Last of the coach-built American cars have special appeal for this collector


1960 Chevrolet Biscayne sedan-based ambulance

1960 Chevrolet Biscayne sedan-based ambulance

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It’s not just that his childhood pedal car had a fire-chief theme. Dean Newman traces his real interest in ambulances and hearses to watching the Ghostbusters movie. with its big, paranormal-fighting Ecto-1 1959 Cadillac ambulance.

But once he started collecting such vehicles, Newman realized something very special about them, something that he probably wonders if other car collectors appreciate, that ambulances and hearses “are the last coach-built American cars.”

Newman’s father saved his pedal car

Newman’s father saved his pedal car

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Newman has owned several vintage hearses and ambulances. This past weekend, as the 31st annual Super Chevy Show tour wrapped up its eight-event 2017 season at Tucson Dragway in Arizona, Newman displayed — and for the first time in 3 1/2 years — his 1960 Chevrolet Biscayne ambulance.

Ambulance came out of a Chevy assembly plant as a four-door sedan

Ambulance came out of a Chevy assembly plant as a four-door sedan

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The vehicle is a 1-of-1, Newman has learned since buying the car in 2004. It was the only 1960 Chevrolet ambulance conversion by Cotner-Bevington, which was based in Blytheville, Arkansas (the company also did one 1960 Chevrolet hearse conversion), and instead of using a Chevrolet sedan, Cotner-Bevington, looking to save money, did the conversion from a Biscayne sedan instead of opting for the more expensive wagon/delivery or Cadillac.

Stickers on the door pillars indicate that the Biscayne sedan cost $2,423 and Cotner-Bevington sold the finished ambulance for $4,980 to the Genesee Volunteer Fire Department of Genesee, Idaho.

While restoring the vehicle, Newman learned that Cotner-Bevington removed the sedan’s rear roof section and fabricated the ambulance bodywork. As proof of the “done-by-hand” coach work that went into the process, he notes that the rear ambulance door is not centered as it would have been in a robotic factory build, and that each of the hand-formed rear quarter panels has a different radius.

But, he added, “that appeals to me.”

Collecting such vehicles complicates the research process, he said, noting that instead of a needle in a haystack, looking for historic records concerning such vehicles is more like looking for a specific needle in a needle stack.

Ambulance came out of a Chevy assembly plant as a four-door sedan

Ambulance came out of a Chevy assembly plant as a four-door sedan

Enlarge Photo

Newman, who lives in Tucson, found the Biscayne ambulance for sale on eBay. After a couple days of pondering the prospect, he finally entered his bid, only to be out-bid in the final seconds by another person. After the bidding, he sent an email to the winner, said he collected such vehicles and offered to buy the ambulance should the winning bidder ever decide to sell it.

He heard nothing for more than a month, and then came an email from the ambulance’s new owner, who collected station wagons and had planned to turn the ambulance into that kind of vehicle. But after looking at the ambulance in his driveway for several weeks, he decided it needed to go to someone who would appreciate it for its history. He not only sold the vehicle to Newman for what it had cost him, but said he was driving down from Washington to Arizona to pick up another vehicle he’d purchased and was willing to deliver the ambulance to Newman on that trip.

Although a previous owner had done a restoration on the vehicle, Newman redid seemingly everything, installing a new engine, wiring, air suspension, emergency lighting and even air conditioning because “I live in the desert.” The vehicle’s interior is basically as it was in 1960, except for a new rear-door interior panel and a small missing piece of trim.


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