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1941 Cadillac hearse rolls through Burns Lake

The story behind a 25-year restoration of a rare vehicle

If you’re driving through the northern British Columbia town of Burns Lake, and happen to notice a hearse coming your way, fret not. This is not a “working” hearse, but rather local car enthusiast Cliff Stronstad whipping around in his fully restored 1941 Cadillac Eureka three-panel carved hearse. You’d be forgiven for thinking this set of wheels was something special, though: Only two were ever made.

Lakes District News caught up with Stronstad about the process it took to restore the classic vehicle. “I purchased the car in Vancouver in 1989, and drove it 600 miles to Burns Lake. For the first few years I drove it around, and then my wife and I began fully restoring it.”

Stronstad, who’s been working in auto shops since the 1960s, owned and ran Pluto Autobody shop in Burns Lake from 1979 until he sold it in 2008. He’s been a fan of Cadillacs since he was a young man. “My first car was a ‘64 Cadillac Coupe de Ville. I’ve loved cars, and Cadillacs ever since.”

The restoration of the 1941 Cadillac Eureka hearse took 25 years. Every piece of the exterior is all original, and everything mechanical has been rebuilt. Eddie Huband photo/Lakes District News

The restoration of the 1941 Cadillac Eureka hearse took 25 years. Every piece of the exterior is all original, and everything mechanical has been rebuilt. Eddie Huband photo/Lakes District News

The restoration of the car took 25 years and more than 3,500 man hours to complete. Every piece of the exterior is all original, and everything mechanical has been rebuilt.

The history of the car reaches back much further then when he first purchased it in 1989. According to Stronstad, the car was first used in St Louis, Missouri for Peoples funeral home until the mid 1960s. Peoples was run at the time by then-influential politician Jordan Chambers, a prominent figure in the civil rights movement.

After the funeral home closed in 1968 following Chambers’ death, the car was bought by Bill Small and eventually moved to Victoria. The car was put up for sale in 1988, and then re-sold in 1989 when Stronstad became its owner.

‘A car is partly a study in art. I looked at this hearse as an art form. Visually, it’s quite striking,’ says Cliff Stronstad. Eddie Huband photo/Lakes District News

‘A car is partly a study in art. I looked at this hearse as an art form. Visually, it’s quite striking,’ says Cliff Stronstad. Eddie Huband photo/Lakes District News

Stronstad says his affinity for the car is all about its beauty. “A car is partly a study in art. I looked at this hearse as an art form. Visually, it’s quite striking,” he says.

Today, Stronstad and his wife can be seen using the car in the summer time; in fact, he’s put more than 6,000 miles on it over the past few summers, and says it couldn’t be a smoother ride.

“Whenever I get asked how it feels to drive it, I usually tell people that it’s like a space shuttle just gliding into a landing,” Stronstad says. “You can’t feel bumps at all, it just feels like you’re floating. It’s very smooth.”

The Cadillac was first used in St Louis, Missouri for Peoples funeral home, operated at the time by Jordan Chambers, a prominent figure in the civil rights movement.

The Cadillac was first used in St Louis, Missouri for Peoples funeral home, operated at the time by Jordan Chambers, a prominent figure in the civil rights movement.

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