HOUSTON _ An auto auction company in Scottsdale, Ariz., plans to sell a 1964 Cadillac hearse that company executives say transported the body of President John F. Kennedy after he was assassinated in Dallas. The car was used to take the body from Parkland Memorial Hospital to Love Field Airport, where Air Force One was waiting to return it to Washington.
The Barrett-Jackson company has posted photos of the hearse on its website, along with a history of the vehicle.
The hearse was the first 1964 model built by Miller-Meteor Co. of Ohio, and it was the show car at the National Funeral Directors Association convention. Funeral home director Vernon O'Neal purchased it there in October 1963, a month before the assassination.
In the late 1960s, the O'Neal funeral home went out of business, and the hearse was sold. About a decade later, the title passed to Arrdeen Vaughan, now a hearse dealer in Texas. Vaughan restored the hearse and put it up for auction in 2007 at the Lakewood Yacht Club in Seabrook, Texas.
Vaughan set an asking price of $1 million, and stuck to it, turning down a bid of more than $900,000.
When the hearse was put on the block again in 2009, the high bid was only $165,000 and was not accepted. The current owner, who wishes to remain anonymous, is being represented at this week's auction by Mesa, Ariz.-based Desert Autosport.
"It is titled to us, and we have copies of the previous titles," the owner says on the auction website.
Until recently, the hearse was listed on eBay for $1.5 million, according to a post on the Antique Automobile Club of America's website. Barrett-Jackson has no asking price set for the hearse, meaning there will be no minimum starting bid.
The Los Angeles Times spoke with Steve Lichtman, who serves on the board of directors of the Lafayette, N.J.-based Professional Car Society. The association has about 1,200 members, many of whom have been awaiting the auction of the hearse.
QUESTION: How do we know this is the actual hearse that transported Kennedy's body?
ANSWER: We have kept track of this car over the years. People have seen it; they know that it has the correct serial number. Various members of the club have seen it, and the history is correct. We know who has owned it and where it has been.
Q: Does it look the way it did back then?
A: A collector _ a member of our club _ owned it after the second funeral home painted it a brown, sort of a dark gold color, and he repainted it white and restored it in the 1990s.
Q: There was some debate when this same car auction company sold an ambulance that it said had transported Kennedy after the assassination. Some people believed the real vehicle had already been destroyed in a junkyard. Was the ambulance authentic?
A: Unlike the hearse, the ambulance was government-owned, and we had to track down its ultimate demise. There was ample evidence that the ambulance had been crushed and destroyed.
Q: How did you confirm that?
A: We contacted the Sixth Floor Museum (in Dallas) for archival information on both vehicles. Last year, we also contacted the Kennedy Library, which had signed affidavits.
When I spoke to the woman there, I said, "What would seal the deal is if we had a picture of the ambulance in the crusher." She said, "Give me 15 minutes," and it was in my inbox.
Q: Who ended up buying the ambulance?
A: It was bought by a museum and put on display in Grand Junction, Colo.
Q: But you're pretty convinced that the hearse is authentic?
A: Members of the club have photographed the hearse over the years. This really is the correct car. I'm willing to say when it's wrong, but also when it's right.
Q: How much do you think people will bid for it?
A: It's hard to say the value. The value that is going to come with it is the value that people place on a collectible that relates to President Kennedy's assassination.
There's nothing to compare it to. It's going to be a wait-and-see thing what the value is.
Q: A: Will the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination make a difference in terms of the hearse's significance to collectors?
A: I'm not sure. There are a lot of us that feel this is sort of a morbid reminder of the assassination. It may be something that people may not want. But clearly there would be antique car museums interested.
Q: What happened to the convertible Kennedy was riding in when he was shot?
A: The convertible is at the Henry Ford museum in Michigan. It was modified after the assassination by the Secret Service with a hardtop roof.