The Hearse - Telling them apart

    Those outside the funeral industry (as in those who have never worked for a funeral company) cannot tell hearse's apart.  Even a few within the funeral industry can have trouble identifying different hearses.

    So here is a post on how to identify a hearse.  In this post I look closely at each of the main tell-tale features of various hearses.  From the style of the roof to the wing doors.  After reading this post anyone could easily identify a hearse!

    As always, click to enlarge the photos, as some aspects (such as the roof bars) are quite small the image might need to be viewed bigger.

    A while ago I conducted a survey on funeral industry knowledge, how well people knew the industry.  Results indicated that only those who worked in the funeral industry were able to correctly identify the hearse.  Basically those who had never worked in the industry did not name a single hearse correctly, in other words those outside the industry cannot tell the hearses apart at all.  You can read the results in detail here.

    As such it only makes sense to put together a post on how to tell the hearses apart, how to properly identify them.  Plus it has been way too long since I had a post which focused on pictures!

    The most obvious difference in hearses is their colour, this is also the thing mourners tend to care about most.  A few different people have told me how when mourners request a specific hearse it is almost always in regards to the colour.  Very, very rarely will they ask or think about the make or design.

    Colour is generally the most important and most noticed thing to those outside the industry.  It is also a very important thing to funeral companies as they tend to tie colour into the company theming and branding.  For the funeral home the colour of the hearse is deliberately chosen to fit with their company image, to fit with their identity.

    Essentially there are three types of colour for the hearse, traditional Black, simple Silver and modern White.  Of course there are other colours out there, I have seen blue and gold and heard of brown and others.  But these are quite rare compared with the black, silver and white.

    Below is the 2011 WNBulls hearse, going for a traditional black colour.  This company aims to be both "high end" and "traditional" or "historic" as they put it while I worked there.  As such they always aim for a black hearse as they see this as traditional, historic and fancy.

The 2011 WNBulls hearse outside a church.
    Next is a Simplicity hearse I found outside a funeral home in Brisbane, this company uses Silver to be different and simpler.  Simplicity was founded as the simple no fuss no mess style of funeral, a tradition InvoCare is continuing now they own it.  So they have kept the silver look, to give the hearse a clean and basic apearance.

Simplicity hearse outside a funeral home in Brisbane.
    White has become more common in recent times, in part because of White Lady Funerals.  This colour is tied in with a modern theme, it is a loud opposition to the traditional black hearse.  Below is the Lady Anne hearse, a company aiming to be very modern for the funeral industry and noticeably different from the rest.  using a white hearse is very effective at emphasising this and makes them stand out amongst the traditional and dominant black hearse.

Lady Anne Funerals hearse on display at the 2012 Rookwood open day.
Interestingly white is also seen as a 'soft' colour in that it is calming, neutral, clean and so on.  It is a big reason why the female funeral homes chose this colour for their hearse.  Women tend to end up in emotional labour, as in roles that focus on the emotional, caring, sensitive, etc aspects of working.  For example women are more likely to be flight attendants or other customer faced jobs with an emotional aspect.  This is no different for the funeral industry, as we see companies like White Lady Funerals emphasising their emotional aspects.  So white is very in keeping with this idea, with this focus.

    Finally is a blue Guardian Funerals hearse, found at an InvoCare home in Brisbane.  Guardian tends to go for a traditional and up-market style (much like WNBulls but without the history angle) so to use blue is rather unusual.  When a funeral home uses rare colours such as blue it is generally because they want to stand out, to deliberately be different and noticeable, to be an individual.

Guardian hearse outside a funeral home in Brisbane.

    The body is another very important and noticeable aspect of the hearse.  However, unlike colour many outside the industry do not notice the body past the general shape.  Missing subtle differences and important aspects.

Dual-Cab & Single-Cab
    An obvious difference is the number of doors a hearse has, essentially it can have two or four.  The two door hearse (also known as a 'single-cab' hearse) only has two front doors, the driver door and the passenger door.

Closeup of a modern TJAndrews single-cab hearse at the 2012 Rookwood open day.
A Simplicity single-cab hearse in Brisbane.
The TJAndrews 'Phantom' historic single-cab hearse.
    Those are a few different examples of a single-cab design, it was the original design of the hearse in many ways, so it has history.  However, it is a cheaper design and much more practical in certain situations.  A single-cab hearse is a lot shorter than a dual-cab, so it can corner tighter and go over steeper bumps without worrying of getting stuck.  For example, Walter Carter have to use a single-cab hearse due to a narrow, tight and steep garage driveway as dual-cab hearse would get stuck.

    The dual-cap design is much more modern, and while more costly and longer it does have advantages.  A dual-cab hearse can fit more people and stuff inside as it is a full sized car.  For many funeral homes this is a better option, they can send four staff on a funeral and not require anyone take a separate car.  Or they can throw a few extra tables and chairs or other things inside if needed on the funeral.

A 2011 WNBull dual-cab hearse outside a church.
Inside the Elite Funerals dual-Cab hearse at the 2012 Rookwood open day.
Slope of the Roof
    The shape differences are often too subtle or unimportant for those outside the industry to notice.  The key difference is shape is how the roof curves up from the cabin (where staff sit) to the back (where the coffin sits).  This is possibly one of the most important, if not the most important, aspects of the body.

    Below is a Guardian hearse, notice the way the roof curves up from the front window.  It has a gentle and continuous curve to it so it creates a continuos and gentle look.

Guardian Funerals hearse on display at the 2012 Rookwood open day.
    The Lady Anne hearse also uses a smooth and flowing roof design, creating a streamlined look.  Similar in many ways to the Guardian hearse.

Lady Anne Funerals hearse on display at the 2012 Rookwood open day.
    The WNBulls hearse is a good example of a dramatic difference in roof styles.  In this case the roof is flatter above the cabin before curving up "like a dolphin" as it was described.  The difference between this roof and the other two is quite obvious.

WNBulls Funerals hearse on display at the 2012 Rookwood open day.
    However, the differences in roof styles can be quite subtle but clear.  For example the Elite Funerals hearse also has a gentle styled roof, but it does not rise as steeply as the Guardian or Lady Anne hearses.  While it might be gentle and continuos like those it does not have as steep or high a profile.

Elite Funerals hearse on display at the 2012 Rookwood open day.
Back Windows or 'Wings'
    The back windows (often called wings) are the large and long windows at the back enabling people to look into where the coffin sits.  They are another important yet overlooked design of the hearse, and would cost quite a bit to make as each one is not only large but custom made.

    Below is the WNBulls hearse, with long and sloped windows, notice the quite agressive angle at the front of the window, where the cabin and back meet.  They are also surrounded by chrome to emphasise the window and its angles.

The 2011 WNBulls hearse outside a church.
    Here is the Elite Funerals windows, which can open, unlike the WNBulls windows.  They do not have the same agressive angles to them, but still have curved and round corners.

The Elite Funerals hearse at the 2012 Rookwood open day.
    On the other hand the Simplicity hearse has square shaped windows with sharp corners to it.  Quite clearly different from the other two.

The Simplicity hearse outside a Brisbane funeral home.
Wing Doors
    The wing doors are the small doors used to access the area underneath where the coffin sits.  All kinds of things are stored under here, from tables and chairs to umbrellas and notepads.  There are many different styles to these droos, from how they open to their shape and placement.

The wing door, circled in purple on the Lady Anne hearse.
    Below are a few close ups of the wing door to give a better understanding of what it is and where it is.  Some have draws that pull out, others have trays that swing out, but most are simple and just open up that area of the hearse.

The Eastern Suburbs Funeral Home wing door open.
At the 2012 ESMP open day.
WNBulls wing door open in the garage.
WNBulls wing door open in the garage.
Inside the Elite Funerals wing door at the 2012 Rookwood open day.
Inside the Elite Funerals wing door at the 2012 Rookwood open day.
    Essentially there are two main types, those with hidden buttons and those with external handles.  Those with a hidden button will have it inside the cabin of the hearse, it might be in the dashboard, on the back seat or just about anywhere.  Others open with a button under a wheel arch or another subtle place outside the cabin.  Below is a couple examples of hearses with hidden buttons.

A Simplicity hearse with hidden button wing doors, they are right behind the passenger doors.
WNBulls hearse with no handle on the wing door.  Also note how it is further from
the passenger doors than the Simplicity hearse
    The wing doors with external handles are more noticeable, a big detraction for many as quite a few find this to not look as sleek as those with hidden buttons.  However, these doors are much easier and safer to open as the ones with hidden buttons can get stuck, or on a hill will swing closed or sing into something.  They sometimes need two people to open in certain conditions, while the wing doors with handles never have these issues.

    Below is the Lady Anne hearse, a nice example of a wing door with a handle  the handle on the wing door matches exactly the ones used on the passengers doors.  This creates a standard and integrated look and feel.

Closeup of the wing door handle.
    Naturally design is an important factor of the wing doors, generally they are square in shape but differ greatly on placement.  Some are placed quite close to the passenger doors (like on the Simplicity hearse) while others have more distance (like on the WNBulls hears or the Lady Anne hearse).

Chrome Bars:
    These are arguably one of the most forgotten differences between hearses, yet they are a such an important and subtle differentiator.  Bars are one of the things I always look at up close and from far away as they are a great way to differentiate hearses that are otherwise similar.  Two companies might us a black Holden hearse, but it is rare that they will use the same bars.

    The bars can be divided into two types, roof bars (roof racks) and inside bars (which run along the sides where the hearse sits).

Roof Bars
    The roof bars (or roof rack) are the bars that sit along the roof of the hearse.  Originally they were meant for flowers and other things to be secured to the roof.  Yet these days they are mostly for show, while one can attach things to them and they are useful for tying down flowers this is not their main purpose.  Now the roof bars are used for decoration, to make the hearse look nice and give it a higher and elongated profile and give it more presence.

    The new TJAndrews hearse does not use chrome bars in the traditional design, instead they have gone with a more modern and aerodynamic roof rack styling.  As such their hearse looks lower and sleeker than others, even though it is the same hight as many.

TJAndrews hearse at the 2012 Rookwood Open Day.
    In contrast the Elite Funerals hearse uses ore traditional style roof bars, shiny chrome, a smooth rounded bar and a 'post' style design to it.  The bars here have a streamlined look, each bar is smooth and connects seamlessly to the others.

Elite Funerals hearse at the 2012 Rookwood Open Day.
    Much like the Elite Funerals hearse the WNBulls one uses a historic style of roof bar.  However, WNBulls has a spiral design on its bars rather than the smooth rounded bar.  The WNBulls bars have a more diffident look, they have a ball on top of each 'post' that connects the bar to the roof.

WNBulls Funerals 2011 hearse outside a church.
    Below is a Guardian hearse from Brisbane, it uses square roof bars which do not connect to each other, so each side stands on the roof on its own.

Guardian hearse outside a funeral home in Brisbane.
Inside Bars
    The inside bars are the chrome bars which run along the inside of the windows in the back where the coffin sits.  The inside bars are only really noticeable up close, so they are not a great way to identify hearses from a distance.  They give the back a refined feel, but also make the inside apear elongated as without them the inside would look somewhat short.

    The Elite Funerals hearse has smooth rounded bars with seamless connections, just like the roof bars.

     On the other hand the Lady Anne hearse uses square chrome bars with defined connections.

    As shown in the top of the photo below, the WNBulls hearse uses spiral bars with a 'post' like attachment.  Clearly quite different from both the Elite and Lady Anne hearses.
The inside bars are just visible at the top centre of the photo.
The Back Door
    The back door (or boot door for lack of subtlety) is a very good way to identify a hearse from up close and far away.  Much like the windows each back door is custom made for that individual hearse, so they tend to differ between the companies.  Some have a chrome stip running along the back horizontally, which is often placed in different spots (such as just above the handel or just below the window).

    Below are two examples of the WNBulls hearses, the first picture is an older design while the bottom picture is of a much newer (2011) hearse.  You can see how even for this one company the back door is noticeably different depending on the individual version.

The old WNBulls hearse, built on a Holden Statesman.
The new WNBulls hearse, built on a Holden commodore.
Note the chrome around the back window of the WNBulls hearse.
The Guardian hearse, notice the similarity to the WNBulls hearse.
Importantly the Guardian hearse does not have the chrome around the edge of the back window the same way.
    Unfortunately I do not have many pictures of hearses from behind, but these few images should provide a decent demonstration of what I mean.  Look at the chrome bordering the windows, look at the corners, and look at the angles and slope.  The Guardian hearse has no chrome border, and the WNBulls hearse has rounder corners.

Make & Model:
    Every funeral company uses specific makes and models of for their cars, to give the company a holistic and integrated appearance.  The two most common makes are Ford and Holden, which are used by most companies in Sydney.  However, there are some who use other makes, such as Walter Carter who use KIA, or Lady Anne who use Chrysler and I have even seen a Suzuki hearse floating about.

    But looking at the make and model is a good way to identify a certain company, as generally most funeral homes will stick to the same brand of hearse to keep their fleet consistent.  After not long one can recognise which funeral homes use which type of hearse and be able to use this to help identify who's hearse it is.  Those who do not use Ford or Holden tend to be more obvious, like Walter Carter is the only one to use KIA in Sydney, so if it is a KIA hearse it must be Walter Carter.

    Below are examples of different make hearses, the first is the Elite Funerals which is a Holden hearse.  Next is the Lady Anne hearse which is a Chrysler hearse and finally is a Simplicity hearse which is a Ford.
Holden hearse.
Elite Funerals at the 2012 Rookwood open day.
Chrysler hearse.
Lady Anne Funerals at the 2012 Rookwood open day.
Ford hearse.
Simplicity Funerals at a Brisbane funeral home.
    Distinguishing between makes is usually quite easy and obvious, but models can be a bit trickier to tell apart.  Especially as most funeral homes will buy a low model car but rebadge it on the outside to look like a fancy version.  The best way to see what model hearse it is, the most reliable way, is by looking at the dashboard and seats inside the car.  Unfortunately this is not always possible, especially from a distance or driving past it.  But there are good ways to tell the model from the outside, they are subtle and not perfect, but they are fairly reliable.

    The two best ways to identify the model from the outside is by tail lights, followed by wheels.  These are things a few companies forget or do not bother to change, yet they are both very obvious markers.  Below is an example of this, first is Eastern Suburbs Funerals and then Elite Funerals, who have converted a Holden Caprice car into their hearse.  Followed by WNBulls who converted a Holden commodore into their hearse.

Front view of a Holden make, caprice model hearse.
The Eastern Suburbs Funerals hearse at the 2012 ESMP open day.
Back view of a Holden make, caprice model hearse.
The Eastern Suburbs Funerals hearse at the 2012 ESMP open day.
Back view of a Holden make, caprice model hearse.
The Elite Funerals hearse at the 2012 Rookwood open day.
    As you can see above the tail lights for both the Elite Funerals hearse and the Eastern Suburbs hearse are identical, as they are the tail lights used by Holden on the caprice.  Also, the wheels (while not very visible in the above pictures) match and are the stock wheels Holden use on the caprice.

    Below is the WNBulls hearse, which is a Holden make and commodore model.  As you can see the tail lights are quite different, they are the stock lights for the commodore model.  Furthermore, due to the shape of the commodore tail lights the back of the hearse has a notably different design.  The corner of the light is longer, and the light is not as high as the caprice version.  So the back of the WNBUlls hearse has a wider and lower corner to it.

Back view of a Holden make, commodore model hearse.
The WNBulls hearse outside a church.
    Also of note is the wheels, the WNBulls hearse uses the same wheels as a commodore, not as shiny and have a different design from the caprice wheels.  Below is a Guardian hearse, it is a good example of how a commodore hearse has been rebadged and dressed up to look like a caprice.  Yet the wheels were left and it was clearly built on a commodore.

Front view of a Holden make, caprice model hearse.
The Guardian Funerals hearse at the 2012 Rookwood open day.
    The Guardian hearse above has added chrome to things, gotten the fancy head lights, upgraded the grill and overall looks like a caprice.  However. the wheels are stock commodore wheels, so it must have been a commodore originally.

Comparing Them:
    Now we have discussed the differences and defining features of the hearse it is time to put it into practice.  To directly compare and contrast a handful of hearses.

 Elite Funerals & WNBulls Funerals
    WNBulls and Elite make a good direct comparison as they both use a black holden hearse and aim for a traditional and fancy look.  There are some quite distinct, yet subtle differences between the two so that even though they are the same look they are obviously very different vehicles.

Elite Funerals hearse at the 2012 Rookwood Open Day.
Elite Funerals hearse at the 2012 Rookwood Open Day.
Elite Funerals hearse at the 2012 Rookwood Open Day.
WNBulls Funerals 2011 hearse outside a church.
WNBulls Funerals 2011 hearse outside a church.
    The Elite Funerals hearse is clearly a little more 'fancy', especially at the front where it has more chrome and detail than the WNBulls hearse.  Specifically the front grill has more chrome on the Elite hearse, and the area around the fog lights has more detail on the Elite hearse.

    The WNBulls hearse is clearly not a caprice, despite the badging, as it has commodore wheels and tail lights.  The Elite hearse however is based on a caprice as it has caprice wheels and tail lights.

    As for the roof the WNBulls hearse has more of a sudden and emphasised raise to it, creating a higher profile.  While the Elite hearse has a slower and smoother roof to it.  Also, the bars on the WNBulls hearse have detail with their spirals and balls on the top of the 'posts', and are pronounced with their obvious joins.  In contrast to the bars on the Elite hearse are smoother, and seamlessly joined.

    The back windows are also notably different, the Elite hearse has squarer windows that can open.  Conversely the WNBulls hearse has more angular windows that cannot open.

Simplicity Funerals & TJAndrews Funerals
    Simplicity and TJAndrews make for a good comparison as again, they are both quite similar hearses, both using a silver Ford hearse.  Yet again there are some notable differences to tell them apart.

Simplicity Funerals hearse outside a Brisbane funeral home.
TJAndrews Funerals hearse at the 2012 Rookwood open day.
    As shown above the two hearse might look similar, but are quite different.  The TJAndrews hearse has black to emphasise the back windows, while the Simplicity Funerals hearse uses chrome to surround the windows.

    The roof bars are also quite different on the two, the Simplicity hearse has a more traditional and square style of bars.  On the other hand the TJAndrews hearse has a more modern design to the bars, with a streamlined look that gives it a lower and longer appearance.

    Another notable difference is the tail lights and general shape of the hearses.  The TJAndrews hearse has a much more diagonal and curvy and sleek look with round corners and sloped lines.  The Simplicity hearse has gone for a squarer and angular look, with pronounced corners and little to no diagonals.

    The tail lights of the Simplicity hearse are in the standard place, the corners where they would have been on the sedan version.  However, the TJAndrews hearse has place the tail lights much higher, level with the back window.

Eastern Suburbs Funerals & Lady Anne Funerals
  Eastern Suburbs and Lady Anne are a good comparison as they are going for totally different styles and messages with their hearses.  Lady Anne is loud and modern while Eastern Suburbs is quiet and traditional.
Lady Anne Funerals hearse at the 2012 Rookwood open day.
Lady Anne Funerals hearse at the 2012 Rookwood open day.
Lady Anne Funerals hearse at the 2012 Rookwood open day.
Eastern Suburbs Funerals hearse at the 2012 ESMP open day.
Eastern Suburbs Funerals hearse at the 2012 ESMP open day.
Eastern Suburbs Funerals hearse at the 2012 ESMP open day.
    The colours of the two hearses are obviously different, one is white and one is black.  The Lady Anne hearse is aiming for a bold and modern look, from the difference in colour to the large wheels and even the fancy grill.  On the other hand Eastern Suburbs is going for a more traditional and fancy but discrete look.  Comparing these two should illustrate how the Lady Anne hearse is trying to be loud, noticed, modern and fancy.  Through subtle things such as lights and wheels to obvious things such as colour and grill.



  1. Looking at this as an American, it is interesting to see that you guys are starting to use hearses with a 2nd row of seating behind the driver. There was a bit of experimentation in the 80s over here with hearse-limo hybrids, the idea being that more people could ride with the deceased in the same car. But they didn't not catch on over here, and people thought they looked too awkward.

    Also, between rising fuel costs and the rising popularity of cremation over here the trend is to go smaller & cheaper so the big cars may only get brought out for processions & use minivans or SUVs for everything else.

  2. It's really interesting you attribute cremation as a reason for not getting dual-cab hearses... Cremation has been more popular than burial in Australia since the 1990s, and even though cremation only started in the 30s it was quite big by the 1960s. Australia is a cremation country, each state varies but NSW was 54% cremations between 1988 and 1989 (Jalland, 2006, p.346).

    Simplicity Funerals was started in1980s (forget the exact year) with a focus on cheap and simple funerals, now there's many companies and options like this. I have noticed those 'no fills' companies tend to use silver single-cab hearses (like Simplicity shown above). But if anything the dual-cab has simplified many funerals here, now a funeral home can send one hearse and still provide 4 staff on the funeral. With the single-cab they'd have to send a car as well.

    Unfortunately I can't find much history on the Australian hearse (admittedly I haven't looked hard due to time) so I'm not sure exactly when duel-cab hearses were introduced. But from what I gather it was the 1990s-2000s maybe... So cremation and cheap funerals were in full swing by the time dual-cab hearses started to become popular here.

    I find the hearse so interesting, the funeral industry always tries to match and mirror what we as a society want, simple business and social relations. So the fact the American hearse and Australian hearse are so different is quite fun! What's the point of departure in our societies that allowed this difference?! One day I hope to look into that :D


  3. Interesting that there is no mention of the Kia Carnival hearse, available from Walter Carter.

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  5. Out of my curiosity, is landau hearse (i.e. American style) rarely used in Australia?

    Quite frankly the simplicity one looks subtle and good enough.

  6. Anonymous30/6/16 20:42

    Many thanks. I have owned an olive green 'single cab' WB Holden hearse with four doors for a number of years. It belonged to Hamley funerals in Renmark, SA. Since I've owned it, I re-converted it to, essentially a statesman Caprice wagon. It came with a 308 which made way for something larger and louder. Currently getting the make-over of a wallet's lifetime and being repainted in the same sort of green. If you google "WB Statesman Hearse" it's the dusty one after a 2 year engine transplant, Thanks again.

  7. Thank You for sharing your article, This is an interesting & informative blog. It is very useful for the developer like me.



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