The longevity of the limousine is on the wane. Many of the folks who are riding in a limousine these days earn a modest income. In fact, most of the people who own limousines are of modest means.

Very few of the limousines on the road today were factory built. Most of the stretch sedans are the product of customizers.General Motors built a limited number of seven passenger versions of the frontwheel drive Fleetwood, and Chrysler produced a few stretch K cars, but sales of both were dismal.

Most of the limos that we see are customized versions of either the Cadillac Brougham or the Lincoln Towncar. The factory built model is cut in half and stretched. The length of the stretch varies depending on the specifications of the customer.

To be sure there are still a few high rollers who spend upwards of $100,000 to purchase a customized limousine that can come equipped just about any way you want. One Hollywood limousine has a swimming pool.

But most of the limos today are rented. The rental company more than likely is owned by a local operator who may also double as the chauffeur.

More and more limousine rentals are for special occasions such as a wedding anniversary or a birthday party, weddings or funerals.

Major corporations have been cutting back on their fleets of limousines because it is cheaper to rent than to buy. Another reason is the trend toward keeping lower profiles. Extravagance is out these days. Corporate presidents are more likely to be driven around in a Ford Crown Victoria, by a chauffeur wearing a business suit, than in a flashy limousine by a uniformed driver.

According to the National Automobile Dealers Association, 1991 will see the manufacture of fewer than 2,000 limousines, down from a peak of 7,000 in 1985. During the past 18 months more than two dozen custom limousine builders have closed.

The stock market dive in 1987 marked the beginning of the end of what was becoming a boomlet in limousine sales. Several good limousine customers went behind bars. Many of the limos built in 1990 are still available for sale. The limo buyer, like others looking for transportation, can cut a very good deal these days.

The limousine industry does have one bright spot. The many safety concerns that arise because of customizing have been largely resolved. Jerome Loftus, general counsel for the Limousine Industry Manufacturers Organization, says most problems have been worked out to the satisfaction of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

If you have been wondering what to do for that special celebration, you might well consider renting a limousine for the evening. It really isn't all that expensive.