The term “limousine” has long been synonymous with luxury and wealth. After all, when you assign the task of getting you from point A to point B to someone else, it frees you up to appreciate the finer things. Whether you are looking to make an impressive entrance or just trying to enjoy a day of fun around town without worrying about cab fares or traffic jams, the limousine is the only choice for riding in style.
Limousines have been a part of our culture for much longer than the automobile. In fact, as we’ll see in a bit, the term “limousine” was coined two centuries before anyone ever put an internal combustion engine on a cart with four wheels. Let’s take a look at where the limousine industry has been, where it is now and the evolution of the most comfortable and versatile form of land transportation we have.
The First Limousines
The concept of a limousine dates back to the age of horse-drawn carriages. Eighteenth century aristocrats used every aspect of their daily lives to flaunt their wealth. Massive houses and opulent dinner service sets were the obvious indicators, but eventually the society elites had to show the outside world just how much money they had, too. Large, ornate carriages pulled by the most beautiful horses allowed them to be seen and envied.
Covered passenger compartments ensured that everyone stayed dry and comfortable — well, almost everyone. Sometimes the driver was allowed his own covered compartment, but that wasn’t guaranteed. The part that was guaranteed, however, was that it was separate. The separation of driver and passengers is the defining concept of a limousine, both in the old-time horse-drawn carriages and in the modern automobile-based limousines.
The term “limousine” is derived from a style of cloak most commonly associated with the Limousin region of France, where shepherds wore them to protect themselves from the elements. The carriage tops resembled these cloaks, and so the name was applied to the carriages as well.
Limousine carriages carried upper class citizens to and fro throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Limousines were also popular as delivery vehicles, as they were the largest vehicles available. As the automobile rose to prominence at the end of the nineteenth century, coaches with separate driver and passenger compartments were introduced to take advantage of the new technology. Limousines in America can be traced back to 1903, though they were already driving around Europe before the turn of the century. By 1916, though, the limousine’s place in society was cemented with the the following definition: “A closed car seating three to five inside, with driver’s seat outside, covered with a roof.”
The first limousines stood a little taller than the average automobile thanks to their fixed roofs and elevated passenger compartments. Limousine design has always closely resembled automobile design, adding the hallmarks of luxury that made the ride just a little more comfortable — upholstered seats, softer suspension and in some cases, soundproof glass enclosing the passenger cabin. The name of the game was passenger comfort, and this goal has been driving limousine design ever since those early days.
The Evolution of Limousine Design
Limousines experienced their first transformation in the 1920s, when the Armbruster Company from Fort Smith, Arkansas produced the first stretch limousine. The original purpose was slightly different than we might expect today. In the days before trucks and moving vans, these stretched automobiles served as a way for big bands to get their equipment from gig to gig. Glenn Miller and Bennie Goodman were among the first customers. For this reason, the first stretch limousines were known as “big band buses,”
These large automobiles gained their first taste of fame and glamour in the Golden Age of Hollywood, as the biggest movie stars on the planet arrived on the red carpet in the back of an imposingly large limousine — a scene so ordinary now that we would never imagine DiCaprio appearing at the Oscars in anything else.
It was the adoption of the limousine by the Hollywood elites that started the luxury arms race on the inside the standard limousine. Once the stretched platform proved its reliability and durability, it became a blank canvas ready to receive the wildest dreams of the coachbuilders and wealthy customers that were ordering them.
Armbruster may have been the first to produce a stretch limousine, but by the 1940s, every auto manufacturer was throwing their hat into the luxury limousine ring. It is worth noting that while “stretch” and “limousine” may go together in the public mind, a limousine does not necessarily have to be longer than the average car. Lincoln’s Town Car, a classic mode of transportation for airport trips of businessmen around the world, is no larger than its consumer market counterpart. While Lincoln makes stretch versions of the Town Car as well, a standard-sized Town Car can still qualify as a limousine.
Still, it is the largest stretch models that get all the attention, as their tinted windows and generous interior dimensions leave passersby wondering just what it would be like to take a ride.
In the beginning, limousines were based on sedans, simply because sedans were the only style of car being made. As larger trucks and sports utility vehicles (SUVs) were introduced in the 1980s and 1990s, though, limo builders took advantage of the extra space afforded by the larger platform to produce limousines with more interior square footage than some Manhattan apartments.
At this point, just about every style of vehicle has been given the stretch limo treatment. Trucks and SUVs offer advantages for limo builders, as their chassis and powertrains are generally readymade for the added weight that comes with all of these luxurious interior features.
Limousines have also proven to be a popular choice among government officials all over the globe. In some cases, the passengers desire to show off their wealth and stature. In other cases, limousines have proven to be the perfect platform for the added security measures required to transport important people around town. U.S. Presidents have been riding in special armored limousines since Franklin Roosevelt first rode in a Lincoln-based “Sunshine Special” limousine in 1939.
The Sultan of Brunei, one of the wealthiest people in the world, takes the idea of the limousine-as-display-of-wealth idea to the extreme, having commissioned a special Rolls Royce limousine for his wedding day. The gold-plated car is worth an estimated $14 million.
The Modern Luxury Limousine: Features and Design
Modern limousines still span the spectrum from “basic” transportation in a leather-wrapped back seat all the way up to “this would cost more than all the houses in my neighborhood if you parked it on a plot of land and called it real estate.” It is fair to say, however, that the limousines toward the latter end of the spectrum are the outliers and are not available from your typical limousine service.
More typical limousines will feature luxuriously soft and supportive leather seats, plenty of legroom for you to stretch out and perhaps a few flat screens to use either for work or leisure. Tinted windows are also standard, allowing passengers to enjoy their trip in privacy and comfort. All limousines also have a method of communicating with the driver, either allowing the passenger to lower the window separating the compartments or to speak over an intercom system.
Stepping up the ladder of amenities, limousines are also commonly equipped with chilled beverage storage. In smaller limousines, the compartments may be the size of a glove box, but in the larger stretch limousines, the refrigerators are often big enough to make a college dorm dweller jealous. Of course, you aren’t expected to provide your own glassware — that’ll be stored in the limousine as well. Passengers are legally allowed to drink in the back of a limousine because the driver’s cabin is physically separate.
In larger limousines, seat configuration will include some longer couches across the back and the sides of the passenger cabin. In smaller cars, the two available seats can sometimes more closely resemble recliners, with the ability to recline the seat back and extend a foot rest. As available space increases, so might the number of flat panel displays and speakers for the sound system. Lighting installed in most of the larger limousines can be customized to be anywhere from mood lighting to full-on disco. Outlandish stories of hot tubs and other ridiculous amenities are certainly true, but they fall into the “novelty’ category.
In short, the features found in a limousine are entirely up to the manufacturer and the customer. If it makes the trip more comfortable or more enjoyable, however, somebody somewhere has likely put it inside a limousine.
Features and amenities certainly equate to opulence, but luxury is more about the entire travel experience in a limousine. The softest leather seats in the world don’t scream “luxury” if they haven’t been properly taken care of.
A truly wonderful limousine experience is dependent on the professionalism of the company providing your luxury limousine services. After all, the entire point of using a luxury limousine service is to let someone else take care of the details so you can enjoy your trip. The best luxury limousine companies understand this, and once you have had a sub par experience, you will, too.
The Role of Limousines Today: From Airports to Wine Tours
Luxury limo services are no longer reserved for the wealthy. Companies all over the country are providing high-quality luxury transportation at affordable prices for everyone. Perhaps the most common trip made by the general public in a limousine is the trip to and from a wedding. Your wedding day can be a whirlwind of stress, joy, nerves, excitement and exhaustion. Hiring a limo service takes one important part of the day out of your hands — getting to the church and the reception on time — so you can sit back and relax for a bit.
Limousines are also a great choice for airport car service for business and leisure travelers alike. Whether you are arriving to or leaving from New York’s busy and congested airports, a limo driver can take all of the hassle out of your trip into the city.
Limousines are gaining popularity among students during prom season as well. A luxury limousine can be a great way for a group of friends to travel safely to the big event. A limo can also provide peace of mind for parents, and it’s the perfect vehicle for the magical experience every prom is supposed to be.
As the country’s wine industry continues to grow, weekend trips to the wine regions of New York and elsewhere are becoming more common. Hiring a limousine for taking a wine tour can be a great fit for the overall theme of the excursion, and it allows everyone to participate in the festivities while still arriving safely at each winery and back home at the end of the trip.
When planning a special event, we have many more options available to us than in decades and centuries past. As the number of luxury limousine companies grows, just about anyone can afford to incorporate a more luxurious travel experience into their budget. Owning a limousine might be beyond the realm of possibility for the average American, but ownership has never really been the point of a limousine, anyway. Luxury limousine services allow you to hire a professional driver to handle the transportation for your special occasion in a punctual and courteous manner.
As limousine services expand their offerings and territories, and given that limousine fleets will likely be similar across the board, the factors that differentiate the limousine services will fall under the customer service and experience umbrella. When the car you ride in will be the same no matter where you go, you should look for the company that will value and respect your business the most.
Picking a Luxury Limousine
Limousines have come a long way since their origins among the French social elites, but their evolution closely follows the evolution of our society and our technology. Nearly three hundred years ago these horse-drawn carriages represented the most comfortable way to travel over land, and the same can certainly be said for the wide range of limousines available to use today.
Though the modern automobile-based limousine may have more practical roots, limousines have adapted to society’s needs over the course of the last century, and they will continue to do so for as long as the automobile is the most popular form of land transportation on earth.
When you hire a luxury limousine in New York, you are paying for a luxury experience. We at Majestic Transportation Services & Limo Inc. understand the term “luxury” to mean more than the aesthetic quality of the limousine itself. A true luxury experience starts the moment the car arrives at your door and doesn’t end until you have stepped out at your destination.
Our courteous drivers are always prompt, and our staff maintains our wide-ranging fleet of vehicles to the highest standard of quality. We offer a variety of services, and our customer service is second to none. Take a moment to peruse our limo services, and then contact us today to reserve your luxurious limousine.