Empire Coach - 1947-present - Brooklyn, New York


   

Anthony Tortora got into the automobile business at the right time. A few years after the close of World War II, Detroit was cranking up production to meet the post-War demand. New cars were precious commodi≠ties; and any car in good condition went at a premium. Tortora gutted and fixed up old cars. "Essentially, that's what we do with the modern limousine," says Anthony's daughter-in-law, Marsha. She and her husband, Al, operate Empire Coach five miles from where Al's father started the business in the 1940s. The Brooklyn shop, built out of an old bus depot, carries the same address, 100 Neptune Avenue, from where the Tortoras advertised their limousines in the first issues of LCT Magazine more than 15 years ago. "We're fixtures in the neighborhood," she says. "We're a family business, a neighborhood business."

Al Tortora learned his father's expertise in the auto body and trim shop, and, similar to so many others, inadvertently found himself making limousines. He says, "We did upholstery work, vans, work for dealers. One day, there was a big snowstorm, and I had a shop full of guys. We had finished all the work, and the manager said, 'What do we do now?' " Eyeing his 1975 Cadillac, Tortora replied, "You know what, we should cut the car in half." As Tortora tells it, "It was a tank. They cut it in half. They didn't know what they were doing, but it came out pretty good. We sold it and built a couple more, you know, nursed ourselves into it. By 1980, we were full time into the limousines business. By 1983, we stopped all the other work."

"We're still a body shop," Marsha says proudly, pointing to the limousines being prepared in Empire's shop floor for various Wall Street and national notables. Empire handles anything from antique restorations to a stretched Corvette. As with Brewster and Locke before, Empire is located within the city of New York and is therefore uniquely poised to administer and share its skills with that tremendous local market. With an unusually large portion of its limousines intended for private use, Empire regularly performs "double" and "triple" cuts, the necessary and expensive techniques to add large doors and move rear seats to behind the door. "Just like the old limousines," says Marsha. In addition to the double-cut, flat-floor Cadillac limousine with adjustable rear seat built for an elderly client, Empire installed in it a special sound system to assist the hard≠-of-hearing gentleman to converse. Commercial opera≠tors hoping to attract attention also find limousine nirvana in Empire's skills. When the irrepressible Frank DeLuca of Excalibur Extravaganza Limousine wanted to fit 12 people into a 96-inch stretch, Empire managed it. ("We built it for 10," laughs Al.) When DeLuca asked for a stretched 4004, Empire delivered. But that was later.

Empire's specialty conversion projects started with a 1977 order to build hunting cars for a Middle-Eastern client. In addition to the unusual request to paint a falcon on the sides, the cars featured hydraulic lifts that raised the back seats for shooting. "It had a passenger seat that went through the roof with a bar to rest the gun on," says Al Tortora. "We exported them to Saudi Arabia."

Twenty years later, Tortora took an order from the same Saudi buyers. This time, it was for a six-door Lincoln Navigator, again for hunting. "Half the roof folds back," he says. Tortora tells of taking the car to the Long Island shore to photograph it in the sand, as if in its intended habitat. With the purchasing agent who was dressed in traditional Arab garb, they unwittingly drove the tremendous limousine onto protected beaches. "We were almost arrested by the federal government," he says. "But, since the agent said he was a Saudi prince, the cops just walked away."

New York is the capital of the limousine, but it is not the easiest place in which to build one. The region has been home to stretch builders past and present:

Dillinger/Gaines, American Pullman, New York Custom Coach, Southampton Coachworks, Brougham Coach Company, United States Coachworks, and Tri-State Custom Coach. Only a few of these companies survive, but the market is still the driving force in limou≠sine consumption, design, and use. Empire's success there is testament to the company's skills and commit≠ment to its business and community.

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"Maybe Puffy's not the sharpest knife in the drawer," offers Marsha Tortora, co-owner of Empire Custom Coach in Brooklyn. "I guess under duress it can be hard to remember a combination." "If the battery had been disconnected recently, that might have deleted the code," hypothesizes an employee at Lafayette Street's NoHo Auto who identifies himself only as David. He adds, sensibly, "If he had something that opened with a key, he wouldn't have a problem." Puff Daddy's difficulties notwithstanding, driving around with a secret onboard safe sounds pretty nifty. So do you need a ride as big and pricey as Puffy's to qualify for one? "If somebody wants to pay for it, there's space in any car," says Empire's Tortora, whose company is best known for turning SUVs and Hummers into prom-ready stretch limos. "It might only be a six-by-ten-inch box in the floor of your trunk, but we'll find a spot." The cost: $1,200 to $3,000 -- though, Tortora adds, "if you're doing a $100,000 conversion, I might just throw the safe in."

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Empire manufactured custom hunting vehicles for the royal family of Saudi Arabia. These Suburbans were equipped with a hydraulic seat that could be lifted through the roof of the vehicle, creating a safe hunting perch far above the roof of the vehicle.

Surveillance Vehicles

Empire has manufactured top secret surveillance vehicles for the FBI and for certain utility companies in the NYC area. These vehicles were equipped with the latest in surveillance technology, auxiliary power capabilities, and plush custom interiors.

Vehicles for major Motion Pictures

Empire has even satisfied the custom needs of Hollywood, having produced custom vehicles for major motion pictures such as Donny Brasco, Hudson Hawk, Analyze This, and Mickey Blue Eyes........just to name a few.

Empireís triple cut limousine is created by cutting and stretching a vehicle in three distinct places. This gives the vehicle more rear leg room and space while keeping the look of a small stretch. This limousine is equipped with a stretched rear door and is also custom designed according to each customerís specific needs.

Empire has successfully deleted the annoying drivetrain "hump", giving your custom limousine increased comfort and leg room.

www.empirecoachny.com

 

    For more information please read:

The Professional Car (Quarterly Journal of the Professional car Society)

Gregg D. Merksamer - Professional Cars: Ambulances, Funeral Cars and Flower Cars

Thomas A. McPherson - American Funeral Cars & Ambulances Since 1900

Carriage Museum of America - Horse-Drawn Funeral Vehicles: 19th Century Funerals

Carriage Museum of America -  Horse Drawn - Military, Civilian, Veterinary - Ambulances

Gunter-Michael Koch - Bestattungswagen im Wandel der Zeit

Walt McCall & Tom McPherson - Classic American Ambulances 1900-1979: Photo Archive

Walt McCall & Tom McPherson - Classic American Funeral Vehicles 1900-1980 Photo Archive

Walter M. P. McCall - The American Ambulance 1900-2002

Walter M.P. McCall - American Funeral Vehicles 1883-2003

Michael L. Bromley & Tom Mazza - Stretching It: The Story of the Limousine

Richard J. Conjalka - Classic American Limousines: 1955 Through 2000 Photo Archive

Richard J. Conjalka - Stretch Limousines 1928-2001 Photo Archive

Thomas A. McPherson - Eureka: The Eureka Company : a complete history

Thomas A. McPherson - Superior: The complete history

Thomas A. McPherson - Flxible: The Complete History

Thomas A. McPherson - Miller-Meteor: The Complete History

Robert R. Ebert  - Flxible: A History of the Bus and the Company

Hearses - Automobile Quarterly Vol 36 No 3

Marian Suman-Hreblay - Dictionary of World Coachbuilders and Car Stylists

Daniel D. Hutchins - Wheels Across America: Carriage Art & Craftsmanship

Marian Suman-Hreblay - Dictionary of World Coachbuilders and Car Stylists

Michael Lamm and Dave Holls - A Century of Automotive Style: 100 Years of American Car Design

Nick Georgano - The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile: Coachbuilding

Marian Suman-Hreblay - Automobile Manufacturers Worldwide Registry

G.N. Georgano & G. Marshall Naul - The Complete Encyclopedia of Commercial Vehicles

Albert Mroz - Illustrated Encyclopedia of American Trucks & Commercial Vehicles

Beverly Rae Kimes & Henry Austin Clark Jr. - Standard Catalog of American Cars 1805-1942

John Gunnell - Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1946-1975

James M. Flammang & Ron Kowalke - Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1976-1999

 



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