in people, as they wax poetic about their parents’ Mercury Colony Park, Pontiac Safari or Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser, and talk about the fond memories in the rear facing seats in the way, way back. SUVs and minivans came along and made most wagons extinct, but I just don’t see a day when someone reminisces “my parents had the coolest beige minivan.”

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In 2008, I picked up a used Buick Roadmaster Estate Wagon from a nice old lady in Milford, Connecticut who wanted her husband’s prized car to go to someone who would appreciate it.  Our family most certainly did, logging more than 50,000 miles across Connecticut and Rhode Island,  taking it to the beach, pumpkin patches, the Christmas tree farm, and many a trip to Home Depot. Those adventures gave me material for this blog, but four years later after a wreck and a repair, we sold her.  I have never missed a car more.

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Recently, I’ve been yearning for another one, and after seeing an acquaintance pick up a Ford Country Squire, I was a little jealous. I spent the last month searching ads for a reasonably priced woody wagon, and after checking out some high mileage wagons that needed some work, I suddenly got lucky on Craigslist. I spotted an ad for a 1996 Buick Roadmaster hearse, with only 18,000 miles!

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It didn’t look like a hearse in the pictures, and when I called, the man on the other end told me it was a standard station wagon, but used by his father as a hearse. He had placed the ad just a short time before I called.

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I headed off to Taunton, Massachusetts, about a two hour drive from Hartford. The car was owned by the Marshall Funeral Home in Taunton, and was driven by an undertaker named William Marshall. Mr. Marshall was well known around town as a compassionate, caring funeral home director, who helped thousands of people over the years with the initial coping of the loss of a loved one.

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The Roadmaster was being sold by Marshall’s widow and son, who told me he loved that Buick and always dismissed suggestions he trade it in for a newer model. Mr. Marshall took meticulous care of the Roadmaster, rarely took it onto the highway, and it spent every night in a garage. And again, it only had 18,000 miles! Like my first Roadmaster, these sellers also wanted their car sold to a driver who would love it. I didn’t ask too many questions about the car’s history in the funeral home’s business, but suffice it to say, it did carry some passengers who didn’t ask for the radio to be turned up or complain the driver was going too fast.

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After a whiff of its still new car smell, a test drive, a feel of the immaculate cherry velour interior, and a look under the hood, I bought it. The Marshalls threw in the magnetic flags that adorned the Buick for military funerals. I later learned this particular Roadmaster is very rare. According to the Heritage Center at General Motors, Buick made only 9,473 Roadmaster wagons in 1996. I read elsewhere that only one in 50 was ordered without the wood panels. Let the adventures of the new Roadmaster begin.

By the way, we’ve nicknamed this Roadmaster, “Hearsula,” a fun nod to one of kids’ favorite movies. Like our new Buick, Ursula from the Little Mermaid, is a big, powerful, dark, menacing force, although Hearsula is much bigger than a squid, more like a whale.

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I should add, these older wagons are considered future collectibles, yet can be had for the fraction of a new car.

Read my old Roadmaster adventures right here: https://dennishouse.tv/2012/09/12/end-of-the-road-for-the-master-of-the-road/

Read about my favorite car: https://dennishouse.tv/2013/12/02/my-wheels-in-big-wheels/

My worst car: https://dennishouse.tv/2011/12/19/my-saab-story/

My cheapest car: https://dennishouse.tv/2013/10/14/the-pontiac-dentura/

My crash: https://dennishouse.tv/2013/04/12/my-close-call-in-traffi/

My first car: https://dennishouse.tv/2010/06/02/memories-of-mercury/

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22 replies »

  1. Very exciting….we owned a Colony Park wagon when I was growing up…lite yellow!!! I was born in 1957….We loved that wagon…….ENJOY your new car!!!!

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  2. Dennis, why did you sell the other one? I thought that was the car that got into an accident when the children’s nanny was driving it. Enjoy your new “toy!!” Looks like many more trips to Home Depot. Think of ALL the people you could squeeze in the Roadmaster for the local parades. (:-))

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  3. Had a late 70’s Mercury Cougar Wagon with wood paneling. Was a great car till it got totaled in an ice storm. Was light yellow and leather interior. Was a really nice car.

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  4. Good luck with your new (to you) Buick station wagon. I think one of the local funeral homes (Godere) in the Norwich area still uses an old Buick like yours. Good luck with your ‘new’ Buick it sure looks well taken care of.

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  5. My parents always had station wagons. My mother LOVED her Ford Escort wagon and my Dad had an old early 80’s Buick with a third seat. The best part was going to the Drive In with that beast. My sister and I could put blankets in the “way back” ,and I would often fall asleep before the second feature. It is why I LOVE my minivan today. My friends pick on my “Mom Van” because I don’t have kids, but I have often camped out in my “Tessie”, and it is great to haul things in. Been looking for an old 80’s wood paneled one to customize “Griswold” style and enter into custom van shows.

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  6. Dennis– I had a ’94 Buick Lesabre with 47,000 miles on it. White with powder. blue interior . Loved that car and finally had to sell it in 2009. My nurse friend has two Roadmaster sedans she has used for a decade. 1992 and 1994. Katharine Hepburn had a white 1992 Roadmaster sedan which was her last car. She would travel from her townhouse in Turtle Bay NY to her summer home at Fenwick.

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  7. Cool Car Dennis ! Woody Station Wagons are somehow climatic. The Black ones, just as your Buick (Caprice, Oldsmobile as well – especially if they are kept in perfect shape) are very elegant and stylish. I’m thinking about buying just the same as yours. But it’s not easy to find well maintened one here in Europe – only station wagons adapted to hearses are easier to find. Good luck with your Buick !

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    • Thanks Tomasz, they are hard to find here so I imagine they are even more difficult in Europe. Thanks for reading!

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  8. I thought there was only 3 but I believe yours makes it 4 😉

    I hope you enjoy it as much as we do ours!

    Another black w/ maroon guts RMW on the east coast.

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