Article 17 October/November 2008

Last of the car-Based Ambulances

From the time when automobiles replaced horses until the year 1979, ambulances were manufactured using passenger cars as a base vehicle. The last car-based ambulances were built in 1979; replaced by ambulances built on van and truck chassis.

The three major companies manufacturing Cadillac, Pontiac and Oldsmobile car-based ambulances in the US saw their production numbers decline in the early 1970's. This was the result of newly trained Emergency Medical Technician's wanting ambulances with more interior space to practice their new skills, and some also wanted exterior compartments on their ambulances to transport additional equipment.

The final nail in the coffin of car-based ambulances came when the US Federal Government mandated downsizing of all passenger cars starting in 1977. As a result, ambulances built on car chassis, became even smaller. The interior patient compartments were shorter and narrower, barely providing enough space to squeeze in the basic equipment, let alone any of the new advanced equipment the Medics wanted to carry. Even the quality of the patient ride for which the car-based ambulances were famous was diminished due to the smaller ambulance's lighter weight and shorter wheelbase.

At the same time Ford, Dodge and GM were providing a new generation of vans and trucks that were well suited in size, features and price to be converted into ambulances.

In effect it was a perfect storm. Exactly when Medics wanted bigger ambulances, car-based ambulances became smaller while the new generation of Ford, Dodge and GM vans and trucks became suitable to be converted into an ambulance.

The three major car-based ambulance manufacturing companies (Superior, Miller-Meteor and S&S) were devastated by chassis downsizing. Where they had previously built hundreds per year, Superior only built ten Cadillac ambulances in each of 1977, 1978 and 1979 before discontinuing them completely; Miller-Meteor built 21 in 1977 and four in 1978 before discontinuing them; and S&S never built any downsized car ambulances. The effect of the loss of the ambulance manufacturing business was so great that even the funeral coach side of their businesses could not keep them afloat and within a few years all three were gone.

Of the 55 downsized Cadillac ambulances that were produced from 1977 to 1979, three are known to have been purchased by ambulance services in Canada.

A 1977 Superior Transport Cadillac was purchased by the Drumheller, AB hospital and was traded to Crestline in 1982 with very few miles because no one liked to use it. Crestline sold the Cadillac to Bloomfield's Ambulance in Hague, SK, and a few years later it was sold to Ringdahl Ambulance Sales in Fergus Falls, Minnesota (where the photo was taken). Brian Schauf, an ambulance collector from Winnipeg, MB now owns this Caddy.

A 1978 Superior Transport Cadillac was purchased by the hospital in Stettler, AB and traded in to Crestline in 1983. Crestline then exported the Caddy to the ambulance service in Healey, Alaska.

A 1979 Superior Transport Cadillac was purchased by the fire department in Winkler, MB. When Winkler purchased a new Road Rescue Ford Modular ambulance in 1987, they kept their older, larger 1975 Cotner-Bevington Oldsmobile as a back-up ambulance and sold their newer, smaller 1979 Cadillac to Terry Lange of Winnipeg, MB. Terry used the Caddy occasionally for stand-by at the Winnipeg Speedway, then sold it in 1990 to a collector in Rock Springs, Wyoming.

If anyone knows of any of the other 52 downsized Cadillac ambulances being imported into Canada when new, please let me know.

Copyright 2008 Peter Adsten

1977 Superior Cadillac, Drumheller, Alberta

Photo Terry Lange Column

1978 Superior Cadillac, Stettler, Alberta

Photo Peter Adsten Column

1979 Superior Cadillac, Winkler, Manitoba

Photo Terry Lange Column

1979 Superior Cadillac, Winkler, Manitoba

Photo Terry Lange Column