The cult classic film Harold and Maude features an awesome piece of automotive engineering: the Jaguar hearse Harold constructs after his mother takes away his beloved 1959 hearse (a Cadillac Superior coach, owned by a collector in Modesto, CA).
Sadly, the original Jaguar hearse was destroyed during the filming of the movie in 1971. But there’s a new hearse in town!
Ken Roberts, an Arizona-based car enthusiast, began work to recreate the original Jaguar hearse from Harold and Maude in 2013.
“I was a friend of George Barris for 13 years,” explained Roberts. Barris, known as “The King of the Kustomizers,” created memorable vehicles for motion pictures and television series, including the original Batman television series, The Munsters, The Beverly Hillbillies and Knight Rider.
“When George sold his Batmobile for $4.2 million, I got to thinking, what other cars are out there that would be iconic? I immediately thought of the little hearse from the movie Harold and Maude.”
After asking his friend Don Kessler to do a national search to see if any such vehicle existed, none was found. Roberts explained: “So, one day on the phone I said to him — stupidly — why don’t we build our own?”
That launched a search for the 1971 Jaguar convertible roadster that was featured as the gift Harold’s mother proudly presents with a big red bow on top. This specific car was found and purchased from the private collection of a Las Vegas Jaguar dealer.
But it turned out that the model used to make the hearse was actually a 1967 Jaguar XKE 2-plus-2, a hardtop model. “Bad planning aside, we went out and bought another Jaguar hardtop,” said Roberts. “Then the challenge became, how are we going to build it exactly like the one in the movie?”
Determining the Details
They carefully examined 35 still frames from Harold and Maude, studying the automobile’s images with a magnifying glass and even a microscope to find out exactly how the vehicle in the film was built, and to determine the precise details of the parts. It took 40 months to build out the vehicle, with some false starts and a few problems.
The back part of the hearse came from a Japanese import, married to the Jaguar 2-plus-2 body. The landau bars came off of an American sports car. Inside the back of the hearse, there’s a Jaguar emblem instead of flower holders.
The back hatch opens by remote control, like a modern-day SUV. In the back, a banjo case holds items representing the fake suicides Harold would stage to upset his mother. Harold, who started to play the banjo over the course of the story, picks out a tune on the instrument at the end.
The song he plays is “If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out” by Cat Stevens, and the ending movie credits roll over this song. When Roberts displays the hearse at Jaguar judging competitions and shows, the song plays on a repeating loop.
After the car was completed, Roberts had the opportunity to meet the designer/builder of the original Jaguar hearse. That’s when he discovered the back door of the original vehicle didn’t open, as the script didn’t call for it.
“I think I could build it again in half the time for half the money, knowing what I know now,” said Roberts.
Showing the Jaguar Hearse
Now that the vehicle is completed, Roberts is taking it to Jaguar Concours d’Elegance competitions in western U.S. states, where it is winning “Best of Show” and first place awards in its category, “modified vehicles.”
Roberts has offered, for a price, to hold celebrity pet funerals with the Jaguar hearse. Since the cargo space is too small for a full body, he figures it would work for a pet funeral. Given the popularity of cremation, he could easily carry an urn of a celebrity’s cremated remains with attention-getting style.
In addition to showing the car at other automotive competitions, he’s also interested in bringing the hearse to public events where it can win popular vote awards.
Want to find out more about doing something with Ken Roberts and his Jaguar hearse? Contact his friend Don Kessler, Resources Manager of the Ken Roberts Collection at 541-840-0240 or email [email protected].
SPOILER ALERT! Here’s the ending of Harold and Maude, where you see what happened to the original Jaguar hearse. BTW, the freeze frame is in there because the remote controls on the three cameras filming the shot failed at a critical moment.