House of horrors hearse finds new life as artwork on wheels

Murwillumbah 2484

A hearse decked out with mullioned, stained-glass windows and deathly paintwork might not sound like a go-to vehicle to drive your mum to church, but it is for artist Karl Claydon.

Key points:

  • A 1983 hearse has been transformed by an artist into his daily runabout
  • Skulls, cemetery scenes, and gothic stained-glass windows feature in the makeover
  • Karl Claydon uses the hearse to drop his mum at church or to the doctor’s

Needing something big enough to transport his artworks, Mr Claydon spent 10 months transforming his second hand, 1983 Ford Falcon hearse into a rolling house of horrors.

He is used to catching people’s eye with his work, but ‘Ruby’ (as the vehicle has been named) takes things to another level on the streets of Murwillumbah, in northern New South Wales.

“There’s a lot of head-turning,” Mr Claydon said.

“I take Mum to church and the doctor’s — that’s interesting.”


Karl Claydon spent months transforming his 1983 Falcon into a rolling house of horrors. (ABC Gold Coast: Cathy Border)

Not your typical daily runabout

Transforming a hearse into a Transylvanian castle on wheels is not something you can Google for instructions, but that was when Mr Claydon’s artistic inclinations kicked in.


Murwillumbah artist Karl Claydon drives his mum to the GP in the hearse. (ABC Gold Coast: Cathy Border)

“There was no plan, no real pre-conceived idea, only that I wanted that shape of windows in it,” he said.

“I like the shape of gothic cathedral windows, so I got the foam, carved it all up, glued it on and covered it in fibreglass.”

Mr Claydon enlisted the help of a fellow artist specialising in movie sets to complete the look, with eerie midnight cemetery scenes featuring a coffin protruding from the earth and spiders scaling cracked headstones.

To say he is chuffed with the result is an understatement.


Ruby features stained glass windows of a religious nature. (ABC Gold Coast: Cathy Border)

The one-off vehicle goes everywhere; it’s Mr Claydon’s daily runabout.

Given its length, however, the standard parking spots in Murwillumbah’s main street mean he generally has to use side streets while getting sideways glances from the locals.

“I’ve got local people who have never seen it, which I can’t understand because I drive it every day,” Mr Claydon said.

Snaring a park at the hugely popular Cudgen Creek at Kingscliff is a challenge at the best of times with its calm, tranquil, turquoise waters a magnet for snorkellers and swimmers.

But there beside the local tradies’ utes and the family wagons filled with flamingo floats, you will often find Ruby the hearse right at home.

“I think it’s probably the most photographed car in Australia … We drive down a road, we get photographed, and we get filmed by people all the time,” Mr Claydon said.


Karl Claydon’s car Ruby turns a lot of heads as he drives her around northern NSW. (ABC Gold Coast: Cathy Border)

He said he had driven Ruby to funerals and wakes too, which is how she got her name.

“When I first bought [the car], it had a stack of funeral notices [in it] and the woman’s name was Ruby,” Mr Claydon said.

“I like the name anyway, so that’s why I call her Ruby.”

Ghostly hand to the rescue

Given the vehicle’s history, there is one question Mr Claydon is always asked — no matter where he is.

“People [ask] ‘is it possessed or haunted or anything like that?’ but I’ve only ever had one instance where I got slapped across the back of the head after I fell asleep,” he said.


Mr Claydon let his artistic inclinations kick in while decorating the hearse. (ABC Gold Coast: Cathy Border)

Think what you will about that but Mr Claydon said it prompted him to pull up at Grafton and have a sleep before completing his journey.

Ruby may soon be making an appearance on the big screen with plans for the hearse to be used in an independent movie being filmed at Maleny on the Sunshine Coast.

How this unique vehicle came to be makes perfect sense when you enter the back room of the house Mr Claydon shares with his mum.

It is a showpiece of other artworks he makes his living from, which he described as “deviant fantasy and abstract elegance”.

One piece features bronze-painted skeletons, small hand-carved Bali statues, twisted copper pipes, candles, and mirrors surrounding an antique Roman numeral timepiece.


Karl Claydon’s unique antique clock and skull artwork is just one of his pieces at home. (ABC Gold Coast: Cathy Border)

Then there is the replica human skull with antlers in a downcast position straddling the top of a mirror.

That artwork has not been delivered in the hearse — and it never will be said Mr Clayton.

What he likes most about it — it weeps, and he has to wipe moisture daily from the mirror’s surface.

Mr Claydon now has his eye on doing up a 1970 Land Rover, and who knows how it will end up?