IT LOOKED LIKE some kind of silver rocket ship. Shimmering in the mid-afternoon sun outside the Church of Saints Ambrogio and Theodulo in Stresa, Italy, the vehicle worthy of Flash Gordon was, in fact, a hearse. More specifically, it was the new Antalis hearse from Biemme SpecialCars, a company that since 1994 has adapted Mercedes Benz, BMW and Chrysler/Lancia vehicles for “other exigencies.”
On this hot July afternoon I wasn’t the only gawker. As the life of 77-year-old Bruno Toscanini was being celebrated inside the late-18th-century church, passers-by in this sedate tourist town on Lake Maggiore slowed their steps, the better to view the rear compartment with its gleaming chrome roller plate and aerodynamic lines, reminiscent of some of the newer bicycle helmets. The funeral home attendants had left the cargo door raised, which meant that rear of the vehicle was more than 6 feet in the air.
The Antalis owes its looks and function to Massimo Battistella, who grew up in the funeral industry and also had the Italian passion for cars. His company has also adapted Rolls-Royce Phantoms and Estates. For those who don’t require such powerful and speedy transport to the next life, Biemme also offers a hearse fashioned from the more modest Fiat Panda, pitched to funeral homes tucked into towns with tiny, twisting streets.