Last rides around the world
We all die, but we don’t all get the the same hearse, ALWYN VILJOEN explores the final drive
HUMAN bodies do three things in exactly the same manner, no matter in which culture we copulate, defecate and die, but our courtship rituals, toilets and final rides differ almost from city to city.
This is especially true in India, where its seems any vehicle with space for a coffin can and is pressed into service as a hearse, from a double-cab Tata bakkie converted into a last ride by a bling load bin; to a rather plain Tata midi-bus. Converted by Samson Motors, the midi-bus boasts a refrigerated drawer for the deceased and seating for the surviving family.
In Africa, where the ancestors are believed to linger longer, the dead get treated in the type of “eight-wheeler” stretched limos made famous by a Mandela family funeral. Sometimes, they seem to insist on such ceremony.
Senzo Ndlovu (36) of Khayelihle Funeral Services in Pietermaritzburg tells of a funeral where he suspected the ghost of one dearly departed “had done something” to stop their cheaper but always reliable “fourwheeler” Toyota hearse in its tracks.
“Nothing we did could get that [Toyota] hearse to start again, so we moved the casket to the eight-wheeler and the Toyota suddenly started,” he told Wheels.
In the far east, glam and glitter continues a lifetime of face saving. In Japan a Buddhist-style Japanese hearse built on a Lincoln Town Car from the early 1980s has all the gold leaf paint the survivors can want.
No one can however beat the pomp and splendour of a royal sendoff in the far east. When King Sihanouk of Cambodia died in China on October 15, 2012, a 100-day funeral process preceded the final funeral procession of giant floats, each of which would have won a prize in the Rio Carnival.
In the Philippines, world capital of self-made cars, backyard-cobbledtogether mongrel cars nevertheless turn heads. Australian sailing couple Sue and Philip spotted a hot rod hearse in Quezon in the Philippines. It combines a Mercedes-Benz grill, beach buggy fairings, a Mahindra Bolero cabin and someone’s pagoda roofs on the rear.
On the isle of all things droll
In England, the isle of all things droll, the dead can be delivered in an armoured tank or by bicycle.
Nick Mead first converted an FV432 armoured personnel carrier into an old European-style hearse, with a glass display box.
A former tank driver, Meade turned an FV432 armoured personnel carrier into a fitting last ride for his late tank driving instructor.
“My old mate Big Graham was rolled out of a Rolls Royce hearse and in to Tank hearse which I was chuffed about …
“The undertaker even asked if I fancied a hearse trade, and I think he was serious,” Meade explains on his website.
The reverend Paul Sinclair, owner of Motorcycle Funerals Limited in the UK, operates a fleet of motorcycle hearses and has started bicycle deliveries of late tree-huggers.
The reverend’s bike fleet consists of several Triumph motorcycles retrofitted with sidecar slarge enough to fit a full-sized coffin.
He also has a Harley-Davidson bike matched with a sidecar as well. He likes to remind the surviving family just like you won’t clothe a late Liverpool fan in Everton strip, or bury a Muslim like a Christian, bikers don’t want to be seen dead in cars.
Sinclair set up his Motorcycle Funerals company in his garden shed and has since expanded to Scotland, with thousands of funerals done across the UK in proper biker style.
What goes for hard-living, fossilfuel-burning bikers also goes for the gentler, recycling souls who would not want to be seen dead in a fuelguzzling van. For them Reverend Sinclair started tandem bicycle hearses, the ultimate in sending your body to the worms in high tree-hugger style.
British media quoted the former Pentecostal minister and sheet metal worker as saying: “Because we did a motorcycle and sidecar hearse, every now and again we were asked to do the funeral of cyclists, because it was the nearest thing they could get to a bicycle. So in the end, I built one, a coffin-carrying bicycle. I call it a bicycle made for three.”
Several funeral parlours have since imitated Sinclair to offer environmentally aware deceased their last rides to the grave in coffins made of willow, wool, bamboo or cardboard for the last word in eco-friendly funerals.
When King Sihanouk of Cambodia died in 2012, a 100-day funeral process culminated in a procession of funeral floats that could have won prizes in the Rio Carnival.
We do it longer in Africa — TiTi Funerals became famous with this hearse that was used in a Mandela family funeral.
A double-cab Tata bakkie converted into a hearse with a shiny-shiny bling load bin.
Motorcycle Funerals’ fleet includes Harley-Davidson, Triumph and Suzuki Hayabusa motorcycle hearses.
Saving face to the end, a Buddhiststyle Japanese hearse built on a 1980s generation Lincoln Town Car.
Samson Motors in India converts a Tata midi-bus into a ‘hearse van’ equipped with two doors and seats at the back for the mourners, and freezer fitted box, coffin and other facilities for the deceased.
The Philippines is the world’s hotbed of hand-made vehicles, as can be seen in the hot rod hearse.
Tankhearse’s Nick Mead turned an FV432 armoured personnel carrier into a hearse with a glass display box to give his former tank instructor a fitting last ride.
Fit British undertakers Kate Bouckley and Tim Bartlett can lay to rest green activists in coffins made of willow, wool, bamboo or cardboard for that last word in eco-friendly funerals.