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Limousines stretch the car and the workday, but not the dollar

By Charles E. Dole / October 22, 1985

Simi Valley, Calif.

If you've ever wondered what it's like inside one of those four-wheeled ocean-liner limousines that often dock at the big hotels in town, come along and we'll put you in the back seat. But before we drive off, meet Lawrence R. Herkimer, a Texan. ``At first I was going to buy a sports car,'' confides Mr. Herkimer, a Dallas businessman. But what did he buy? A limousine.

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A limousine?

Well, why not! They're a lot more versatile than a nonlimo-owner might think, even though Mr. Herkimer will never mistake his limo for a Ferrari, BMW, or Porsche 928S.

The Dallas executive is just one more member of a swiftly growing army of limo-lovers -- show people, sports personalities, diplomats, and industry titans among them -- who use their mile-long, black-top dreamboats not only for business but for personal gratification as well.

By 1990 the demand for stretched limos could zip past 6,000 a year, up from less than 4,000 today, according to Robert T. McMahan, executive vice-president of Hess & Eisenhardt Company of Cincinnati, a subsidiary of O'Gara Coachworks, one of the nation's biggest limousine customizers.

These super-jobs aren't the standard-fare luxury limos, such as the Cadillac Fleetwood 75, which retails for around $33,000, but the elongated species -- dare they be called cars? -- in which a regular-size vehicle is cut in half and a new section welded into place. Supplying all those stretched-out autos are some three dozen companies from coast to coast.

O'Gara itself will ``stretch'' at least 650 cars this year, most of them Lincolns and Cadillacs, according to Robert C. Johnson, vice-president of marketing, who expects the company to grow from 10 to 15 percent a year.

Talking about his new ``car,'' Mr. Herkimer, president of the Cheerleader Supply Company and inventor of the cheerleader pompon, explains: ``My friend at an auto dealership, who had just gone into the limo business, told me I'd have more fun with this thing than I would with a sports car.

``And was he ever right!'' he exclaims, adding: ``At first my kids were a little bit intimidated, but now they really get a kick out of using it.'' The whole family -- up to eight -- goes together to football games ``with one of my sons-in-law behind the wheel.'' Mr. Herkimer doesn't employ a full-time chauffeur, but rather has ``a pool of drivers that I just hire on an hourly basis as I need them.'' To him, ``it's one of the best things we've ever bought.''

Gary Hill, who owns a direct-mail organization in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., agrees fully. Mr. Hill switched from a 20-year-old Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud, which he drove himself, to a chauffeur-driven supercar a year ago. ``I'm now able to concentrate on the needs of my clients,'' he avers, instead of watching the road from behind the wheel of a Rolls.

Besides, he figures it's a whole lot cheaper than renting. ``If I rent a limo at $50 an hour and use it full time, it may cost me up to $8,000 or more a month,'' he says. The car payment on the limo? -- $800 a month. Has he found any negatives to owning a limo? ``Not a one!'' he shoots back.