×

We've got news for you.

Register on Sunday Times at no cost to receive newsletters, read exclusive articles & more.
Register now

Death drive: the gloomy prospect of that final ride

Lifestyle

Death drive: the gloomy prospect of that final ride

When Kyalami held an expo on all things hearse, I overcame my misgivings and paid it a visit

Motoring editor, reporter and presenter
The customised interior of a Volkswagen Transporter hearse.
The customised interior of a Volkswagen Transporter hearse.
Image: Supplied

A passing shiver struck me when I opened a request to attend Funerex Africa 2022 last month. This was not the first time I had received such an invite — declined in previous instances because, well, it all seemed a tad morbid for my liking. And a good number my motor-noting colleagues felt the same.

Merchandise on display at Funerex Africa 2022.
Merchandise on display at Funerex Africa 2022.
Image: Supplied

Many of us try not to dwell on the prospect of our own mortality. But with the way things have turned out in the past two years, most have been forced to confront the subject. The pandemic has snatched nearest and dearest without mercy. Covid-19 aside, in SA one need not look far for reminders of the fragility of life.

Coffin manufacturers show there was no limit to what can be achieved.
Coffin manufacturers show there was no limit to what can be achieved.
Image: Supplied

I was ready to make a U-turn almost as soon as I entered the exhibition held at Kyalami circuit in Johannesburg. The first display that met my eye was of a compact Kia Picanto hearse used for the funerals of children. A small teddy bear sat atop the similarly dainty casket.

A quick Google search reveals there are as many as 70,000 undertakers operating in the country, while the industry accounts for as much as R10bn. It is estimated South Africans spend about R5bn per annum on funeral premiums.

The cabin of this Transporter hearse was not left untouched, with diamond-patterned leatherette seats.
The cabin of this Transporter hearse was not left untouched, with diamond-patterned leatherette seats.
Image: Supplied

Walking into the main display corridor, set up inside the paddocks, the pungent aroma of timber was unmistakable. Coffin manufacturers had put their best wares forward. The sky is the limit (and so is the price) when it comes to custom jobs, as we witnessed with ornate fixtures, specimens with intricate paintwork and interior upholstery fit for the most luxurious of hotel suites.

We laid eyes on a casket inspired by the BMW Motorsport division, in glossy blue, replete with faux carbon fibre trimmings, the trademark stripes and a BMW roundel. One doubts that it was a piece of equipment officially sanctioned by the German carmaker, but why let such technicalities get in the way of your grand exit?

This black Touareg is likely to be used as transport for the bereaved in a funeral procession.
This black Touareg is likely to be used as transport for the bereaved in a funeral procession.
Image: Supplied

Some carmakers had official representation at the event, showing off their transportation offerings, including hearses, family vehicles and refrigerated conversions in which to move bodies to the mortuary. Mercedes-Benz was there, with the Vito and V-Class taking centre stage. Hyundai and its sibling Kia had the Staria and Carnival tourers in tow. Volkswagen, our hosts, displayed a Touareg in a fitting shade of black, alongside configurations of the Transporter.

There were private coachbuilders in attendance. One presented a conversion that used the Toyota Quantum as a basis. Another demonstrated an Iveco Daily van with a sophisticated rear compartment system using electrically adjustable dividers. There was a pretty spectacular BMW X5 that had been lengthened considerably, with gull-wing doors for the glass centre section in which the coffin would be travelling.

There are various configuration options for vehicles aimed at the funeral industry.
There are various configuration options for vehicles aimed at the funeral industry.
Image: Supplied

In all, it was an illuminating snapshot of the scale on which the industry operates. But I think I will give the 2023 instalment a skip and stick to reporting on passenger and commercial vehicles of the non-hearse variety.



subscribe

Next Article