Cadillac Commercial Chassis
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The Cadillac Commercial Chassis was basically a strengthened version of the long-wheelbase Cadillac Series 355 frame and the Series 75 was intended to carry the extra weight of the bodywork, rear deck and cargo area of funeral coaches and ambulances. Specifically designed for professional car use, it used the GM D platform, and the rear of the Cadillac Commercial Chassis was considerably lower than the passenger car frame, thereby lowering the rear deck height as well for ease of loading and unloading. As shipped from the factory to custom coachbuilders for final assembly, Cadillac's Commercial Chassis typically consisted of the front end sheetmetal with all lighting and trim, dashboard, air conditioning (if specified) and the main road controls. Rear quarter panels and sometimes the front door shells were shipped with the chassis for use in the finished vehicle. Though most Cadillac funeral coaches were based on its commercial chassis, some coachbuilders offered models constructed from modified Cadillac sedans. For 1977, Cadillac drastically downsized the commercial chassis along with markedly increasing its cost; Custom coachbuilders rushed to design new bodies for the smaller chassis, and both production and sales dropped dramatically as prices increased. Funeral directors everywhere shied away from the significantly smaller, much more expensive Cadillac funeral cars. This downsizing, along with new Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards in the United States and Canada calling for increased weight ratings as of the 1979 model year, spelled the end of the automobile-based ambulance and the beginning of the van and truck-based units seen today throughout North America.
The downsizing of the Cadillac Commercial Chassis had a devastating effect on the American funeral car and ambulance industry, as sales of the much smaller, but much more expensive Cadillac funeral cars fell dramatically and one by one, the old established firms who built these cars (such as Superior, Miller-Meteor and Hess & Eisenhardt) either threw in the towel or were sold off and reorganized. After Cadillac adopted unibody construction in 1997, practically all Cadillac-based funeral coaches have been produced from modified sedans. Cadillac supplies incomplete "kits" of its XTS sedans (and DTS/DeVille until 2011) to Master Coachbuilders which are certified for conversions and assembly of finished funeral vehicles.
- "Classic American Ambulances: 1900-1979 Photo Archive," by Walt McCall and Tom McPherson
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