Owners Pride – Mark Christy

 

My 1959 S&S High Body Ambulance

By Mark Christy – mark@hobie.com

The lineage on my 1959 S&S High Body Ambulance is somewhat vague. It had a “trip log” book when I bought it, but unfortunately, the restoration shop lost it (oops). At the time, and based on the trip log, the fully intact interior, etc. it appeared that actual mileage was around 80k. It also appeared from the log that it was not used during the winter, but there was no explanation given, just a lack of any entries from mid-October through mid-April. There were also no entries after 1965, so that may have been when she was put out to pasture. When I purchased the car, I believe that it was literally a barn find. A gentleman bought it, and then ran a classified ad for, as I recall, a “1959/60 Caddy amblance”. I had been looking for a 1959 Cadillac convertible, spotted the ad, and thought “What the heck?” I bought it pretty much sight unseen, but the seller sounded quite honest and said he was getting numerous calls (which I believed as his phone had been busy – no call waiting each time I had called). So I agreed to his price and arranged to have it shipped to Laguna Beach, CA. I gave all the information to the shipping company and told them it was oversized. No problem they assured me. But when they went to pick it up, my phone rang with and I answered to “Uh, Mr. Christy, can we talk…?” When it arrived, I thought what the hell have I done. The car was HUGE and filthy, covered in a thick layer of dirt and dust. But, after carefully checking it out, it appeared that indeed everything was intact and, after changing all fluids and flushing the system, it started right up… I hate to admit it, but owning a surf company, it had been my intention to complete a radical conversion to a surf-themed limousine, removing the original interior to install a sofa, flat-screen and a Tiki bar since it has a divider window. But I love, respect and appreciate old cars and wanted to get some more information before I started. And, as you can imagine, the more I learned about this particular car, I realized that I could not be the one to corrupt the integrity of the vehicle. So I readily abandoned the idea of the limo, and set about to undertake an authentic restoration of what appeared to be one of very few (if not the only) surviving 1959 S&S High Body Ambulances in existence. Now that I’m hooked, for the last decade or so, I have done regular almost-daily searches to try to find another like mine, along with contacting numerous authorities (including Walt McCall of “The Professional Car” and “Classic American Ambulances & Funeral Coaches” fame). It now appears that this is the only example of a ’59 S&S High Body Ambulance that any of these experts (and even long-term executives at Hess & Eisenhardt – S&S) have ever heard of.

So, we started the restoration. It was a horrendously long and stunningly expensive process (years and tens of thousands…). We found moderate rust in the rocker panels, and could not find replacements so we removed the panels and fabricated new ones. There was also some surface rust (with pinhole penetrations) in the floor pans at the driver/passenger’s feet. We completely cut it out and replaced with new pans (one purchased, one fabricated), welded them in and undercoated top & bottom. I have not seen any other rust on the car or any evidence that it has ever been in any type of accident or had any bodywork done. When it was stripped to bare metal, it was very clean and straight. Then the process of taking the thing apart and organizing the incredible volume of parts began. To make a looooong story short, it took years to remove everything, sand to bare metal (exposing the original white over red paint pattern in the process), strip and re-chrome everything, polish all stainless, fix the wiring, completely replace the interior (with exact materials/stitch patterns), replace all glass with new (except rear curved window, which was perfectly clean and clear), etc, etc.

The glass (fabricated flat glass using original as pattern and NOS windshield) is crystal clear, the hundreds of pieces of chrome stainless beautiful. In fact, my chrome man said it had more chrome & stainless than any three vehicles he had ever done combined. The interior was in surprisingly good shape, but I replaced it in a perfect restoration for that “new car” smell. The Paint has a deep luster, the wiring restored, etc. You get the picture. I did not restore this with the intention of ever selling. I always used the people who are considered the best in the business for their particular skill. I built it for keeps and I’ve always been a “Do it once, do it right” guy. But the reality is, it is too damn large to be practical for me. At over 21′ and 7′ tall, it doesn’t even fit into my garage with the Federal roof dome installed. And when we take it out to lunch or a weekend drive up the coast (like driving a cruise ship), it draws so much attention it is almost overwhelming. As a result, I’ve decided that she should go to someone who will appreciate it as much as I do, but really give her a better home where she can be appreciated.

Every source I have contacted indicated that the S&S Ambulance by Hess & Eisenhardt represented the absolute crème-de-la-crème of the genre and that this would have been the pinnacle of professional cars for the era. More than one expert has independently referred to it as “The Holy Grail of Pro Cars”.

Well, that’s the short version of a very long story. It has been informative and fun to restore this car, and I was thrilled to discover just how unique and rare she is. Seeing the attention to detail throughout, my hat is off to the Hess & Eisenhardt Company. They didn’t just build an ambulance; they created a work of art, an irreplaceable tribute to America in the late 1950’s. I have tried to do her justice and have had quite an adventure in the process. I hope that you like her and wish you could see her in person. I assure you, she is literally awesome to behold!

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