CHESTNUT – Josh Bard's home-built hot rod car only has one speed right now: a dead stop.
But Bard, a professional millwright and self-taught shade tree auto mechanic from Chestnut, lives in sure and certain hope of the resurrection. All he needs to jolt his casket car from deathly stillness into a rapid rave from the grave is a Turbo 350 transmission.
He believes someone's got one out there somewhere buried in the back of their garage and will be willing to part with it for a reasonable price. And once it's bolted up to the potent 400 Chevrolet small block engine already laid to rest in his funeral engine bay, Bard is confident he'll be whistling past the graveyard at extraordinary velocities.
“You've got to have some fun in life,” said Bard, 43. “And I enjoy making stuff.”
He got the idea for crafting a car out of caskets years and years ago when he was a boy watching reruns of “The Munsters” TV series from the 1960s. The show featured a hearse-like Munster Koach, built by legendary customizer George Barris, and a “Drag-u-la” coffin dragster, also by Barris, that was the personal chariot of Grandpa Munster.
“The Munsters are still on Netflix,” Bard said. “And I never forgot Grandpa's car.”
It's taken him a few years to get around to building it, but good and dead things come to those who wait. Once he found a classified ad from a deceased funeral home offering two steel caskets for sale at $500 apiece, Bard knew it was time to dig in and get started.
“But I did make sure they were new caskets,” he recalls. “I didn't want used caskets.”
The building work got under way in June and, apart from that absent transmission, it's almost done. The following is a greatly simplified version of how he did it but, basically, he built a custom frame for the vehicle and formed the body from the caskets, placing them side by side and laying down a silver-blue paint job.
Two side-by-side caskets weren't long enough or wide enough for a livable vehicle, however, and Bard had to cut them up to extend and widen them with new sheet metal, cunningly crafted to preserve the overall casket shape. “I've tried to make it all look seamless,” he said, with a solemn sense of modesty.
His work is a study in perfection, the steel joints as smooth as the face of a polished marble sepulcher. The caskets' handles and chromed decorative hardware run along the angled sides in gleaming symmetry. And although greatly lengthened and widened, the twin coffins forming the body of the car look like one giant double-wide casket with twin lids at the back for a trunk and one big lid at the front that lifts up to give easy access for maintenance.
The dashboard is planted with gauges he picked up on eBay, but there isn't any GPS device to point out the error of his ways: he no doubt intends to entrust his navigation to dead reckoning.
But the most eye-catching of his on-board equipment is, in fact, an authentic glass eye ($8 on eBay) that he uses as a headlight switch. It stares unblinkingly at the vehicle's front and only seat (transplanted from a '94 Chevy pickup and cut to fit) which offers just enough room for Bard and his girlfriend, Brandy Fox.
“Isn't this awesome?” asks Fox, 41, sitting at peace beside her boyfriend while the engine idles at a level loud enough to wake the dead. “He's a talented guy.”
Bard, who plans to use the cemetery chariot as a fun car for the summer, is yet hopeful he might be able to take it out for a spin this year before the streets are entombed in snow -- if he can unearth that crucial transmission. There is, of course, still the grave matter of getting his deceased ride approved for road use, and Bard isn't sure how much bureaucratic paperwork he could be buried under.
“Well, we're going to find out shortly,” he said. “This car was just a crazy idea I had, but I like it.”