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While traveling down a Los Angeles freeway in 1983, I saw a Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham 75 driving next to me. That was the year I fell in love with this business and knew I was going to be a part of it. That was the same year LCT Magazine launched and became the bible I would use seven years later entering the industry.
During my 23-year career, I have observed many changes. Perhaps the biggest ones involve the use of technology as a never ending array of electronic gadgets and software have been developed. Let’s take a look back in time at 30 big changes, most of them for the better. They are listed in no particular order:
1. Lincoln topples Cadillac as the predominant vehicle provider: As early as 1914, Cadillac was the king of the limousine world. By 1986, Lincoln had a firm hold on the industry that has lasted for decades. Now, the market is in flux as operators evaluate a new generation of Lincolns, Cadillacs, and other vehicle makes and models.
2. Deadly wedding party limo split prompts QVM program: A 1987 accident in which a wedding party was killed when their limo split in half would prompt safer limos with a new Ford Quality Vehicle Modifier (QVM) program to assist coachbuilders building limousines on the special Lincoln Towncar 418 heavy duty service chassis. The Cadillac Master Coachbuilders (CMC) program followed two years later providing national oversight of safer, more mechanically sound limousines.
3. Stretches turn super: In 1983, some “formal” models of the Cadillac were two-seaters. There was a bench seat and a partition. By the late 1980s, “super-stretches” had arrived. If the capacity was more than six-passengers, it was considered a “super-stretch.” Some coachbuilders built large vehicles that failed QVM standards. A decade later came the “ultra-super-stretch” limousine as coachbuilders began converting SUVs into longer versions capable of holding 16-20 passengers.
4. We like the cars that go boom: By the time Lincoln changed from the square body style to the rounded body style in 1990, most operators were ditching the coachbuilder sound systems and running to the stereo shop for the baddest bass money could buy. Today, the most elite sound and video systems come as standard equipment.
5. Goodbye to bricks, bags and car-mounts: In the late 1980s, cell service was a phone that was the size of a brick and just as heavy, or a “bag phone” that had a pop-up antenna and a cigarette lighter power cord. Later, a common feature was a phone mounted on the floor with an extension in the coach for client use. Tracking their calls as client “phone charges” was very common. Then came cellular credit card pay phones. Companies such as CallAboard realized potential in installing their phones in the back of limousines along with a credit card reader to swipe your credit card to use the phone and paid limo companies a commission on every call earned.
6. Credit card processing: Up until the early 1990s, credit card transactions were handled with “draft” paper provided by the bank. The draft had to contain an imprint or handwritten credit card number. Many chauffeurs carried a spoon and placed the credit card underneath the draft, rubbing the spoon over the client’s credit card to transfer the card number with carbon paper to the draft or carried a machine that could be used to swipe over the card and transfer the card numbers. You deposited the drafts with other cash or checks and the bank would collect your money if all went well and deposit the money in your account upon receipt.
Limousine and Chauffeured Transportation Magazine was renamed and rebranded Limousine Charter & Tour in February 2009.
7. Farewell to industry legends: Operators Tom Mazza, Carla Boraday and Dean Schuler all contributed greatly to the directional growth of the industry and left lasting impressions and standards through industry associations such as the NLA. Schuler’s death in 2010, and the passing of Mazza and Boroday in 2012 left a professional void.
8. Industry consolidation: In 1987, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration published an estimate of 50 to 60 limousine coachbuilders in the U.S. Today, there are only 14 QVM certified coachbuilders, as a result of shifting demand, the Great Recession and a vehicle market more geared toward OEM and corporate vehicles.
9. New Name for LCT Magazine: Limousine and Chauffeured Transportation Magazine was renamed and rebranded Limousine Charter & Tour in February 2009 to reflect the industry’s move toward more minibuses and motorcoaches to accommodate group ground transportation.
10. Green vehicles: The rise in energy prices and growing awareness about pollution and climate change has ushered in a category of green vehicles, including hybrids, CNG models, and for the first time, an all-electric luxury sedan within the premium vehicle price range: the Tesla Model S. The vehicles enable operators to save money on fuel while appealing to eco-conscious corporate clients.