Millennium Custom Auto Inc. - 1998-present - Deer Park (Long Island), New York


   

Re-inventing the Stretch

We're not talking about the seventh inning, or the latest spin on Pilates. What we are talking about is stretching LUXURY to the limit, and into some of the most fantastic limousines you've ever seen. Cruise to A.C. in the back of a 20-passenger Hummer. Glide down the Pacific Coast Highway with 16 friends sprawled across the new BMW X-5. But remember, you owe your little excursion in excess to the engineering and imagination of people like Kevin Wagner and his associates from Millennium Custom Auto Inc. in Deer Park, Long Island. Because, it's at Millennium where you'll find cars and trucks being turned into fleets of fancy for the limo rental industry.

"Most people think you can just go to Ford and order a stretch SUV," said Wagner, "and that's simply just not the case." As a matter of fact, not one car manufacturer in the country offers a limousine version of their models. But, limo conversion don't come cheap. Expect to pay about $60,000 for a 17-foot stretch and to wait about two months.

Wagner, a Massapequa native, doesn't need to use blueprints to convert a five-person Range Rover into a 20-passenger super-stretch because, after 20 years of limo making experience, he's mastered the process of the exotic. "Basically, you strip it down and cut it in half," he says, "Then you go from there."

After the vehicle is stripped to its basic shell and cut in half, the car is separated and rebuilt, from the bottom up. Using the strongest steel available, Wagner elongates the base and builds support beams across the bottom. Then he fashions side beams, much bigger and stronger than the original frame, and slides them over the ends of the cut vehicle, connecting the front and the back.

The works of the car, like the axle and the gas tank, are left "stock" (original from manufacturer) because the cuts are done at points where they will not be affected. Wagner then, beefs up the suspension, extends the drive shaft and the gas line to the engine. The rest, he says, is a matter of bending the steel to match the original bodywork.

The hard part, he explains, is taking in to consideration the vehicle's bodylines and then making the stretch not only safe but natural-looking. "If it looks like you could have ordered it from Ford," he says, "We've done a good job."

But, no matter the stretch, it's all a matter of timing. In the limo building business, busy season comes with the prom rush, and teenage need to have the latest and most expensive cars stretched and ready to go by the time the King and Queen have been nominated. "The newest cars are driven off the dealer's lot and into the garage almost as quickly as they come off the assembly line," he says.

Tom Mazza, industry expert and co-author of the soon-to-be-released book, "Stretching it; The story of the Limousine," estimates that there are 50,000 limousines in the United States today. Of that number, he says, just 1,500 are the kind of limos that Wagner makes, the kind known as exotics. And of those 50,000 limos, practically 97 percent are Lincoln Town Cars or Cadillacs. The rest, are exotics, Mazza says. Millennium, Wagner's three-year-old body shop business, is one of only four or five in the country that specialize in making exotic limos.

Wagner, 44, sole owner and head body-man of the outfit, started fixing cars as a teenager working on his 1965 Mustang in his parent's garage. By the time he was 17 years old, he had begun working at Dillinger Coach Works (a mass production facility for standard style limos) where he says he worked every station of the assembly line. His first big break came when he was offered me the chance to build three stretch Lincoln Navigators. Since then, he says, he has built about 30 to 35 super-stretches.

The typical "stretch" adds five to 10 feet, just about doubling a car's length. But super-stretches, like the 20-passenger Ford Excursion, add as much as 20 feet and are the longest he'd ever make. "The only reason why I felt comfortable stretching the Excursion," he says, "was because the Excursion is big enough to handle the conversion necessary to make it safe."

But occasionally, what the customer wants doesn't always work with Wagner's plans for safety. "Sometimes I regret telling people that I can build anything they ask for," he said, "because they just keep asking me to make the limos longer and longer." But Wagner says his peace of mind is more important than designing an unsafe car. "I'd rather turn down a job that I know shouldn't be done than put people at risk."

Wagner has turned down car conversions in the past. He refuses to stretch the new Volkswagen Beatle- Beatles have a specific uni-body design that Wagner believes should never be stretched. But he has filled some unusual orders. "I had one guy come in with a Cadillac Escalade who wanted a fireplace installed," Wagner recalls. "Two months later he drove home with it."

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Millennium Custom Auto, Inc. is located on Long Island, New York about a 1-hour drive outside of New York City. We are privately owned and operated company established in 1999. Being a small company we can offer you personal service and great attention to detail. We are builders of quality custom limousines.
All our limos are custom built, no inventory is kept. Our customerís cars / trucks are converted according to their specifications. Virtually any option can be incorporated into the design.

They've recently stretched an Infiniti FX35, a Dodge Durango, a Jaguar X-type, a Cadillac CTS, a Cadillac Escalade, a Lexus LS430, a Chrysler PT Cruiser, a Range Rover, and a BWM X-5.

www.millenniumcustom.com

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Not to be confused with Millennium Pathfinder, 800 656-8578 another 1990s limousine builder located in Houston, Texas that has recently gone out of business.

 

    For more information please read:

Megan Warren - Re-inventing the Stretch, Columbia News Service, Feb 22-2002

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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