Conversion of car chassis into professional cars was common practice during much of the twentieth century. "Professional cars" generally include standard wheel base vehicles custom modified for use as hearses, flower cars, service cars, ambulances, and limousines. Numerous companies competed in the industry and most have been described at coachbuilt.com. For the most part, ambulance conversions ceased in 1979 with full implementation of EMS Systems Act which established more stringent guidelines for ambulance design and construction than could be met through conversion of production model station wagons and vans.
Corvair-95s were used as professional cars, though records are sparse. Historical images indicate that several companies used the Corvair-95 platform in the early 1960s for ambulance, funeral and other purposes, and a couple of Corvair-95 professional cars have been restored. The Franklin Body & Equipment Corporation, Brooklyn, NY, produced Corvair-95 conversions, and according to coachbuilt.com, "When forward control vans appeared in the early 60s, Franklin was amongst the first to convert them to ambulance, wheelchair, school bus and police duty and even offered van-based hearses and first call cars." Franklin ran ads for their conversions in Chevrolet Silver Books, such as this ad which shows a Corvair-95 ambulance from the 1963 Silver Book. Vehicles produced by the Automotive Conversion Corporation in Birmingham, MI, are the best documented; and what is known about the ACC conversions is described below.
Historic record of Corvair-95 professional car conversions
VIN or description
last known location
many and video
#2 was in Egil Twedt's collection before passing to Dick Schoen -- and is 1st Amblewagon inspected in video below
see video below
see video below
#3 was in Egil Twedt's collection, and is 2nd Amblewagon inspected in video below
ACC original photo
#6 was found in a junkyard near King of Prussia, PA by Ben Stiles as reported in CorvanAntics Vol 28:5 (2000)
#15 was the Valley of the Moon Fire Department's Emergency Vehicle
#16 is the Malden-West Camp brush truck, now commonly known as the Firebrier
Milburn-Short Hills, NJ
#17 was the Milburn NJ Fire Department Rescue vehicle
Columbus Manor, IL
Columbus Manor, IL
photo; owner reports
owned by Charlie Biddle
Columbus Manor, IL
FD Lighting truck
Mombasha Fire Depart.
St. Josephs Hospital, Phoenix
owned by Mitchell Dunn
Falu Lasarett Sweden
unknown / Sweden
Norrtälje Ambulance / Sweden
Furunaset Ambulance / Sweden
Woodstown, Salem County, NJ
New York City Transit Authority
Spring Valley NY Fire Department
Gibsonton Fl Fire Department
Huntington Beach Fire Department
*The Swedish ambulance FCs were featured in an article by Dave Newell in the April 2016 issue of the CORSA Communique.
If you have any additional information on any of these vehicles, or others, please contact the Covanatics webmaster.
Corvair-95 conversions by unidentified companies
Corvair Rescue van of Beatrice Fire & Rescue Department, Beatrice NE. VIN 4R125S106877 indicates a 1964 Corvan chassis from the St. Louis plant. According to an article Bill Garrison in Corvan Antics 1993 21-5, the van:
was purchased new by Beatrice, Nebraska with Federal funds for the Civil Defense Department. There really isn't a Beatrice Civil Defense Department so it was used by the Fire Department, That's why it says just 'Beatrice' on the side instead of Beatrice Fire Department. It had a "Highway Patrol" red emergency light on the top and a huge mechanical siren mounted on the front. According to the proceedings of the City Council, dated April 13, 1964, they paid Beardmore Chevrolet $1942.84 for the van. The light was still on the van when I bought it."
Later purchased and restored by Phil Domser, the van was the cover story in the 2010 vol 38-3 issue of CorvanAntics. That article described rebuilding of the engine and other improvements to the van.
Corvair Rescue van of Inwood Fire Department, Inwood NY. According to a personal communication with a member of the department, the vehicle was purchased between 1964-1966 and contained very little equipment, mainly a stretcher and a Basic Life Support bag.
Corvair-95 Greenbrier of Spring Valley NY Fire Dept. Appears to be a 1961 Model
Corvair-95 rescue van of Charlotte, NC. Notice presence of separate flashing light and siren on roof. Source: Paul Steinberg
Corvair-95 ambulance of Woodstown, NJ. Located in Salem County (southern NJ). Side of van reads American Legion Ambulance, and front of building reads American Legion Ambulance Association.
Gibsonton Fl Rescue Squad van.
This Youtube video shows a news documentary about the Gibsonton Fire Department and shows the van in several scenes.
NYC-Transit Authority Corvair-95 Service Vehicles. A fleet of 6 Corvans of the TA Surface Maintenance Department. Appear to be 1962 models. All seem to have identical body with COPO rear quarterpanel windows. Would be interesting to know function of the three ports behind driver door.
Columbus Manor / Oak Lawn, IL, Fire Dept. vehicles. In 1963 the Columbus Manor, IL, Fire Dept acquired three Corvans that were outfitted for Rescue and Salvage (#4), Photography (#5) and Emergency Lighting (#6). The photo to the left shows vans # 4 and #6. The vans were eventually sold to the neighboring Oaklawn, IL, Fire Department which relettered and renumbered them. They were decommissioned around 1977. Ownership of the Lighting Truck passed from John Schiera to Mike Nedli and then to John Allsite. Only the Photo #5 van still exists. The picture to the right shows the van when owned by Mike Nedli. Info from John and Mike Schiera.
Mombasha fire department 1961 Corvan fire-police truck -- Monroe New York
1962 Corvair-95 ambulance of Tiltonsville, OH. Considering the date in the right-hand image, Tiltonsville retained the vehicle for a number of years; and apparently at some point added an additional light in front of the windshield. Source of left image:here. The right image and close-up are from a picture printed on a tray apparently commemorating the 50th aniversary of the Tiltonsville Fire Department and were provided by Mike Stevens.
The Greenbrier "fire wagon" of the Menasha, WI, was featured in the July 1962 Friends magazine. The vehicle was outfitted with emergency equipment that included a resuscitator, oxygen bottles, portable generator, portable hydraulic
press unit, grappling and drag hooks and other supplies likely to be needed at a fire. Friends magazine was a Chevrolet publication for distribution by dealers as a giveaway to promote car ownership, and articles often featured interesting places to visit in your Chevy vehicle.
The Malden-West Camp Fire Company (Saugerties, NY) emergency van (It referred to as the "brush truck" within the Company and is now known as the "FireBrier" in the Corvair Community). An 8-door Greenbrier, with rare 102 HP FC engine with 35 Amp LCI Generator, pre-oil bath air cleaner, positraction rear axle and 4-speed transmission. Was in service from 1963 - 1987. Full restoration by Steve Spilatro was completed in 2018. It's history and restoration were described in the CORSA Communique 2018, Vol 40 #9. A blog of its full restoration was posted on the Corvair Center Forum.
This was the Milburn (NJ) Fire Department Rescue Van. It was a 1962 Corvan, VIN 2R125F106722. The brass plate attached to inner wall reads "Property of the Millburn-Short Hills First Aid Squad". A visit to the Fire department unfortunately yielded no vintage photographs of the van. Thanks to Warren Leunig for providing these pictures.
St Joseph's Hospital, Phoenix AZ Ambulance. It is a 1963 Greenbrier, VIN 3R126S111544. The van was located at John Seaman's "Corvair Corral" in Phoenix for many years, until purchased by Mitchell Dunn in 2018.
Huntington Beach, CA, Fire Dept Ambulance. It is a 1964 Greenbrier, VIN 4R126S101970. This van was listed for sale on ebay in 2022. Click here for view of rear.
Corvair-95 conversions by the American Conversion Corporation
Beginning in 1955 with conversions of Ford and Mercury station wagons, ACC's lineup was expanded in the early 1960s to include conversions of Chevrolet, Pontiac, Plymouth, Chrysler, and Dodge chassis, marketed as Amblewagon, Arlington and Rescue-All models. Amblewagon conversions for forward-control Ford Econoline and Chevrolet Corvair-95 vans were introduced by ACC (having moved to Birmingham, MI) in 1961- the corvair being the only rear-engined Amblewagon
Employees of ACC have estimated that around twenty Corvan and Greenbrier conversions were made. You can see in some of the images below, a chrome "Amblewagon" emblem was placed on the rear fenders and the ACC logo added to the glove box door. The brochures only describe Greenbrier Conversions, although R1205 corvans were used also. Although extant vehicles and images exist only for 1961 and 1962 model Amblewagons, they were offered in a 1963 brochure.
The model GR-3 Greenbrier Ambulance package in the 1961 brochure had a list price of $1103.19. The conversion package in 1962 (Model GR-7) was discounted to $1095.28, and again in the 1963 to $1081.84 (sales were not encouraging). The 1961 brochure standard exterior features included a rotating roof flasher, a concealed siren operated with a foot or horn control, shades and inserts for side windows and roof ventilator. Interior features included a 75 inch ambulance cot, dome light, fire extinguisher, two attendant's seats, and cabinets under the floor extension. Some of the optional accessories were stretchers, tunnel lights that would flash alternately left to right, oxygen inhalator and resuscitator. Heavy duty electrical circuitry was also installed, and a larger generator can be seen in the images below of Amblewagon engines. The list of options was greatly expanded in 1962. One interesting option was installation of both gas and direct air heaters, servicing the cab and rear compartments, respectively. All available options are listed in the ACC brochures provided below.
ACC also offered the Model GR-8 bus for handicapped children (a $626.95 package in 1962; $646.06 in 1963). This included self-storing entrance ramp and special auxiliary floor, wheel chair tie-downs, and a four-passenger rear seat. The brochure image shown here suggests that at least one of these was produced, but there are no historical records of any placed into service. This vehicle was featured on the cover of CorvanAntics 1991, vol 19(1).
Records of any 1963 or 1964 Corvair-95 Amblewagon conversions are lacking. Use of the Corvair chassis was likely superceded with conversions of the Ford Econoline (no rear engine) and the Chevy Van (introduced in 1964). ACC produced ambulance models until 1979 when the EMS Systems Act took effect, and the company folded in 1982.
Two show quality Corvair-95 Amblewagons are known to exist.
ACC Corvair-95 Amblewagon Ads and Brochures etc
Additional resources and documents are here
American Funeral Home Director, February 1961, has a full page add (p 3) for the Corvair-95 amblewagon and a brief article about them on p 66. Both feature internal views with different equipment mock-ups in the same 8-door Greenbrier found in other documents. The ad may be the first introduction of the ACC Corvair-95 Amblewagon.
ACC Amblewagon Advertisement from November 1961 issue of The American Funeral Director. Image used with permission of EMSClassics. Source:here.
A full accounting of its whereabouts between 1962 and 1981 may be lost to time, although much of what was known at the time was reported in a 1992 issue of Old Car News & Marketplace. The 1962 Corvan chassis was the first produced at the Flint MI assembly plant and was commissioned for conversion by GM for display at the 1962 National Sales Convention in Las Vegas. In a 1962 letter from L.K. Donovo, the Amblewagon was offered to any interested dealer for $3638.32 ($2070.89 for the R-1205 and $1567.43 for the ambulance accessories). Though the purchaser is unknown, it most likely went to dealer in the Wisconsin area. It briefly emerges in the historical record when auctioned from J & A Auto Sales (Gray Lake, WI) to Bill Thomson in 1972, who sold it soon thereafter in 1973. Reportedly it passed through several owners in the Sheboygan area (including Bill Piepers, Edward Prellwitz and Bob Ehrenreich) before coming into possession of Bill Cheadle (Madision, WI) around 1981. In 1988 with just under 60K original miles and the 102 HP engine still running well, Bill sold it to George Johnston (Beloit, WI), who did the restoration.
Although self-propelled at that time, 2R125F100001 was in need of serious restoration. Most of the ACC accessories had been removed -- only exterior side-mounted tunnel lights and interior fan and siren controls remained. Over a year in the body shop was required to repair the body with refabricated and NOS panels. ACC production records had been destroyed after ACC ceased operations; however, with help from John Bell and Kyle Bess, the ACC President and Production Manager, details about original accessories were reconstructed, and the vehicle was restored with accessories appropriate to the era. A NOS roof mounted light-siren came from Federal Sign and Signal Corporation, and an original Ferno-Washington cot was acquired. The cabinetry and seats were refabricated according to the original design. In 1991, Amblewagon #1 was on call again.
In 2001 the vehicle was sold into the classic vehicle collection of Bob McDorman, Columbus, OH, and then purchased through a Mecum auction in 2008 by a classic car collecor in Amanda, OH. In 2022, placed on the market again, this Amblewagon is on display at MotorCar Portfolio, LLC, in Canton, OH.
Articles about Amblewagon 2R125F100001
"Amblewagon #1" article Corsa Communique February 1992
"Corvair Amblewagon 1 back in service" article in Old Car news & MarketPlace June 18, 1992
Articles provided by Dave Newell
1962 Greenbrier Amblewagon VIN 2R126F101252
The VIN for this vehicle indicates it was number 1252 off the Flint, MI line in 1962. Although its early history is also somewhat cloudy, the existence of an original ACC image (see below) in remarkable. It is believed to have been produced for service in Tower, MN, and resided in Aurora, MN, in the early 1970s. It eventually became part of a large collection of corvairs owned by Egil Twedt. The vehicle had approximately 8K miles on the odometer, was still in excellent condition and retained most its amblewagon accoutrements. Some images of the vehicle at this time can be seen here. In 1998 a 30 minute inspection of the vehicle in Twedt's barn was video taped and can now be watched here on YouTube.
After Egil's death in 1998, the Amblewagon was sold to Dick M Schoen, St. Paul, MN, who reported owning it in the 2005 CorvanAntics vol 33(4). He restored the vehicle, and put it on display for a while at the Anoka County, MN, airport, where some of the pictures below appear to have been taken. The vehicle has since been exported to Europe and changes hands several times in recent years. In 2006 the vehicle was auctioned on ebay to Károly Farkasdia owner of the Dreams Car Museum in Budapest Hungary.
The vehicle later relocated to the 'Cadillac Museum' in Hachenburg Germany, which placed it on the market in 2016. The van then passed to a major museum in Stockholm, Sweden for a while, before being acquired by Lasse Lindahl, who listed it for sale on Craigslist in Dec 2021.
A second Amblewagon in Egil Twedt's barn with VIN 2R126F104888 is inspected near the end of this video. It is believed that this vehicle was ultimately junked.
1962? Corvan Amblewagon
This is the Amblewagon found and photographed by Ben Stiles in a junkyard near King of Prussia, PA. It had a standard transmission; the head rests on the front bucket seats indicate that these were not original to the vehicle. Remaining in front were the red grill lights (though it apparently lacked front tunnel lights); in the rear spot light housings remained on the fenders, emergency lights on roof, and storage retainers on the doors; on the cab floor were the foot controls for the siren and flashers. It is interesting that the ACC emblem is on the instrument panel instead of the glovebox door, as seen in the other amblewagons. A camper conversion had been started but not completed, accounting for the non-original cabinetry, sink, and mattresses. Additional images here show the loading lights inside above the rear doors, positions of dash controls for lights, siren and fan, and a ceiling stoarge cabinet.
Images provided by Ben Stiles
Original ACC Amblewagon photographs
These three images are original photographs taken by ACC (kindly provided by George Johnston).
Is this VIN 2R126F101252? Dave Newell has provided several reasons to believe that it is. Several visible features are consistent with a 1962 production model, including the clear directional lenses and the Impala wheel covers. The Schoen/Budapest Amblewagon is based on a Corvair-95 outfitted with the "Custom Equipment" (Deluxe) option, which was probably unusual, and the upholstery pattern, windshield trim and chrome bumper of the image vehicle are consistent with this. Likewise, the unusual contour stripe is not known for any other Amblewagon We do not know the full restoration history of the van, and it's possible the reverse AMBULANCE seen in the ACC picture was intentionally not restored -- there are restrictions on operating a vehicle in most states that says "Ambulance" (ambulance aficionados often use removable magnetic signs). The additional emergency lights on the Schoen/Budapest Amblewagon could have been added later, but the center light/siren combo looks to be identical. The label on the window behind the driver's door, which reads "Property of Chevrolet Motor Division", was used on vehicles delivered to dealers before the public announcement date for new models. This label would have been replaced with a standard window stickers when the vehicle was invoiced to dealer. Was 2R126F101252 a pre-introduction assembly? Production of 1962 model Corvair-95s began in Flint in August 1961, and the last FC serial that month was 1113; the Schoen/Budapest Amblewagon would have been number 1252 and produced the first week of September. Since the 1962 public model intro day was 9-26-61, the VIN fits perfectly with the property label on the window.
This is an 6-door Corvair-95 conversion. Note the redirected heater vent in the cabinetry.
Paul Steinberg provides compelling analysis that this is an ACC mock-up using an 8-door vehicle. The cabinetry, attendant's seat, gurney stanchion and medical equipment appear to be only set in place; the light may be setting unattached on the roof; and the oxygen canisters are not appropriate. The cabinet facing the attendant's seat also appears to be made of cardboard.
Other historical images of Amblewagons
From an article in Canadian Funeral Service Magazine, Oct 1962, p 45. This appears to be the same 8-door corvan Amblewagon mock-up shown above and used in the 1961, 62 and 63 ACC Amblewagon brochures and advertisement. A careful analysis suggests that all the amblewagons (other than the handicapped children vehicle) in the ACC brochures were the same 8-door van simply outfitted temporarily with different interior and exterior accessories. Why was an 8-door model used; an original idea later rejected in favor of 6-door models?
Pennington NJ First Aid Squad Historic Photo.
1961 ACC Corvair Greenbrier Amblewagon
This appears to be an ACC Corvair-95 funeral vehicle conversion. Paul Steinberg notes that ACC was very emphatic that their truck conversions include Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) required lights if the vehicle was going to be crossing state lines in commerce. Image provided by Paul Steinberg
A collection of additional Amblewagon documents can be found here.
Peter Arnst - for permission to use the Amblewagon advertisement.
Brian Carlson - for VIN Numbers and historical information about Egil Twedt's Amlewagons.
Phil Domser - for images of his Beatrice Rescue van and the roof flasher.
George Johnston - for personal recollections of his restoration of Amblewagon #1, historical documents and letters, and photograms.
David Newell - for his deep knowledge of Corvair-95s, discussions of Amblewagon history, brochures and historic letters.
Paul Sergeant - for info about Dick Schoen's Amblewagons.
Paul Steinberg - for sharing his extensive knowledge of Professional Cars and Corvair amblewagons.
Ben Stiles - for pictures of the King Of Prussia Amblewagon.
Gergely, Póla. American Patient Transporter: Chevrolet Corvair Ambulance. Vintage Car and Motor Magazine (Veterán Autó és Motor magazin) November 2009. The full article can be accessed here; use Google translate for an interesting read.
Merksamer, G. 2004, Professional Cars: Ambulances, Hearses and Flower Cars
Old Car News & Marketplace. June 18, 1992. Corvair Amblewagon 1 Back in Service. Page 62.