Owned by Lloyd and Karen Ray, Council Bluffs, IA
By Ron Wolf
Photos By Pete Sommers
It’s 11:59 p.m. and you’re speeding down a deserted, Iowa back-country road heading for home in order to get your ’57 Bel Air custom hot rod in the garage before it turns into a pumpkin. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, a siren and blue lights show up in your rearview mirror. “Where the heck did he come from?” you mutter to yourself. As you look for a safe place to pull over and accept your fate as a traffic law violator, a blue ’62 Chevy ambulance blasts by so close the wind force actually moves your car sideways! Did this really happen? We don’t know for sure, but if it did you can bet Lloyd Ray of Council Bluffs, IA was behind the wheel of that ambulance.
This is not your usual classic Chevy, but you have to admit this car exudes a huge amount of “cool.” If you’re thinking Lloyd found this car languishing in a barn for the last 40 years…you’d be wrong. His eight-month search for an unusual project car ended at a car show in Kearny, Nebraska where he found the restored ambulance sporting a “For Sale” sign.
As you might expect, a Chevy of this type has an interesting history. It was originally sold through Harchelroad Chevrolet in Wauneta, Nebraska as a Bel Air wagon to C. Earl Haase Funeral Home in Beaver City, NE. The funeral home had it converted by Cotner-Bevington Corporation of Blytheville, Arkansas to be used as an ambulance, Civil Defense vehicle, and for funeral duties. The multiple duties served by the ambulance were typical in small communities in that era. It was even used by the funeral home owner’s wife to deliver wedding cakes she made as a home business. The high interior roof space must have been perfect for those tall cakes. Can you imagine the reaction from wedding planners when they saw an ambulance, that they had previously seen functioning as a hearse, unloading a wedding cake at the reception hall? Hopefully, those cakes didn’t travel with a quiet companion in the back.
It’s interesting to note that before this wagon was delivered to be converted, the factory provided some modifications as well. The roof height was raised six inches, the rear seat was split so emergency medical attendants could assist patients during transportation to a hospital, a one-piece rear door replaced the standard two-piece wagon tailgate door and engine power was provided by a 300 hp 327 ci motor coupled to an automatic transmission. Additional features included air conditioning, power steering and brakes, push-button radio, two-speed windshield wipers with washer. Emergency equipment that was added later by Cotner-Bevington included a gumball-style emergency light, additional roof lights, under hood siren, spotlights and front bumper lights.
This is not the first Chevy ambulance Lloyd and Karen have owned. This ’62 was, in fact, a replacement for their ’54. Although the ’54 was a fun vehicle to own, it was not as much fun to drive. The standard transmission and lack of power steering and brakes and A/C took the edge off of cruising or daily driving. As Lloyd puts it, “The ’62 is a real step up for us and we’re having a ball driving it. It’s also a much better handling road car.”
Lloyd points out that the ambulance was in very good original condition when he bought it. The car was rust-free, but the paint had suffered from lots of country road travel with lots of small chips from being bombarded with gravel. However, he said that the interior was in surprisingly good shape. Finding original information on the car was a bit difficult, however he was fortunate to acquire an original Cotner-Bevington catalog that had specifications for his ambulance.
Aside from having a fun-driving old Chevy, Lloyd and Karen have had some great times entering the ambulance in competitions. They are members of the Professional Car Society, where the car took 1st Place in the Ambulance Division in 2005. In competition at the Emergency Vehicle Owners and Operators Association National Meet their ambulance was selected as the Best of Show. Lloyd said, “Getting the Best of Show award was a real thrill for us because we were competing with restored Ford Crown Victoria, 5 high-performance Pro Street cars and Trooper cars. We sure didn’t expect to win that honor, but we wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.”
Let’s end this saga with this bit of advice: If you’re traveling the countryside in Nebraska and you see a blue ghost car with flashing lights looming in your rearview mirror, give it a wide berth!