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From the early 1900s to today, the exotic stretch limousine underwent many changes, trends, and improvements, but the basic concept remained: A chauffeur separated from a passenger compartment.
The word “limousine” was coined in the early 1700s in Limoges, a town in the Limousin region of France. The original limousines were horse- drawn carriages reserved for people of privilege who rode inside a luxurious compartment while their carriage driver braved the elements of the outside, wearing heavy coats known as “limousines” to protect them from the wind and rain.
This set the standard over time for vehicles to have a separate compartment for the passengers and drivers. By 1916, a limousine was defined as “a closed car seating three to five (people) inside with the driver’s seat outside.” That was further defined by a “berline” model where the driver’s seat was fully enclosed, or a “brougham” model with no roof over the driver’s seat, according to the Society of Automobile Engineers.
First Auto Stretched
The first stretched limousine on an automobile chassis came in 1928. The vehicles were first produced by the Armbruster Company in Fort Smith, Ark., as a practical way to transport big bands and their equipment. The Benny Goodman Orchestra and Glen Miller were first purchasers of these new stretches, and other bands soon followed. The original “big cars” were commonly known as “big band buses,” although they were really just a stretched car. This time period also was the start of Hollywood’s Golden Age when big stars like Greta Garbo and Rudolph Valentino began stepping out onto red carpets from limousines, fueling the desire for more luxury in these vehicles. In the 1930s, limousines started to become popular for taking guests between hotels and airports. First used just by wealthy people, the limousines became common among tour guides to transport groups. The movie industry acquired limos to carry film crews and stage members to movie sets.
By 1940, the large cars were taking well-heeled folks all around as manufacturers such as Packard, Cadillac and Lincoln produced stretch limousines. While “airport stretch coaches” had none of the amenities of the modern limousine, they got the job done and offered extended leg room for three passengers. Later editions had two “jump seats” that faced rearward and increased the passenger capacity to five. Soon, manufacturers and third-party coachbuilders introduced funeral homes to stretches with two or three rows of forward-facing seats. Cadillac’s last factory built limo was made in 1987. Packard and Lincoln exited the stretch limo business in 1939 and 1954, respectively, although Lincoln continued dabbling in the business by offering special order editions known as Lincoln Premier cars sold to the likes of Elvis Presley with an expensive audio system, refrigerator, VHS player and bar. Lincoln also provided stretch limousines for the President beginning in 1939 with its Sunshine Special built for President Roosevelt. The Sunshine Special was built on a 160-inch wheelbase by Brunn Coach in Buffalo, N.Y.
By the 1960s and 70s, stretches were well on their way to securing their place in high society among the rich and famous. One of the most well-known stretches of the 60s was the 1961 Lincoln Continental made to serve President John F. Kennedy. Made by Hess and Eisenhart of Cincinnati, the vehicle was stretched 33 inches. In 1974, the first six-door funeral car was introduced to make it easier for families to get in and out. This added an extra row of seats and doors compared to the 1940s version of funeral cars. By the mid 1980s, companies such as Eureka, American Pullman and Maloney were making elegant stretches built on Cadillac chassis, including a five-door 1986 Fleetwood stretched 54 inches that became a standard length of the era.