Vehicle Review: In back-to-back wins, the luxury SUV lands on another Wards 10 Best list.
The evolution of many products and designs is oftentimes much taken for granted. What began as crude approximations of today's technologically improved marvels has become commonplace and sterile in many minds. Products must be out of the ordinary in order to capture our attention. Inventions having their genesis generations ago may be improving at an astronomical rate or may have reached a state of near perfection.
Citing the wheel and the progress it has afforded mankind could offer up volumes of detailed analysis roughly speaking, the wheel has been one of the single-most factors in mankind's development.
Operating out of the rural midsection of the nation, Armbruster/Stageway has been actively participating in the wheel's maturation. Armbruster's origins are traceable to the pioneer days, and since then the company has continued to meet the needs of its clients, supplying them with the latest in transportation advances.
Armbruster/Stageway's product line ranges from stretched limousines to custom-built crew cabs to custom-built luxury convertibles. The company exports overseas, enjoys a substantial domestic market, and has expanded its physical plant.
In recent years, Armbruster/Stageway has stepped up its mechanical team along with its management team, according to Jim Mankowski, chairman of the board, during a recent telephone interview.
"There was a time in converting any automobile to a limousine that added weight was not important. The reason being the car's drive train could handle the added weight. The auto manufacturer built in the necessary surplus capacity. Those days are over and now it falls on the converter's shoulders to give all the features they did in the past.
With the company's series of patented parts, Armbruster/Stageway now uses its own components in much of the automobiles. The company holds a patented construction process on all essential body components, including upper door frames, pillars and doors. This process enhances the mechanical reliability of the limousines, Mankowski said, offering better products for buyers and easier and more efficient servicing by the company.
Armbruster's Six-Door limousine, built for both the limousine service industry as well as the executive market, is built on Cadillac, Buick and Lincoln chassis. The success of this model can be traced to the patented material. The precision fit of the added two doors is de signed to fit the configuration of the limousine, Mankowski said. "It benefits both the company and the customers," he said of the patented construction process.
A recent project of Armbruster/Stageway was the Emerald Express contract of stretched GMC Suburbans. The Emerald Express cruisers, stretched 100 inches, are the first of their kind, marking a new chapter in livery services as they are the first luxury intercity, regularly scheduled service in the country, operating between Los Angeles and San Diego and Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, California. Mankowski believes this idea will accelerate. "At this point, we think (the Emerald Express type of idea) will spread across the country."
Armbruster/Stageway's extensive, nationwide dealer network is effective in tapping the funeral industry, said Ross Barrows, president. Thirty outside sales outlets serve Armbruster/Stageway's clients Barrows said the dealer network serves both funeral and limousine operators.
Organized in 1887, the predecessor company of Armbruster & Co built and repaired horse-drawn vehicles, eventually moving into the automotive trade. The first "stretch" type vehicle performed by the company was in the early 1920s when Jordan Bus Lines commissioned Armbruster to convert an automobile into a small bus. From that point, the company grew steadily to its present status, with it, enhancing the wheel.
In 1966, the firm merged with Stageway Coaches of Cincinnati. In January 1981, the firm was purchased by Camartex, Inc. Today, Armbruster/Stageway operates out of three plants in Fort Smith, with a total of 175,000 square feet of plant space and employs 230 people.
Mankowski describes their employees as having very high craft and skill levels. "We have right now, in house, many people who are third and fourth generation employees. We have whole families who have known nothing but Armbruster. We have brothers who work here all their lives as their fathers before them, and on a few occasions, grandfathers and great-grandfathers. We like to think that's part of the reason we've been so successful. We're fortunate to have the type of personnel we do."
Those 230 employees help put together about 800 limousines, 100 crew cabs, 100 suburbans and 60 custom convertibles each year, Barrows said. Of the limousines, 25 percent are Lincolns, 65 percent are Cadillacs and 10 percent are Buicks.
On Cadillac bases, Armbruster stretches their Silverhawk and Manhattan models. The Silverhawk, a 46-inch stretch, features AM/FM stereo cassette, burled elm console with wet bar, heavy duty tires, pin striping, among others, as standard equipment. Options include moon-roof, rear vanity mirrors, writing table, telephone provisions and intercom, to name a few. The Cadillac Silverhawk is available on both Fleetwood Brougham and Sedan DeVille bodies.
The Cadillac Manhattan, stretched 36 inches from the Sedan DeVille, is available in Standard, Formal and Executive models. The standard features padded vinyl roof, heavy duty jack, opera and courtesy lights, among others. Additional features on the Formal are electric partition, lighted ash trays and triple rear-facing seats. These are also available on the Executive, with additional console with glass bottle storage as standard. Optional equipment on all Manhattan styles include De Elegance carpet, wheel disks, wire locking, custom grill with hood ornament and dual battery, among many others.
The Lincoln Silverhawk, built on the Town Car body, is a 46-mch stretch with color television, rear air conditioning and heating, electric partition, and heavy duty white side wall tires, among others. Options include the gold trim package, dark tint widows in the rear, decanters and glasses and anti-theft system, to name but a few.
The 67 ½ -inch stretch GMC Suburban adds four doors, luggage rack, ladder with step plates, marker lights, heavy duty jack and underseat heater. The company describes them as perfect for car pools, airport transportation, hotel courtesy services and car rental shuttles.
Citing the need for executive protection and security in an openly hostile and occasionally violent world, Armbruster/Stageway offers optional armor plating and security features. "We have an affiliate that we've been working very, very closely with Tetradyne, in Dallas (who does the armoring work)," Barrows said. "I think we'll see more and more of this."
Generally speaking, the future of the limousine industry, including Armbruster's corner of it, will continue growing, Barrows believes. "The cars are in a transition period. Because of downsizing, we can offer cars that have more room in them." He also sees continued growth in the taxi and airport shuttle market of the industry.
In addition to the growing domestic market, Barrows said, Armbruster/Stageway exports about 150 limousines per year to Saudi Arabia, Norway and Latin American countries.
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