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From Here . . . to There

We saw our first stretch Honda the other day--in Beverly Hills, as perhaps we should have expected--displayed in front of the Honda showroom on Wilshire Boulevard, and it set us to exploring the world of custom coach work in Southern California, where the automobile is said to be king.

There are five companies busy stretching sedans into limousines, to say nothing of countless others modifying cars or creating unique automobiles from the wheels up. And it seems to be a growth business. Marquis Custom Coach in Canoga Park, which did the Honda stretches last year, expects to triple production this year to a total of about 1,000 vehicles--the surge led by conversions of conventional cars to convertibles, but including standard limousines and the only hearse production on the West Coast. Ultra Limousine at La Palma in Orange County plans 50 “exotics"--like its six-wheel, 35-foot Lincolns, complete with queen-size beds--in addition to 300 conventional limousine stretches. Ultra, incidentally, has a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for its 50-footer--the one with the swimming pool in back.

There are reports that Rolls-Royce is going intoproduction with its own stretch version. Right now a custom-stretched Rolls markets for close to $200,000. That contrasts with around $30,000 for a Honda, $95,000 for Ultra’s 35-footer with the queen-size bed or about $75,000 just for the stretch work on a Mercedes.

The export potential has proved elusive, although Ultra is refitting a couple of eight-door limousines that it fashioned for a Saudi Arabian customer. He came back for four-wheel drive and high-performance engines. Marquis would like to help reduce Japan’s trade surplus by sending stretched Hondas back to Tokyo. “We’re working on it,” Jules Kaplan, president of Marquis, told us.

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Honda is not the only compact to be stretched. Marquis also did a Cadillac Cimarron. But most of the Marquis stretches are big Oldsmobiles, Buicks, Lincolns and Cadillacs. And not all the stretches are limousines. Ultra has an item of growing popularity with affluent farmers--a four-door pickup stretched five feet to provide the limousine feel inside and room for hay outside.

“There’s a whole culture out there,” Kaplan reported, and we believe him.


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