Article 25 April/May 2010

Manufactured in Windsor

During the 1960s many ambulances in Canadian cities were either Pontiac, Oldsmobile or Cadillac, imported from one of the large hearse and ambulance manufacturing plants in the US. But these imported professional ambulances were expensive. As an alternative, many ambulance operators located in smaller towns throughout Canada were using a station wagon which they themselves had converted into an ambulance by attaching a red light to the roof, a siren under the hood and then folding down the split rear seat so a cot could be rolled in. Two disadvantages of station wagon ambulances were low ceiling height (the patient's head would touch the ceiling whenever the head end of the cot was elevated), and inadequate length (the head end of the cot was just inches from the driver's neck while the foot end was jammed against the back door). The solution for some ambulance operators was to purchase an ambulance that was half-way between an imported Cadillac-type and a home-built station wagon, both in the size as well as in the price.

One of the Canadian firms that manufactured these mid-market, standard-wheelbase ambulances was the W. S. Ballantyne Company of Windsor, Ontario. (The Ballantyne brothers, Wally, Bob and Bill, also operated Windsor Ambulance Service). Ballantyne ambulances were built exclusively on Chrysler products and while not many were built, they found their way across Canada due to the marketing arrangement Ballantyne had with the Chrysler Corporation, also located in Windsor. An ambulance operator anywhere in Canada could order a Ballantyne ambulance directly through his local Dodge, Plymouth or Chrysler dealer.

The ambulance in the photo is a 1964 Chrysler Hardtop Town & Country Station Wagon that was converted into an ambulance by the Ballantyne shop for an ambulance service in St Johns, Newfoundland. It took a month to build. The roof was raised 10 inches and a professional one-piece side-hinged rear door was installed to replace the station wagon's fold-down rear end gate.

Do you know of any Windsor manufactured Ballantyne ambulances? Do you have photos? Please send me an email.

Copyright 2010 Peter Adsten

1964 Ballantyne Chrysler, St Johns NL

Walt McCall Column