Roy Thomas from Park Gem Limousines in Crawley highlights the growing trend for mini coaches, therefore tavoiding the licensing difficulties with American limousines…
When you first buy a limousine and start-up in the industry, you probably thought that the car would be working seven days a week, stuffed full of famous celebrities and it will soon have you on the way to your first fortune. However, within a very short time you realise that you may have got it wrong!
Limousines rarely work full-time due to the fact that your real customers generally go out at the weekends, apart from the proms and race events, but those bump up the business only for a month or so.
This is when your air bags burst, the air conditioning clamps out, the sound system gives up and you get intimate with your pitmans track rod ends and ball joints. You also find out the wonderful diversity of the American stretching market… hands up those who have got a wiring diagram?
How many times have you watched a man with a meter scratching his head and mumbling profanities about American cars? And just when you think you’ve got it sussed you meet your local licensing officer who informs you that they will not licence white cars, American cars or left hand drives despite the fact that the next licensing authority along will licence them…sound familiar?
This actually is not just a problem for stretch limousines, but also for the airport transfer people and any operator who business is not entirely local. Despite all the above, when the SUV’s started coming over to the UK, the “must have one of those” thoughts started nagging at me. Initially the finance was a problem but we overcame that, but it was during that period the overall problem became clear, we were now heading for show down with VOSA.
Now VOSA is bit like the tax man, they may not move too quickly but they will get you in the end and they are getting quicker. Once you get up into the realms of over eight passengers as we all know you enter a whole new ball game. It was now that the idea of using a legal vehicle that was made to carry 16 passengers and had a CIOF (certificate of initial fitness) was too great.
So, with this in mind we first looked at mini buses, we initially didn’t like them as they look a bit too much like converted vans (not surprising as that is what they are). The choice soon narrowed all the way to the Caetano Optimo which can be re-seated to 16 from 21 giving your customers lots of room. Whilst they are built small they are a properly built coach so wiring and converting is comparatively easy and you can get a work shop manual!
It has now started, in what has become an ongoing process to get the thing as noisy and silly as possible. We started with a 500 point fibre optic ceiling with a six colour wheel and twinkler. Then we added five seats of light activated stage lights, four lasers, two strobes, the two tone blues and the ultra violets and to complete all this, the smoke and the bubbles.
You may think we would stop there, but there’s always more in the pipeline as they say. With the sound we put widescreens front and back, a six stack DVD the obligatory CD and subwoofer and 10 sets of speakers the thing fairly bugles as it goes down the road. The bars are made out of live edge Perspex, there are two of them with 16 flutes, 16 tumblers, 2 buckets and no decanters (limousiners will know what I mean.)
Now comes the really cleaver bit — during the day you can turn it all off and you end up with a spacious mini coach in which you can take out to the bowling club, golf societies, theatre groups who really don’t want to go out in a limousine.
If this wasn’t all good news, it gets even better, it’s all totally legal! You get an operating licence you get properly and competitively insured and no one can stop you and thrown out your passengers and impound your vehicle! It doesn’t get better than that!