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Not exactly a grave situation

More than 100 hearse drivers will participate in a procession circling the Petersen museum.

October 27, 2005|Susan Carpenter | Times Staff Writer

BRYAN MOORE stopped taking his kids to school in a hearse when they complained of classmates asking if their dad was Dracula. That hasn't lessened Moore's love affair with his hulking, black 1951 Cadillac Superior.

"It's wonderful. Drives great," said Moore, who occasionally catches people crossing themselves when he chugs by in his "gothic monstrosity."

This Saturday afternoon, Moore, 42, will be bumper-to-bumper with at least 100 other funeral car enthusiasts during the World's Longest Hearse Procession, circling the Petersen Automotive Museum.

If the procession goes as planned, it will set a Guinness world record, surpassing the current, if unofficial, record of 84 hearses set at a Knott's Berry Farm procession in October 2000. The Guinness requirements: All hearses must be driven under their own power; they must be real, i.e. capable of carrying a coffin or casket; and they must travel two miles.

"If we do it right," said Petersen curator Leslie Kendall, "we're not going to want to try it again for a very long time."

Chances are the procession will go off without a hitch, thanks to hearse-driving members of the California Funeral Car Consortium, an umbrella organization for the Vintage Hearse Assn., Professional Car Society and other groups.

Other than the former lives and lousy gas mileage of their cars, the only other thing hearse owners have in common is that "all of them are going to perish," joked Dave Cash, driver of a 1971 Miller-Meteor Cadillac decked out with a skull on the dash and a grim reaper dangling from the mirror. (That's in addition to the passenger-seat corpse and casket DVD player for horror movies.)

Like many recreational hearse drivers, Cash, who is 40, likes his ride because it's fun to drive and distinctive. His black and gray "three-way" -- so named because the casket can slide out the side doors as well as the rear -- is just one of many styles that will be parading Los Angeles' streets during the hourlong event.

There will be Wintons and Packards, Pontiacs and Cadillacs, Buicks and Oldsmobiles, not only in black, gray and white, but in red, blue and even pink. While many of the cars are from the '60s and '70s, some of the cars date as far back as 1916.

IT isn't just the blanked-out rear windows and curtains but the craftsmanship that distinguishes a funeral car from an average, everyday station wagon. The small, if steady, demand for hearses makes their mass production inefficient, so the coaches are always assembled and finished by hand.

That's why, in addition to the hearse procession, the Petersen is also featuring a mini-exhibition inside the museum. "Hearses and the Dying Art of Coach Building" features three funeral cars, including a playfully ghoulish model from legendary customizer George Barris. The vintage Cadillac features a leopard-print interior, wet bar and lime-green lettering by the gas cap that reads, "embalming fluid only."

"About the only time you'd ever see a hearse is during a very unfortunate personal circumstance or if you happen to be witnessing somebody else's unfortunate circumstance," Kendall said. "Here people can look and see the variety and artistry, the devotion that their owners have toward the vehicles and the attention they've lavished upon them."

*

Holy hearses!

What: World's Longest Hearse Procession

When: Saturday. Hearse exhibition, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; procession, 1 to 2 p.m.; post-procession celebration, 2 to 6 p.m.

Where: Petersen Automotive Museum, 6060 Wilshire Blvd., L.A. Procession begins at Petersen, continuing east on Wilshire to La Brea, south to San Vicente and north on Fairfax back to the museum.

Price: Museum admission is $10, adults; $5, seniors and students with ID; $3, kids 5 to 12; free, 5 and under.

Info: www.hearseprocession.com

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