Off-Ramp®

A weekly look at SoCal life covering news, arts and culture, and more. Hosted by John Rabe

Who knew? Limos, hearses, and falcon hunting go hand in hand

by Taylor Orci | Off-Ramp®

A stretch Escalade getting prepped. Taylor Orci/KPCC

Dominick Vitelli, owner of Quality Coachworks, doesn't think what he does is particularly interesting. "I've been doing this for 35 years," he shrugs off his work customizing high-end luxury vehicles. For him, it all comes with the territory: a little chrome here, a wine fridge there, maybe a DJ booth once in a while. Dominick's most common customization requests are for limos and hearses. At first blush the two can seem at the opposite ends of the cultural enthusiasm spectrum. But it turns out, they've got more in common than one would imagine. 

"With hearses now, they want more glass to show off the 10, 15, $20,000 casket inside," says Dominick. "Before, everybody wore black, you showed up on time, a priest said some words. Now there's music, you eat, there's alcohol, you're celebrating life." 

Conversely, it's the private cars that now have more curtains. "For celebrities, you can't tell who's in there, you'd have no idea who was in this driving down the street," he points to an Escalade that has a fold out bed in the back (click on the video below to see it).

Limos and hearses are curious, for sure, but Dominick's customizations don't stop there. Example: cars customized for hunting with falcons. "We've even custom painted an Escalade to match the sands of Riyadh" says Dominick. Other requests have included a bulletproof truck for a dignitary in Saudi Arabia, and the entire Presidential fleet for the country of Senegal, complete with a replica of the Senegalese flag worked into the carpet of the interior. 

No request is too big or outlandish.  "I once had a guy bring in a box of sugar and ask if we could paint his car the same color, same thing with a guy who wanted his car the same color as his wife's dress." 

Dominick is following in the footsteps of his uncle Vini Bergeman, a customization pioneer. "He started with vans in the 70's and 80's, and then moved on to limos where they got the jacuzzi in the back, and stuff like that. " Vini, who happened to play a pivotal role in the life of Offramp producer Taylor Orci, and who's personal connection to this story was purely coincidental, recently passed away in late January. "We had him burried in a replica of a vintage Merc, candy apple red," recalled Vini. It's one of Dominick's custom hearses that took Vini on his last ride. 

So what's the most satisfying customization Dominick has ever done? "For me," he says humbly, "it's making sure I get it right and to the customer's exact specifications. I like to do good work, and that's the most important thing for me. I'm not flashy. I should be, but I don't think I'm gonna change any time soon." 

Tour Quality Coachworks from Off-Ramp KPCC on Vimeo.

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