Vehicle Review: The automaker's sedan gains evolutionary styling, but big changes underneath.
Nestled amid forests of majestic aspen and maple trees, near the banks of the meandering Merrimack River, sits New England’s only coachbuilder—Royale Limousine Manufacturers. However, the company has not let the beautiful scenery in the Haverhill, MA, area distract them from their goal of manufacturing a high-quality limousine.
“The guiding mission of this company is expressed by the term ‘longevity,’ says Rick Barley, production manager. “Longevity in the cars we build—our cars are built to sustain the day-to-day abuse of the livery industry; longevity for our customers—we operate New England’s largest limousine service facility; longevity for the employees of this company—some of us moved with the company from Florida to Massachusetts four years ago; and longevity for Royale in the limousine manufacturing business—we are in the industry for the long term.”
The dedication to the product can be seen in every employee. Brothers Cabot and MacGregor Smith are president and vice president, respectively, of Royale, which is one of The Smith Companies, a conglomerate of ground transportation businesses headquartered in Plaistow, NH. In addition to coach-building, the diversified businesses include school bus manufacturing, automotive leasing and sales, tire sales, and large motorcoach sales and transportation. The company recently sold its school bus transportation arm, which consisted of more than 500 buses. The Smiths take an active interest in each of the companies and spend a few days a week at the Royale plant.
The first three-and-a-half years of Royale’s existence was spend manufacturing limousines in Claremont, FL, for Bradford Coachworks. In 1986, the company decided to move from its Florida location to Massachusetts. The move was initiated for two reasons: first it allowed the Smiths to maintain stronger control over the business due to its closer proximity to the company headquarters; and second, the move established Royale as New England’s only coachbuilder—ideally located between Boston, Harford, CT, and Albany, NY. In fact, according to data from the Massachusetts Department of Motor Vehicles, there are 1,551 limousines registered in the state. This includes funeral cars and hearses too.
“We manufacture both Lincolns and Cadillacs,” says Dick Portors, vice president and general manager. Portors has been in the business for more than six years and oversees the manufacturing process. “We went ‘back to the basics’ to manufacture our vehicles, not only in the structural integrity, but also in the strong service we provide after the vehicle is purchased. We manufacture a high quality car targeted for the livery operator. We pride ourselves on being New England’s only coachbuilder.”
Royale is looking forward to the new model year and has already completed both Cadillac and Lincoln production. Because of the initial delay at the outset of the production cycle and the higher cost of the Town Car, Steve Edelmann, business, sales, and marketing manager, believes Cadillac may increase its share of the limousine market this model year.
“The 1990 Lincoln definitely has a European-style look,” Portors says. “The Lincoln Town Car is being billed as the car of the 1990s, and I think it kicks off the decade right for the limousine industry.” The radically redesigned 1990 Town Car presented a challenge for Royale’s engineers. The roof bows to its zenith right at the cutting point and the door has two different angles at the window and at the side panel, says Steve Edelmann, who is business manager for the company and recently took on director of marketing and sales duties also. After extensive analysis and following Ford’s engineering guidelines, Royale’s 1990 Town Car is firmly established in the production line.
The company specializes in standard 64-inch Cadillac Brougham stretch limousine and a 70-inch stretch Lincoln Town Car. Both vehicles are well suited for the livery industry. Standard equipment on the new 1990 vehicles includes leather seating, a solid and glass divider, halo lighting, a nine-inch color television, rear trash chute, signature mouldings, six-passenger seating, AM/FM stereo cassette, and slim-line wood cabinets. At this point, the company has no plans to build any other size stretches, but the market may direct them to build corporate-sized cars, Edelmann says.
The company recently began marketing a line of hearse and six-passenger funeral limousines. Royale made an agreement with Collins Professional Cars of Hutchinson, KS, who will provide the vehicles. The agreement allows Royale to reach into the funeral market to complement its existing line of limousines. The Collins Concorde 52, a 24-hour car with a flip seat and removable console with television, VCR, and radio, is expected to sell very well to livery operators who service a wide variety of customers.
Royale also is the New England distributor for Goshen Coach, a medium size transit bus manufacturer in South Bend, IN. The Goshen vehicles range in size from 18 to 29 passengers and have amenities available such as wheelchair lifts, lavatories, rear luggage compartments, televisions, VCR’s, etc. Royale, according to Barley, refuses to cut corners in its production. Vehicles spend three days on a rack being cut and having the frame rails and roof extended. “We use galvanealed steel for increased durability,” says Edelmann. Galvaneal is a non-corrosive, treated metal. “We also continue the corrugated floor pattern in the same manner that the original manufacturer has done. This increases the floor strength and helps to prevent buckling in the case of a collision.” Seat belt mountings are also firmly fixed to the steel floor in accordance with federal Department of Transportation requirements. In addition, the company upgrades the suspension system by replacing the existing springs with heavy duty springs. Portors has expertise in working with metal and springs from years of owning and operating a blacksmith and spring shop.
Royale makes its own side panels and crash rails. The side panels are mounted on a vehicle in three days and have rolled edges, which prevents rusting and adds extra strength and durability according to Barley. In addition to the frame rail, Royale installs a five-inch crash rail to the skin of the side panel.
Inside, the interior is fully insulated with three-eighths-of-an-inch padding—the same size padding used under casino carpeting to reduce noise and maintain heat, says Barley. Other features include side-mounted controls. “Livery operators told us that some passengers in the rear seat were hitting their heads on the overhead controls when the chauffeur hit the brakes. For the safety of the passengers, we moved them to the side,” Barley says. The same modular concept used on the side panels is used in the interior cabinetry, which can be easily stalled or removed for repair.
The company specializes in electrical systems and keeps its own electrical system very basic. Using a harness system of plug-ins and a fuse panel for the added amenities that is identical to the existing fuse panel. Consequently, operators can keep extra fuses on hand that are suitable for replacement of either unit. The electrical relay box located behind the driver’s seat is well organized—each fuse is distinctly marked with its corresponding amenity for easier maintenance or replacement.
The manufacturing, sales, and service provided by Royale are all key components to the company’s dedication to support its customers. The company has the availability of GMAC financing for its qualified customers, says MacGregor Smith. This strength will be a benefit to Royale and its customers during the upcoming year since some industry analysts are anticipating a shakeout among coachbuilders.
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