Seasonal limo service is ritzy, glitzy, and provides all the glam of Hollywood’s heyday.
From the pages of In Business magazine.
Rarely can someone in Wisconsin get a taste of Hollywood in its heyday, but John O’Neill and his wife Mary Beth “B” Johnson are making it possible for those who can appreciate it.
After retiring years ago — Mary Beth was an occupational therapist with Verona Schools and John was a correctional officer at Oakhill Correctional Institute in Oregon — the fun-loving local couple is preparing to launch a new venture, The Ritz Limo.
This is no ordinary limo service.
O’Neill’s 1934 Packard Town Car limousine is the star and rightly so. It is, he explains, a model that was known to transport movie stars and millionaires. Comedic legend Charlie Chaplin reportedly owned one, as did actress Jeanette MacDonald. Now locals can take a spin, too.
But why now, when they could be enjoying retirement?
“The most honest answer,” O’Neill answers, “is that I think it will be fun. I had enough years at a job that wasn’t all that much fun, and I’ve had this idea in the back of my head for a long time. We’re very interested to see what the reaction will be.”
Gauging from the ogling the car received at a recent wedding show, it could be significant.
When O’Neill located this vehicle, it had been in a Minnesota barn for decades. Undeterred and still interested, he checked on the car’s title, which was printed on a 3-inch by 4-inch card signed over in 1941. The DMV found it to be free and clear.
Back home, O’Neill discovered that it was in worse shape than originally thought and would have to be completely rebuilt.
Six years later, the Packard — a “resto-mod,” or restored and modified in car lingo — has a new drive train, modern suspension, disc brakes, steel belted radials, and wire-spoke wheels. Conveniences such as air conditioning, backup cameras, and side-view mirrors were added, but all modern controls are hidden from view.
Because of its weight, the limo was fitted with a big engine that generates 550 horsepower. “More than my Corvette,” O’Neill laughs. “It’s probably faster than a lot of new cars.”
The enclosed passenger cabin accommodates two people, or two more if rear jump seats are removed. Passengers communicate directly with the chauffeur using a vintage wall-mount phone, or they can lower the privacy window with the flick of a switch.
O’Neill would not disclose the cost of the vehicle’s transformation, just that it was funded the old-fashioned way — from their bank account. “There were a few gulps along the way,” he admits, which is why its use will be limited to weddings, anniversaries, or very special nights on the town. In other words, people looking for transportation for proms, bachelor-bachelorette parties, or barhopping need not apply.
“Car guys don’t often share their cars with people, let alone let them touch them. This is about sharing something that I love.”
The seasonal business is now taking reservations and will operate May through October. O’Neill, sporting a chauffer’s uniform designed by his wife, will be the only driver. “I’d like to make a profit but that’s not my primary goal,” he insists. “Having fun is, and sharing the experience with people who can appreciate this.
“I’m 65, I’m healthy, and I’ll do this for as long as it remains fun. I don’t want to be sitting around or making Wheel of Fortune my primary event each day.”
That seems very unlikely, as O’Neill and “B” always seem to be creating new adventures.
Green Bay Packers fans, for example, may recognize him as “St. Vince,” a character developed 21-years ago in honor of his idol, legendary Packers coach Vince Lombardi. The costume, he admits, was created out of “pure silliness” as he and “B” road tripped to Super Bowl XXXI in New Orleans. “This was the first Packers Super Bowl without Vince Lombardi, and I decided we needed to represent Lombardi somehow at the game,” he explains.
To this day, the green-and-gold-laden fan with the full-length robe and bishop’s hat is a crowd and television favorite at Packers games.
But that’s another fun story.
The Ritz Limo
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