When researching vehicles for use in this column a common theme emerges. A beautiful, classic automobile is often lovingly preserved by a succession of automobile enthusiasts. When purchased by a limousine company, the classic vehicle is babied in every way possible. The car is constantly polished and primped and is always kept in showroom condition by an enthusiastic operator.
Dan Hiller of Madison, WI, clearly breaks this pattern. In 1983, he was a musician in a band and looking for a unique vehicle to haul his drums. “I was just tired of transporting my equipment in a trailer,” he says.
One day Hiller stumbled across a 1966 Cadillac Fleetwood 75 limousine in a local junkyard. It had no transmission, three flat tires, and an engine that burned oil. The limousine was used by a Chicago funeral home, but clearly its best days were over. He purchased it for $500 and hauled it home to his auto body repair shop.
Hiller gutted the rotted interior and replaced it with ruby red velour. The jump seats, which were common in the 1960s, were replaced with standard facing seats and a center bar. The vehicle was repainted “triple black.” Hiller restored the 429 cubic-inch V-8 with a four-barrel carburetor to its 1966 lustre. Special features included air conditioning, automatic climate control, and level ride.
In the Madison area there were no stretch limousines at the time. Hiller initially had no intention of operating a limousine service. However, the phone began ringing with requests for service. Classic Limousine and Motorcoach was born and became an overnight success. The restored 1966 Cadillac became the vehicle of choice for weddings, proms, and special occasions in Southern Wisconsin.
Classic Limousine currently operates six limousines, two sedans, and a full-size motorcoach. Hiller’s company has developed a strong corporate and special occasion business with 14 part-time chauffeurs.
“If I had not seen that beat up limousine, I probably would have missed a great opportunity,” says Hiller. The 1966 Cadillac limousine has been retired by Hiller, but it remains in his garage. “I could never give it up,” he says.