The hearse is a unique vehicle with an equally unique history. It is a staple of cultures throughout the world—the automobile that delivers the body to its final resting place. When shopping for a funeral car, you’ll find it isn’t the same exact thing as a hearse. So, what’s the difference between the two, and what’s the significance of these automobiles? CoachWest’s experts discuss the origin of the hearse and other facts about funeral cars.
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Origination of the Hearse
It was called a hearse before it was called a funeral car. The term derives comes from ancient times, referring to ornate candles placed on top of the coffin. Around the 17th century, it evolved to mean the wooden frame or box that stabilized the casket on a horse-drawn carriage.
Bodies were often first transported to a funeral service, then known as a “wake,” for the deceased that was hosted by family members in memory of them. Then the body was transported to the burial site.
The advent of the motorized car in the early 1900s brought about the
Early motorized hearses featured a hollowed-out section meant to hold the wooden frame that stabilized the casket.
All Funeral Cars are Hearses, Not All Hearses are Funeral Cars
Casket-carrying automobiles continue to be known as hearses, but as technology began adapting them, these vehicles morphed into sleeker, subtler versions of themselves. These new adaptations adopted the simple title of “funeral car.”
The stabilizers in a funeral car are less prominent than in a hearse, so the back sections are less pronounced. They are more visually appealing and now look more like limousines, making them more marketable, less morbid, and coined by the industry to be known as funeral cars.
Flower Car Hearse
For their traditional appearance and less shocking price tag, a traditional hearse is still the most typically seen in processions or in funeral home fleets. Perhaps, the most beautiful style of funeral car is the flower car. Sometimes called a “floral car,” these hearses feature an open back, which is then filled with flowers surrounding the casket.
In western culture, most funeral cars are black. This is because of the symbolic association the color has with death and mourning. The dark color of the car alludes to the grave times endured by those following it in a procession. This is also why many people choose to wear black or other dark, muted colors to funerals.
White hearses are rare in the U.S. but can be found along with gold/yellow vehicles in eastern cultures to signify new life for the deceased.
In truth, when shopping for a funeral car, many funeral directors ditch symbolism for utility—silver is growing in stateside popularity for its ability to hide dirt. Some select a color simply to separate their coaches from a competitor’s fleet. Meaning or not, the color of hearses has become a predominant detail pertaining to a person’s final ride.
The Landau Bar
Have you ever noticed a slightly curved, S-shaped bat toward the back of a hearse? Known as the “landau bar,” this design element gets its roots from the traditional horse-drawn funeral carriages that featured a convertible-like retractable roof. The roofing was connected in the middle by an elegant shaft, which became standard in most hearse designs for centuries to follow. It stuck around for the introduction of motorized funeral cars, a touch of elegance with an ode to history.
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Funeral Cars at CoachWest
At Coachwest, we have a wide variety of funeral cars to choose from and specialize in professional and luxury vehicles for commercial, residential, or recreational use. Contact us online or call 310-609-2900 for more information about funeral car sales.