HOW TO BUILD A LIMO
SA Limousines in Alberton takes five to six months to build a limo.
It begins with the customer discussing his or her requirements before bringing in a vehicle for conversion. A team of 22 then strip it to a bare shell.
“We mark it and cut it in half with an angle grinder – it’s as simple as that,” says Donald Cameron, the company’s co-owner.
But it is not that simple at all, as Cameron concedes that you need to know exactly where to make that cut.
And, before new sheet metal can be let in to lengthen the vehicle, a steel frame is fabricated and put in place to strengthen things.
Body extensions are bent to shape and a CO2 welder is used to stitch it together.
With welding out the way, panel beating, filing and finishing begin.
The bare shell is then prepped for painting and sent to the spray booth, emerging in the customer’s colours of choice.
“Once it is finished, it [the extension] looks like the rest of the car – it looks original,” says Cameron.
Reassembly takes a month and can be fiddly.
It is neither practical nor economical to buy in all the specialist parts it takes to transform a standard sedan into an extra-long limo.
So, most of the parts are made and fitted in-house, including:
Lengthened brake pipes and fuel lines; Seating and upholstery; and Replacing the standard propeller shaft with a five-piece 4.2m to 4.5m leviathan.
Then there is all the cabinetry, audiovisual equipment, smoke machines and lights – lasers, LEDs and mirror balls – necessary to transform the vehicle from a respectable ride to a party on wheels.
Up to 1 000m of cabling needs to be installed, plus a custom-made control panel for the driver.
“You don’t even want to know,” says Cameron of the effort it takes to get it all working properly.
The company, which has been in business for 28 years, builds limos from just about any make or model of car, he says.
The Hummer H3 is “very popular” at the moment, but the Chrysler 300C – with its wide good looks and “awesome” handling – is his favourite car for the treatment.
At the time of writing, there were 28 vehicles on his shop floor, including 15 hearses and four limos.
Conversions cost up to R380 000, depending on specifications, with no shortage of orders for custom vehicles, particularly since changes to the law banned the import of left-hand drive vehicles.
“When we started, people said it would never work. Since then, we have put plenty on the road.”
– Matthew Hattingh