More than 30 years ago, Earle Moloney was reading an article about Cadillac limousines in a prominent national magazine. The article accurately depicted Cadillac limousine guidelines and how restricted a buyer was if they wanted to buy a limousine.
If a buyer wanted something as minuscule as a color change in the rear compartment leather, it could take six months to procure. If the buyer wanted the seats to turn around and be rear facing, it may be a four-month wait. “This was definitely a mindless way to please people,” says Moloney.
So, Earle Moloney started Moloney Coachbuilders in 1967. At that time, his company was one of three limousine manufacturers. The other two were Lehman-Peterson and Cadillac. About a year later, he started to create markets in major metropolitan areas for stretch limousines, which stimulated the consumers’ confidence in these vehicles.
However, it all really began in the 1930s with the inception of Bally manufacturing, which was founded by the Moloney family. Additionally, the Moloney’s were involved in the aerospace business. Needless to say, Earle Moloney was raised in a manufacturing environment.
In 1986, Earle Moloney sold Moloney Coachbuilders as an asset sale. He re-entered the business in 1990. Today, Earle Moloney is the current chairman of International Manufacturing Corp. in Eglin, IL. He is also chairman of the board for Molon Motor and Coil Corp., a company that manufactures subfractional horsepower motors and gear motors.
There are over 12,000 limousines that bear the name Moloney nameplate. He was the first to crash test a limousine. His customers include The Queen of England, Elvis Presley, Liberace, John Wayne, Tom Jones, and Sophia Loren. Moloney’s limousines can also be identified with a plethora of past presidents, including Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George Bush, and Bill Clinton.
To celebrate Limousine & Chauffeured Transportation’s 15th
anniversary, executive editor Mark Becker recently had a chance to speak with this industry pioneer, who reflected on his landmark career, and talked about what the future holds.
LCT: How did you get started?
Moloney: Everything started with my purchase of Lehman-Peterson at auction. Both had been my employees. I bought Lehman-Peterson at the end of their tenure in 1969. Prior to that, I had been building on the Cadillac chassis for mainly celebrities. In those days, every limousine built was purchased by either a celebrity or a Fortune 500 company. Livery companies were not prevalent at all in those days. Limousine manufacturing was a good sturdy retail business back in the late 1960s and early 1970s—much sturdier than it is today.
Through the 1970s, the business really started to flourish. In the 1980s it got even more successful. I had one distributor that bough almost 300 cars by himself in one year. My last year in business I sold the company.
LCT: When you started, what was the key to your success?
Moloney: If you can break the ice, the sky is the limit. I remember when stretching a car 36 inches was a big deal. Today, it’s nothing. I think it’s to the point where stretch lengths have gone overboard. I believe cars will eventually go back to shorter stretches. The 120-inch limousines are unnecessary. It becomes unattractive. You find yourself crawling on your knees to get to the divider window. These vehicles are not buses, they are automobiles. The envelope is being pushed too far.
There are some great products out there today. The new Lincoln looks nice. The new Cadillac is a wonderful car.
LCT: What are your thoughts on the limousine certification programs?
Moloney: We pushed for certification programs and crash testing limousines years ago. We crash tested the industry’s first car in 1979 in Mira Loma, CA. It was a testimonial on how well our limousines were manufactured. We were trying to extract any fear from the public about the safety of the limousines that were sectioned and elongated.
At the time, we went against the advice of my marketing people, as well as the will of my attorneys who feared that it would shed bad light on our limousines. We were fearless of that because we truly believed we would take a much better crash test than a normal base car—and we did.
I really have to take my hat off to the industry. There have been many limousines manufactured by certified builders through the years, and some horrific traffic accidents. These cars just don’t break in half. The public now has complete confidence in these vehicles. I cannot stress enough the importance of the Cadillac Master Coachbuilder (CMC) and Qualified Vehicle Modifier (QVM) certification programs. No coachbuilder should be impervious to certification.
LCT: How have manufacturing processes changed through the years?
Moloney: The technical side of the business has changed with the times. We were using stick welders when I started. There are now sophisticated electronic welders. It’s just a matter of regulating the welders properly. These welders are foolproof. In the old days, you needed a real skilled pair of hands or you’d have a lack of penetration. Today, that’s all controlled. This has never really been a high-tech business or a high-tech industry, for that matter.
LCT: What significant changes in the marketplace do you see?
Moloney: I believe superstretch limousines will become a thing of the past. You’ll see a more sensible stretch. The pendulum always swings. However, I think you’ll see more stretches that are 60-to 70-inches. If you look at the most successful operators in the business, such as George Parker of O’Hare-Midway Limousine Service in Deerfield, IL, he doesn’t have a limousine over 70 inches. People want to get out of a stellar-looking limousine. If you get out of something over 70 inches, it becomes a little too ostentatious. The kids love the 120-inch vehicles, but that’s about it. We all liked those types of vehicles at that age. However, overall, I really don’t believe this is an industry that has been through a lot of change.
LCT: Are you working on any current projects?
Moloney: I have designed a new corporate vehicle called the Fleetwood Limited, which is being built in Lima, OH, in conjunction with S&S/Superior. The vehicle debuted on the cover of LCT’s December issue. General Motors has made a licensing agreement with us so that we can use the name Fleetwood Limited. We’ve invested heavily in this product and have completely tooled the project. This has been a seven-figure tooling program and it is looking very promising. We are also doing a prototype for the new Lincoln and are heavily involved in the armoring business, which is a world market today. You really need a track record to be involved in the armoring business.
LCT: Were there any influences in your life?
Moloney: This family has a pretty good knack for pioneering. We have gone from slot machines, to pinball machines, to fractional horsepower motors, to aerospace, to stretch limousines. If I had any influences, they were my father, Earle, and my uncle, Ray.
LCT: What are you most proud of?
Moloney: I am very proud of pioneering an industry and taking it to this plateau. Limousines will always be a part of the American culture. I’m very proud of the success of George Lehman, Robert Peterson, the O’Gara brothers, James Centner, prominent industry players who have been through the “Moloney University” of coach-building. These people have done quite well, and I take pride in that. They are all former employees.