As a fourth-generation funeral director, it's only natural that Doug Ahlgrim, along with his wife Sandy, would be readily open to purchasing something as otherworldly as a stately 1958 Cadillac Series 86 hearse.
"Given my family's long-standing trade heritage, I've just always loved old hearses," Doug said.
To be fair, the Lake Zurich couple also has a healthy four-wheeled appetite for good old-fashioned Detroit muscle. However, something about this classic black beauty grabbed them. They found the auto in Palatine in 1989.
"When Doug saw this beast sitting on Rand Road, he had to stop and check it out," Sandy said.
Other than some minor rust repair and a thorough cleaning of the cavernous interior, the Series 86 has remained unchanged over the couple's two-decade ownership. However, because this vehicle once saw regular use, the years of hard service had taken a toll on the 365-cubic-inch, 310-horsepower V-8.
"Many mechanical problems had to be addressed, but now that it's working right, it just runs like a proper Cadillac," Sandy said. "Even with her huge size, she floats down the road."
Those mammoth dimensions may make for a cushy ride but also lend to a major headache -- finding adequate parking. "It's always a challenge to find a spot or garage large enough to contain the 20-foot, 11-inch long frame," Sandy said.
While this somber classic may seem right at place at the graveside, the rolling behemoth pulled double duty and was also used to assist the living.
"Details are scarce about its past, but we do know it was used as a 'combo unit' in Michigan. Not only was it used as a hearse but also an ambulance," Sandy said.
Before the days of rescue squads and trained paramedics, it was quite common for funeral homes to field calls to transport injured people. In small towns and rural areas, these "combination" models could handle both ambulance and hearse duties.
A removable, roof-mounted, red gumdrop light could be installed to speedily clear traffic during emergencies. Folding jump seats were fitted behind the front bench seat to quickly reconfigure the interior. For medical runs, they could be flipped up, allowing more space for additional occupants. For casket transport, the jump seats could collapse down to a flat load floor.
The company responsible for the Cadillac's alterations was Lima, Ohio-based Superior Coaches, which is still in business today producing professional vehicles. Part of its business was taking the base commercial chassis from Cadillac and other manufacturers, and outfitting them as ambulances, hearses or combo units.
The days of full-time, life-or-death transportation are long over for this faithful Cadillac workhorse. However, this functional carrier still wears many hats.
"The car was in the movie 'Only the Lonely', which was set in Chicago, and (it) can be seen in several episodes of the TV series 'The Women of Brewster Place,' " Sandy said. When it's not making cinematic appearances, the retired professional car stays busy near the couple's hometown, serving a wide variety of occasions.
"We'll head to the cruise nights regularly and it's been in several parades and even a wedding. It always makes it out every October for haunted houses and throughout the year for the occasional 50th or 60th birthday party," Doug said.
No matter what role this chromed carriage is serving, or what kind of cargo it's moving, the ethereal classic does it with style and always causes a sensation. "We have a ton of fun with this car. No matter where she goes people love to see her," Doug said. "The plan is to keep her scaring for many Halloweens to come."