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Carved-Panel Hearse: 1935 Cadillac Fleetwood V12


Finding a truly unusual and unique vehicle can be a challenge, but thankfully human ingenuity and creativity is limitless. If you think a hearse wagon just isn’t unusual enough for your tastes, but is headed in the right direction, may we suggest taking a look at a Carved-Panel hearse? Until today, we had never even heard of such a thing and there is almost no information about these fascinating vehicles out there. We had to do some serious digging to learn much about what a Carved-Panel hearse even was. Our interest in this unique type of hearse came about after stumbling upon this 1935 Cadillac Fleetwood V12 here on eBay out of Show Low, Arizona.


So what made a Carved-Panel hearse different from a regular hearse? Well the difference was in the Carved-Panel inserted into the side of the body work. This style was also called the Damascus Hearse and featured panels that were carved to resemble curtains or drapes, that were inserted into the exterior of the car. The goal was to give the hearse a more gothic look and to regain some of the appearance of the old horse drawn hearses. Sadly, this Cadillac’s carved panels are no longer with it, but more on that later on.


This hearse was powered by Cadillac’s 368 cui V12, which produced around 150 ponies. In its day, this was not just a master piece of technology, but was also a statement of cosmetic style. When one opened this engine bay up, they would find a beautiful glossy piece of machinery that had all its wiring and hoses concealed. While it looked great, it added to the challenge of diagnosing and fixing problems. The seller claims the engine and drive train are intact, but as you can see the engine has been partially dissembled. Finding parts for this motor could be a challenge, so let’s hope everything is still there.


Now for the bad news, this car is missing just about everything that makes it such a rare hearse. The seller claims it set in a walnut grove in Northern California before they discovered it and as a result of the years outside, much of the wood is gone. This meant the rear section of the metal body was not being supported and in an attempt to keep it from being damaged, was cut off. This section of the body is still with it and is included, but it will be a massive project to build a new wooden structure and weld the body back together. They are also missing the carved panels that give this hearse its status as ultra-rare. We are sure new ones can be made, but are going to be expensive to recreate.


We haven’t been able to find any information about any Damascus style V12 hearses being built in ’35, but the Cadillac registry shows that there were two commercial chassis V12s built that year. The commercial chassis were the most popular for hearse coachbuilders to start with, so it is possible that it is the real deal. Restoring a regular ’35 Cadillac V12 would be tough, so we would imagine that restoring this would be a massive and costly headache. Given the lack of information out there, it would be hard to even know what it once looked like. This S&S built 1938 Cadillac is likely to be the closest reference for what it should look like.

It would be sad to see such a rare vehicle turned into a roadster or some other type of custom hot rod, but it might be the only way to get this back on the road. What do you think? Should it be restored or modified? Let us know what you think below!


  1. Wiley Robinson

    The reason that the side panels are missing is because they were made of cast aluminum instead of wood and most likely got sold for scrap. I know this because I know where an identical S&S hearse built on a 38 LaSalle chassis is. The one I know about is one of 6 remaining (internet says five but I know there’s six). If I could post a photo of it, I would.

    The inside of these cars is incredible, all made of inlaid mahogony and contrasting maple. I’m sure this one won’t end up as some crappy rat rod because if it’s on ebay, some member of the professional car society is all over it. Carved side hearses get alot more elaborate than this and they are worth a small fortune restored.

    Like 0
  2. Gary Chittenden

    I can’t believe that you car guys have never heard of a carved panel hearse!
    They are worth quite a bit, but the restoration cost of this particular one would probably be twicw as much as it is worth. It would have to be a labour of love.

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  3. DanaPointJohn

    “The seller claims it set in a walnut grove in Northern California.” I think Barn Finds is the World’s depository for vehicles left to rot. What a shame that this rare Cadillac will most likely never see the road again in it’s original state.

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  4. johannesrolf

    it cries out to be a hot rod, paging Mr. Ratfink

    Like 0
  5. Ron Bajorek

    This would be an incredible Panel Delivery with steel or Wooden Panels. I’d build it so it looked like to came form the factory that way. Awesome Starting point…..

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    • Wiley Robinson

      That might be cool but if some no talent hack sticks a crate 350 in it with fat radials, cheesy “look at me” wheels and IFS, you might as well demolition derby it.

      Like 0
  6. Alan

    Talk about being able to “Go out in style”!

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  7. Dave

    I can’t imagine restoring one of these. Where would you get exhaust manifolds? I guess you couild fab some headers. Cool car though

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    • dj

      The auction shows the manifolds, intake manifolds and carbs. But man there is a LOT of missing wood. You would just about need another car for patterns.

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    • John

      It can all be done. Sure deep pockets and a lot of time will be required, but the end result will by far out way just letting it sit or turning it into something cheaper to assemble. Awesome car (project).

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  8. Dolphin Member

    Can’t see it being a rod. Too BIG. Maybe there’s a rat rod this big somewhere, but the best ones I’ve seen are small, nimble, and real rusty.

    Leave it for some dedicated member of the Professional Car Society to restore. I just hope he remember$ to bring lot$ of money.

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  9. geomechs geomechs Member

    Most definitely a restoration is in order. Definitely not for the weak though. This one is going to take a lot of work to get the body in order. Manifolds and carbs will be a challenge in their own right.

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  10. Clay Bryant

    If another car could be found to take pictures of,one could take that to an expat in China to source out new carved panels but it would have to be measured with real accuracy.I’ve seen wood craftmanship from there and figure about 15-20% of what it would run here.(shipping another 5%)

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  11. John

    Restore it, sell it to a Funeral Home, I for one want my last ride to be in something like this and I would pay well for the privilege.

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  12. Mark E

    Jay Leno has used a 3d scanner/printer to duplicate a part to mold for his Dusenberg so wny couldn’t you do that with resin style wood? The trick would be getting another car’s owner to scan their parts for you to use…

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    • Jim-Bob

      The trick too would be finding a printer large enough to produce such a thing in the proper material. They probably only exist in the aerospace industry. Smaller home size printers like the Reprap can only do something about the size of a door handle, and only from a plastic material that doesn’t have a ton of strength. When this material was used in a larger industrial printer for experimental AR-15 parts (something called a lower receiver if memory serves), they disintegrated in about 5-10 rounds from the shock.

      Like 0
  13. Don Andreina

    Looks real cool without the headlights

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  14. paul

    Gosh did they really look that dreadful, the only way I would want to ride in that Herman Munster car is dead.

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    • rancho bella

      Yes……..Paul. I couldn’t have come up with a better description……..dreadful……..

      Like 0
  15. witouttadoubt

    …nice coat of white paint will fix this right up.

    Excepting those “carved” panels, I think some of you might be surprised how readily manifolds, etc. can be had. Lots of hoarders out there with garages full of parts. The right connections go a long way. I have 4 or 5 Lincoln Continental V-12 heads, both original and re-pops, along with pistons, bearings, exhaust system parts, a radiator, and scores of interior trim pieces, etc. etc. lurking in my storage shed. It’s all out there if you look hard and long enough. And if you cant’s find it, there are folks out there making stuff new.

    Too scarce to hot rod or junk, I’d vote to fully restore.

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  16. John

    I would bet that we will see this car at Barrett/Jackson a few years from now. Since there were only two chassis built that year, it has to be preserved. Someone will love it.

    Does Jay Leno know about it?

    Like 0
    • Angel_Cadillac_Diva Angel Cadillac Diva Member

      @ Gary Chittenden

      I thought the same thing, Gary. How can you write about cars and not know anything about carved hearses? Of course, this forum is an information took, so let me inform you, Barn Finds……
      I have a soft cover booklet entitled “American Funeral Vehicles. 1883-2003”, by Walter M.P. McCall
      I’m sure there are updated versions out there, but this is the one I have. You can pretty much learn anything you want about carved panel hearses.
      They started out as very ornate horse drawn carriages. Then we’re motorized as cars started to fill the streets. Carved panel hearses were built from the mid 1800s to the late 1940s. There was a period when they went out of style in favor of metal, sleeker hearses, but was revised in the 1930s.
      Check this book out.

      Like 1
      • Gary Chittenden

        Thanks for the information, Angel.

        Like 0
  17. z1rider

    I would be surprised if Jay Leno had an interest in these, but you never know….

    Like 0
  18. Connor

    It would make a pretty good looking hot rod/ rat rod but its just too rare for that, so I would completely restore it to how it came out of the factory.

    Like 0
    • Angel_Cadillac_Diva Angel Cadillac Diva Member

      You’re very welcome, Gary. If I find a newer edition I’ll let you know.

      Like 0
  19. Dan Strayer

    I know of a LaSalle carved-panel hearse owned by a friend. I think it’s a 1938-1939. Its panels are actual wood, and someone had sanded off the carving on one side, hoping to convert it into a camper!

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  20. That Guy

    Figure that when this was made, its occupants would tend to have been born in the 1860’s and 1870’s. The first half of their lives were spent in the horse-and-buggy era. So I can see that a vehicle like this would have been constructed to appeal to that generation’s aesthetic sensibilities. But it ends up being a really odd mash-up of late Victorian elaborate formality and art-deco modern industrial design. That restored example is just a weird-looking vehicle, to my eyes. I’ll grant that it’s a rare and spectacular slice of automotive Americana, but it’s kind of the equivalent of a CTS-V with an aftermarket cloth faux-convertible top and chrome pseudo-Rolls grille.

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  21. rancho bella

    on to the next car………..this coughfn’ Cad is getting on my nerves

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  22. barry

    Back in the 70s a friends father bought one of these ambulances , cut out a portion of the roof and put in a pickup camper on it with the bottom of the camper removed to have access to the inside of the ambulance . It slept 8 and made camping a hole lot more comfortable.

    Like 0
  23. Brian

    This was more than likely built by Cunningham based out of Rochester, NY.

    Like 0

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