Would You Sleep In An RV Made Out Of A Hearse?

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There appear to be a lot of camper fans here among the Autopian staff and our dear readers. It’s easy to see why. During the pandemic everyone seemed to want to hit the road and get out in their own self-contained mobile space, and the market continues to explode for motorhomes of any kind. It’s hard to believe that northern Indiana, the epicenter of motorhome manufacturing, was an area with nation-high unemployment issues a decade ago. Now it’s booming, which is good news for them, but not so much if you’re in the market for one of these things.

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source: The Autopian/Airstream

You might already know this, but they don’t exactly give these things away. A modern motorhome ranges from $60,000 to more than $150,000 new (Matt called the one above a good deal at over $100k), and even the used route is still insane. You’ll have to pay a seller more than what they shelled out for their camper new three or four years ago to pick it up. ‘Affordable’ examples will likely be things you will want to avoid, like these:

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source: City of ChicoYouTubeFlickr

Is there a solution? Possibly. What if you could get a handcrafted luxury vehicle big enough to make a small camper with low, easy miles on it for cheap?  Say $7,000-$20,000 for a great example? Then you add a special fiberglass shell and interior fittings for around $10-15,000, paint the thing (maybe) and hit the road? Too good to be true?

I mean, it MIGHT have the souls of the dead still living in it, but that’s a minor issue, right? [Ed note: I’ve actually seen someone do this before, but it was explicitly creepy – MH]

The base vehicle for this motorhome exists in the tens of thousands. Good examples of this machine end up on the market typically when funeral homes sell them after six or seven years. Wait… funeral homes? Yes! It’s based on a hearse. I know, I know, but hear me out.

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source: Shields Professional Vehicles

Hearses are typically very well-built vehicles, hand fabricated and sold new for over six figures in many cases. They are designed to carry heavy caskets with potentially heavy cargo in them. These are not Hertz rental cars. Instead, they are usually driven very slowly and gently and kept in pristine condition. They are large and spacious and will drive and ride like a stretched limo. You’ll look long and hard for a more comfortable vehicle.

However, as used vehicles there is, well, a stigma to something that carries bodies in it. After they are retired, there is a limited market for these things and it doesn’t seem to be growing. Some will go to Funerals-R-Us second rate mortuaries. According to our own designer Adrian, the idea of goths driving hearses is now ‘too cliché, darling,’ as hackneyed a stereotype as reading poetry about pain in a graveyard. How many tattoo parlors are left that need mobile signs? Not a lot. It’s no wonder many of these things are left to rot, get crushed, or end up in demo derbies. Fun as that last one sounds it’s a sad fate for a product of what is likely the last bastion of artisan coachbuilt gas-powered vehicles still left.

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source: Flickr and The Drive

Presenting the Peaceful Rest Camper (I will refrain from the most obvious hearse puns here, but there is a comments section below so go nuts, Autopians). The concept is to throw a Sawzall at a retired hearse at strategically planned places and add the new structure in back.

Myhearsecom 336470060 Copy

source: Shields Professional Vehicles and The Bishop

The idea of adding a fiberglass camper to the back of an existing vehicle is not new. Of course, there are the ones that fit in pickup beds, but I am thinking more about the ones that fit into the backs of SAABs with the rear hatch removed. Mercedes Streeter has reported on these Toppola campers before. Well, this is a Toppola for big Americans, designed for a vehicle used to transport dead Americans.

There are also three or four primary hearse manufacturers so making compatibility kits would likely not be as big an issue as you might think.

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source: Jalopnik

Since it’s obviously a bigger vehicle than a 900S, you have more to work with. There is space in back for a facing couch and two lounge chairs, with a fold down table. Next to this is a kitchenette area with sink, burner and microwave above. Behind this is a VERY tight ‘wet’ bathroom, that RV trick for tiny campers where the whole space with the toilet and sink becomes a shower. The skylight shown would likely be filled with roof air conditioning on most units sold. The cut lines in the ceiling are for fold down monitors; four people would need to watch two synchronized screens. Yes, this is a wide angle sketch so the space is a lot tighter than it looks.

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source: The Bishop

The fiberglass structure continues over the front roof area to create a sleeping area which is not very tall but not as confining as… I’m trying not to say a coffin, but it fits. I don’t like the idea of this thing extending over the windshield blocking your view of Mt Rushmore or stoplights, so it could slide back in when not in use.

What is nice, though, is the configuration of the front passenger compartment. A rear seat would be installed, so this thing would be great for family traveling and sightseeing. It could work as a five or six passenger sedan when not camping, and a luxury sedan at that. If you fold the rear seats down and recline the fronts, you end up with a giant additional sleeping space (maybe primary space and leave the kids upstairs).

Img20220928 22042482 2source: Park Superior and The Bishop

Would I be creeped out by owning an old hearse? Possibly, but some much of the original vehicle is either gone or covered up so I know that shouldn’t matter. Plus the cargo in these things was already dead; their souls had departed them before being transported in what you’re using for a camper. At least that’s what I’ll tell myself.

Biggest issue, I think, is likely to be weight. It might need to be the kind of camper that needs to be ‘on the grid.’ Mercedes Streeter has looked at this thing, and after she stopped laughing she said that to be fully self-contained we would likely need to have 20 gallons of fresh water and an equal amount for grey water, and while there is room under the floor for that the weight of 40 gallons is a lot. You would need to beef up the rear axle, which might not be too tough in this front wheel drive vehicle. Would hate to have to go dually, but we could; remember these aren’t driven axles in this era of Cadillac.

I am not an engineer but I know that these issues could be resolved. Hearses really deserve to be ‘upcycled’ and live a second life as a fun vehicle. With the current market for motorhomes, if you think people aren’t going to be looking at alternative choices, you’re dead wrong.

Sorry, I had to get just one in.

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69 Responses

  1. Hi ho, son of a funeral director and former hearse owner here. I love this idea! Not 100% sure about the execution though. Here are my thoughts, if I may.

    First, the assertion that a hearse spends most of its operating life at very low speeds is a misconception. Every funeral is three trips: from the funeral home to the church (or whatever venue is being used from the funeral), from the church to the cemetery, and from the cemetery back to the funeral home. Only one of those three trips is at low speed. Furthermore, if the funeral home that owned it only had the one hearse then it was also used for removals, transfers, runs to/from the medical examiner, runs to/from the airport, etc. Sometimes those trips are to another county or even another state. My hearse, an 01 Town Car, was 14 years old and had 85,000 miles when it was fully retired from service. That comes out to 6,071 miles/year or 117 miles a week. Certainly well below the average personal vehicle, but given most funeral processions are around 5 miles it goes without saying the vast majority of that car’s mileage was outside processions. (Also, it’s worth pointing out that if the hearse was owned by a funeral home that DID have multiple hearses there’s a chance the car you buy was the one that was exclusively used for removals/transfers/etc and it has zero miles in funeral processions).

    As to your design concept, my main concern is with width. Hearses are longer and taller than the vehicle they’re built off off, but they aren’t any wider. The rear, in fact, is deceptively narrow inside due to the paneling, additional structure, and the wheel wells. In my hearse the floor was, at most, 48 inches wide. Definitely not enough room for a couch on the one side and a chair on the other. Next thing, installing back seats will mean either putting it on top of the raised rear floor, which will be testing the limits of the headroom, or cutting away parts of that raised floor, which will need to be done carefully as there’s a lot of structural support and ancillaries hiding under there. Good news is the area inside the rear side doors is probably your best bet for where you can safely cut away at as that’s usually an area used for storage anyway, but messing with the rest of the floor is a different prospect. Third, on the subject of structural support, the front seats don’t recline. There’s a partition right behind the front seats that, to my knowledge, holds some structural bracing. Due to this the front seats have to be pretty near upright at all times. It also means an internal passthrough from the front to the rear will be difficult to impossible.

    I do like the concept of a hearse RV, a lot in fact! May need a bit of a redesign on the concept though.

    1. Thank you for informing me of facts I didn’t know. My BIL owned a dozen funeral homes, 1 furnace, 12 hearse and several minivans. Used the minivans for behind t he scenes they were better suited for transport but had the hearses looking fine for funerals. I guess I misunderstood how transport qorked?

    2. Dusty- this is great info! I agree that it needs a lot more thought- the main thing was to get the idea out there that you could make a hearse into a camper and it wouldn’t have to look like a hearse.

      As much as I dont want to do it, I think the fiberglass structure would need to extend down further to increase the width, especially at the back. Having knowledge of the basic structure would also be essential before busting out the Sawzall.

      Again, I appreciate the feedback! I know that it could be done.

  2. I’d totally live in one. But I’d like it to look less like a camper and more like a hearse. I’d want it to be black paintjob, black tinted windows, black wheels, make the landau bar and grille shiny and ornate, perhaps put a statue of the Grim Reaper as a hood ornament, and give it a red velvet interior. I want the living space to look like the inside of a coffin.

      1. Didn’t know that existed. That cartoon car appears to be inspired in part by The Munster Koach from The Munsters. And there’s no grim reaper hood ornament.

        I’d genuinely want my hearse camper to look like a gothed-out hearse. There’s certainly some overlap between the vehicles in terms of aesthetics, but it would fit my tastes if aesthetics was the overriding design consideration. I’d totally play music from bands like “Sisters of Mercy”, “Calling Red Dead Roses”, “Bauhaus”, and the like in it.

        There’s also a lot of room for batteries inside the floor. An electric conversion with solar panels lining the roof coupled with a diesel generator would be a good fit for this vehicle if the intent was to live off grid in it.

  3. Agree with all the comments about ambulance vs. hearse. No issue sleeping soundly in a hearse.

    However, I feel like this design is underutilizing one of the key hearse features : the rolling deck for caskets! Instead of having the front of the sleeping area telescope out, the rear should be “expandable” using the roller system, in the same way as some VW Transporter “Doubleback” conversions in the EU. Also, the same classy privacy curtain treatment should be brought over to the camper from the hearse.

  4. Your concept is drop dead gorgeous! Some years back manufacturers tried to turn large SUVs into hearses. It seemed to make sense but the public balked. They didn’t want Uncle Ned going to his final resting place in a truck.

  5. I love the idea, but the scale of the layout is a bit off. It would probably end up similar to many of the small truck camper layouts with a kitchen/toilet on one side and a 2PC dinette on the other. Having an indoor shower in something this small probably isn’t practical, unless you like showering on your knees or are vertically challenged.

    You’d also have to be careful on the donor vehicle – the older Ford Panther hearses had a vertical gas tank near the rear suspension that really is a waste of space for applications like this or a truck conversion.

    I’d have no problems camping in one – it’s just a car! 😉

  6. On the plus side, any professional car on the used market has more space for the money than a used Transit Connect. On the minus side that chassis is heavy and all conversion is custom. I’d go for basic with no shower or toilet. At that point something with two 5 gallon jugs for fresh water and grey water and single burner covers basic kitchen needs or rig a tent extension off the back with a car camping kitchen and maybe a cassette toilet

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