Last rides around the world

We all die, but we don’t all get the the same hearse, AL­WYN VILJOEN ex­plores the fi­nal drive

The Witness - Wheels - - MOTORING -

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.

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