Halloween Hauler? 1953 Pontiac Chieftain Hearse

Back in the 1950s, Memphis, Tennessee was a mecca of professional car builders where hearses, ambulances, and flower cars were the primary products. Guy Barnette & Co. specialized in converting Chevrolets and Pontiacs into these sorts of vehicles using factory-built sedan deliveries as the baseline. This 1953 Chieftain is one of those cars and it’s been in storage for 25 years. Once you can get it running again and fix some rust, you could have one cool ride for (next) Halloween! Located in Roscoe, Illinois, this mode of final transport is available here on eBay where the bidding holds at $2,950 Another “boo”-tiful tip from T.J!

Barnette was one of four Memphis companies in this business from the 1940s to the 1960s. Their heyday was between 1948 to 1955, with a brief revival under a different name in 1958. Apparently, their focus was on the more economical means of moving around the dearly departed as their slogan was “custom-made quality at assembly line cost”, also explaining the use of more pedestrian Pontiacs over Cadillacs. Their products were called”600” or “800” depending on the number of cylinders under the hoods. Barnette’s days were numbered when Pontiac quit making sedan deliveries after 1953, switching to more expensive station wagons.

Little is known about the seller’s Pontiac other than it was in storage for some 25 years. The vehicle doesn’t run but is that because it didn’t run when it was parked or was that the outcome of being dormant for so long? The bottom half of this Chieftain is painted light blue, a little too festive in my opinion for a hearse, so perhaps the color was changed from black years ago. Rust is present on the lower extremities, and we don’t know if that goes any further than skin deep.

The interior of this custom hauler looks fairly solid and complete. So, the overall vehicle could offer a lot of promise. But it raises the question what would you do with it if you bought it? Surely not go into some odd vintage funeral transport service. Perhaps get it running, fill in the rust, paint the bottom half flat black, and hire it out during October every year for haunted houses, parties, and parades!


  1. Rex Kahrs Rex Kahrs Member

    A local guy here in Tampa has a hearse that he sells coffin-shaped ice cream bars from at car shows. The whole idea leaves me cold.

    Like 15
  2. Rex Kahrs Rex Kahrs Member

    OK, maybe the ice cream bars aren’t coffin shaped. But the name is funny.


    Like 5
  3. Will Fox

    Amazingly complete, it even has the coach lamps on the sides! Overall, I like this hearse and feel it should be restored to a shiny black. Hopefully the right buyer sees the potential in restoring this. And once finished, join the commercial vehicle owners club, where it will probably be the only `53 Pontiac hearse in their ranks!

    Like 11
  4. Rodney - GSM

    This was their best seller. Listed in the catalog as “The Poncho Pallbearer Model”.
    “No Matter if It’s the Six or the Eight you Won’t be Late”.

    Like 9
  5. Bill Whipple

    I drove one of these when I worked at a funeral home in my home town. It was painted black and we used it for death calls and a flower wagon at funerals. It was a straight 8 automatic.
    It would be cool to have one but I wouldn’t pay much for it.

    Like 6
  6. Johnny Cuda

    We put the “fun” in funeral!

    Like 7
  7. 59poncho

    This seller has a ton of interesting stuff!

    Like 2
  8. Troy

    Being this close to Halloween I would park it out front with some of those posable skeletons in it. Then I would restore it with some upgrades I think it would be a fun toy to have

    Like 3
  9. DON

    I think that’s the original paint on the Pontiac ; a bit odd for a hearse , but it could have been ordered that way – The two tone paint combo of Caravan blue and Stardust blue was available in 1953 as well .

    Like 5
  10. Ricky

    A friend of mine bought one of these from another friend that was using it to haul around their band and instruments. The band had bought a van thus making this hearse for sale. It was 1970 and we were a bunch of long haired hippies. The hearse was not exactly under the radar, so a lot of interest was generated with the police. Too much actually. Were pulled over multiple times for possible law infractions. The hearse was a hippie girl magnet though. Many fun times in it. My friend eventually moved to Houston from West Texas and was subsequently involved in a wreck. The hearse was impounded, and my friend thrown in jail for a number of reasons,( no license, no insurance, traffic violations, long hair). After he posted bail a week later, the hearse became a fond memory. Impound fees and the wrecked front end were too much money. May it R.I.P.

    Like 7
  11. Angel_Cadillac_Diva Angel Cadillac Diva Member

    It’s October and the hearse’s are gonna come out of the woodwork.
    It’s my opinion that this might have started out as a white hearse. Can’t tell if it’s the photo, or shadows or highlights but with the rear door open, the jams look white to me.
    And I absolutely love the opera lights next to the landau

    Like 2
    • george barton

      I’d bet that is original paint. A funeral home in Indiana bought a new 1953 Chevrolet Bel Air ambulance based on a sedan delivery. It was stock mustard like yellow and white. I asked the funeral director and he said funeral parlors were getting away from black. His next car was a light blue 1963 Cadillac. Side note. In the same town, a different funeral home had a 55 Desoto station wagon, white with blue insert. He was painting the inserts red when they got a call. They did not get around to finishing the other side for a few weeks and people thought they had two ambulance. In 1961 they got a new Buick ambulance and ordered it white with red accent on one side and blue on the other.

  12. MitchRoss Member

    I would buy that in a second if i had a place to store it.

    Like 2
  13. wcshook

    A hearse from that era are rather hard to come by. This one seems to be pretty much intact. Most have busted windows, missing pieces. This being a Pontiac makes it rather rare. The bones are good, so it wouldn’t take mega bucks to get it going again. It shouldn’t be that hard to figure out the original color.

    Like 1
  14. Bill McCoskey Bill McCoskey Member

    PLEASE don’t paint this black, as these colors are probably original.

    This vehicle did “triple duty” as not just a hearse, but as a ‘first removal’ car [with the cot side support], and was probably pressed into service as an ambulance from time to time. These vehicles were often called ‘conversion cars’ as they could be quickly converted to whatever version was required.

    Most conversion cars were not black or white, but often blue or grey. They were common in small towns where a funeral home couldn’t afford to have all 3 types of vehicles sitting in garages. Some even had a recessed hole in the roof that could accept a post holding a red ambulance ‘bubblegum machine’ roof light.

    The cot side support can be seen from the rear open door photo, it’s on the left side wall, and during either transportation of a body from a private residence or hospital, or in use as an ambulance, the cot would be anchored to the side wall. And when in use as an ambulance, it needed a siren, hence the 1950s Federal siren next to the engine’s air cleaner.

    I’m pretty sure this is the same Pontiac that sold in 2008 at a VanDer Brink auction after it was cleaned up and polished. I cannot imagine there are 2 of these with the same colors. Here’s the link for the listing;


    Like 1
    • DN

      Totally different car. Besides overall condition, the interior compartments are not the same colors.

  15. Bill McCoskey Bill McCoskey Member


    Thanks, now I can imagine 2 rare cars with the same color scheme!

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