Party time moves up a gear

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 February, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 February, 1996, 12:00am

FEW people would expect to make a living out of a business with 'We Guarantee Your Unhappiness' as a motto. This could put many sweethearts off using the service on offer.

But Los Angeles entrepreneur Bill Koegler has a habit of conjuring success out of the extraordinary.

In 1985, Mr Koegler hatched Tragedy Tours, a zany and morbid stroll through celebrity death sites.

Three years later, when another bright spark copied his lead by launching Graveside Tours, he decided to branch out.

The 32-year-old Kevin Costner look-alike came up with the Ugly Old Limo Company.

Operating on the premise that older, less flashy limousines could be bought cheaper and rented for less, Mr Koegler spied a gap in the Hollywood market and went for it.

'People in the Los Angeles area are so jaded that a new stretch limo doesn't turn heads,' he said.

'It takes something off the wall to make people notice.' Mr Koegler's fleet of battered stretch limousines certainly has its desired effect.

In a city in which shiny limousines are as common as Big Macs, his 1972 Pontiac Catalina station wagons turn heads and leave bystanders gaping.

Prospective customers - usually students or adventurous tourists - phone Mr Koegler and ask him if the cars are nice.

'And I say: 'No, they're hideous',' he laughs. 'Hideous party limos - that's the term I use.' The cars - one painted in camouflage with two fake missiles attached to its roof - are unconventional and shabby, with varying degrees of rust.

The interiors are another matter. Comfort is the priority and Mr Koegler has added electric dividers, new carpeting, video sound, TV and video.

'The clinking of champagne glasses is a common sound.' Keith Pacheco, 28, paid the US$29 (HK$226) per hour fee for an Ugly Old Limo.

He hired it to take him, his fiancee and two friends to a pub. He had such a good time, he is considering a future trip to the gambling resort of Las Vegas.

'If people rent a limo and they want a really fun experience, this is something to try,' he said. 'It's really unique.' His troupe of dedicated chauffeurs agrees. 'Generally, it's just a party on wheels. That's what we call it,' said driver Ziggy Kormandel, 22.

The cars are too large, old and unwieldy for mishaps and mayhem, according to the company's number one driver, 21-year-old Lauren Scheff.

'It's not exactly Speed Racer, ' he said. 'It's more like Driving Miss Daisy. ' Bill Koegler's unusual journey to Ugly Old Limos began more than 10 years ago when a car accident changed the course of his life.

'I was driving up Temescal Canyon when this other guy ran into me and completely totalled my car. I was really desperate for some transport so, when I saw an ad for a cheap 1972 Cadillac, I went out and bought it.

'Pretty soon my friends were asking if they could rent my car for parties and such. After a while there were so many offers, I bought a second car.' In 1985, Mr Koegler's car rental business took a back seat to his Tragedy Tours venture until competition forced him to reassess his original idea.

Now, he thinks he may be on to a winner.

'A while back, limo owners would poke fun at my idea. But those who belittled my business are now belly-up, out of work.

'Their expensive limos could only be afforded if they leased them and charged high prices.

'All of my limos are paid for.'