from Scotland, John J.C. Little (1888-1971) started his North American
career as a coachbuilder at Canada's largest coachbuilder, the O.J.
Mitchell Hearse Company of Ingersoll, Ontario. He built his first
home-built coach sometime in 1937 and by 1940 had saved up enough money
to open his own body shop. From his small shop, which was located in
the service bays of an Ingersoll Shell station, Little produced a
series of hand-built professional coaches until he closed in the late
Fifties. He specialized in modifying standard-wheelbase production
vehicles into sedan-type ambulances and hearses.
Little's [cars] were built using the same techniques that had been used by other hearse and ambulance builders for decades. He typically took a standard-wheelbase coupe or sedan and cut it in half through the center
of the B-pillar. He then extended the chassis and driveshaft, bridged
the sections of framework in the roof and body and then cut and
hand-formed pieces of sheetmetal to join the bodywork on either
side. Each of the many pieces of metal used to complete the "gap"
would have been created and attached individually. The custom-built section was securely welded to the body, and the resulting seams were filled
with lead, sanded smooth, and then primed and painted.
outstanding example of Little's early custom coachwork survives to this
day. It's a 1941 Cadillac Gothic Carved-Panel side-servicing hearse
that was made from a Cadillac Coupe that was cut and lengthened. Little
could hardly afford expensive metal dies, so he hand-carved the
beautiful gothic panels and side doors from wood, just like the
coachbuilders of the Teens and Twenties. The glass placed inside of the
arches was blue and the coach was originally painted light gray. The
roof was covered in a black crinkle finish by Little, but during its
restoration the coach was painted silver with a contrasting metallic
gray roof (see The Professional Car, Issue #49, Fall 1988). Also worthy
of note was a 1940 DeSoto Carved-Panel Hearse Mr. Little built for a
funeral home in Dundas, Ontario.
Automobiles were in short supply during the war in Canada as well as in the United States and Little spent the
early part of the war modifying vehicles for emergency duty and domestic Civil Defense work. As the war dragged on
he stayed busy refurbishing and repainting older cars and coaches as owners tried to extend their usable lifespans. Mr.
Little is known to have built a stretched 1941 Packard Clipper
hearse near the end of the War for the Needham Funeral Home of Blenheim, Ontario.
Little's postwar vehicles were commonly built using standard long-wheelbase 7-passenger
sedans that were
modified for use as side-servicing ambulances and funeral coaches. Little placed a removable center-post
between the two passenger-side doors and reinforced the door sills and sub-flooring as well as the chassis so the
vehicle could accept the extra weight. Built using a Chrysler chassis and equipped with a Bomgardner cot, Little's
sedan-ambulance cost half as much as a new LWB ambulance built by a major coachbuilder like Eureka. Occasionally
Little would split a standard-wheelbase Chevrolet or Monarch sedan and insert a hand-made section between the
halves, but the bulk of his work was in the more-profitable and affordable sedan-ambulance conversions. A few
post-war art-carved hearses are known to have been built as late as 1948 using real carved-wood panels set into a
stretched panel van or sedan body. Little also converted a number of
post-war long-wheelbase Clippers into sedan-ambulances - one went to the Holmes
Ambulance Service of Dresden, Ontario.
One memorable side-servicing funeral coach was built using a 1948 Lincoln sedan on a noticeably stretched
wheelbase. The incredibly wide rear side-doors could accommodate a casket without the need to open the front doors.
The Lincoln retained its stock rear-end and could only be loaded from the
side. During 1948, Little made a couple of stretched wheelbase funeral
coaches based on Chevrolet sedan deliveries, one a standard limousine-style
with windows all around and the other a beautiful carved-panel hearse built
using actual carved wood panels. It was the very last carved-panel hearse to
be made by any coachbuilder outside of Japan.
Little did numerous post-war conversions of Chrysler products using
modified eight-passenger sedans. Photos exist of an attractive 1949 black
steel-topped landau hearse built by Little.
In 1950 Little made an unusual flower car out of a standard wheelbase 1950
Meteor (Canadian Ford) two-door coupe . A number of early (1953) to mid 50s (1956) Ford sedan-deliveries still
exist that were converted by Little into funeral cars.
© 2004 Mark Theobald - Coachbuilt.com with special
thanks to Thomas A. McPherson and Kevin Lotsberg