This is the continuation of the post “Presidents on Wheels” that I thought would be perfect for July 4th. It seems to have gotten out of hand, and I am forced to turn it into a two part series. This final section will start with John F. Kennedy and the beginning of the “modern age” of presidential limousines, and go right up through Barack Obama.
This first limousine is the most infamous of all. It is named the SS-100-X, and was built for John F. Kennedy. This 1961 Lincoln Continental stretch limousine, built by Hess & Eisenhardt of Cincinnati, was the car the president was riding in when he was assassinated on November 22, 1963. More information has been published about this car, than any other government or presidential vehicle in history, and because of the conspiracy theories, that interest is sure to continue for a long, long time.
The Continental was designed by Elwood Engel, and originally intended as the 1961 Ford Thunderbird. This would mark the last time a single individual was completely responsible for the design of a production car. The original concept was enlarged and slightly altered, before being switched to the Lincoln line by Robert S. McNamara. McNamara, the new Ford president, wanted to kill off the Lincoln brand because the previous model years were unpopular. He was convinced to re-invent the Lincoln line with this new model. Within five weeks of becoming the first Ford president not from the Henry Ford family, he became the US Secretary of Defense, serving both Kennedy and Johnson.
The SS-100-X was a beautiful Navy blue color, and equipped with a slew of special equipment. It had a removable plastic clear “bubbletop,” with leather covers, and a more formal covered removable roof. The car sported a leather interior in light and dark blue, with lap blankets mounted on the doors.
It also had a rear seat that could be raised up to 10 inches and retractable steps for the Secret Service. None of the important parts of the car were armored, and the bubbletop itself was only ¼” thick plastic. It was a stunning car for the president, and had a certain clean appearance that defined the 1960’s.
Of course, all this changed after the assassination, and the car was remodeled for use up until 1977. The remodel included fixing a permanent roof on the car, more armoring and eventually a more somber black paint job. The car is now on display at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.
On a side note, I have to say that I have always been intrigued by the assassination and associated conspiracy theories. I was lucky to know two people that were heavily involved in the events of that day, and spent hours talking to them about the assassination. One person was seated in a car in the motorcade. His duties led him to act as a communications liason from Parkland Hospital that day.
The other was the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Jack Anderson, known best for being the target of an assassination attempt by President Nixon’s White House. He had investigated many theories about the Kennedy killing, and provided me with a lot of great knowledge. It was a tragic day in history, and I doubt the actual truth will come out for many, many years. If you are interested in this matter, feel free to contact me by email, so we can discuss it.
Moving on, we get to the Johnson administration, which used several cars for the president. First, he had several Cadillac’s while the SS-100-X was being refurbished. Then, according to one source, he had three 1965 Lincoln Continental limousines, which may have actually been the earlier cars refurbished with updated bodies.
LBJ also had a 1964 Buick Electra 225, and a 1964 Cadillac limousine, the latter was sold to Liberace. At the ranch, LBJ had an odd group of cars, including a 1934 Ford Phaeton for hunting, which was equipped with a metal plate to prevent damage while going over rough terrain, and a bar with running water.
Others included a 1915 American LaFrance Fire Truck, and an Amphicar, an amphibious vehicle that he would drive into the lake while pretending to his terrified visitors that “the brakes had failed” and “the car would sink.” Lastly, he had a tiny Fiat Jolly 500 Ghia, many golf carts, and a small cart towed by his two donkeys “Soup” and “Noodles.”
Richard Nixon used a 1969 Lincoln Continental Limousine, called the SS-800X, and created by Lehmann-Peterson. The car had two tons of bulletproofing, and windows thicker than any used in fighter planes. Originally delivered to Johnson, the new car was upgraded to include a clear, hinged hatch, used by Nixon to stand up during parades.
Nixon also ordered a 1972 Lincoln limousine, which arrived in 1974 and was used by Ford, Carter and Reagan. The Lincoln, which was upgraded during its life, was the car that protected both Presidents Ford and Reagan from would-be assassins’ bullets.
During a 1975 assassination attempt by Sara Jane Moore in San Francisco, Secret Service agents pushed President Gerald Ford into this massive 13,000-pound Lincoln and to safety. Six years later, and now decorated to look like a 1978 Town Car model, the Secret Service used this car again as a safe haven after John Hinckley attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan.
Powered by a 460-cubic inch V8, this was the last presidential limousine equipped with roof openings through which the president could stand.
President Reagan also had two 1983 Cadillac Fleetwood limousines made by Hess & Eisenhardt. The new cars featured a raised roof to provide more visibility for the president, and created a visual profile that made the car very unique. One of these cars was actually used in the Clint Eastwood movie “In the Line of Fire” and the other is at the Ronald Reagan Presidential library.
George H.W. Bush returned to Lincoln for his limousine, requesting a custom-built stretch 1989 Town Car. The car came equipped with a smaller raised roof and a large rear-panel glass area, as well as the engine from an F-250 truck.
President Bill Clinton switched back to Cadillac, with his new 1993 Fleetwood version. Again, this new car came with a raised roof and larger glass area for viewing the president, as well as touches like Zebrano wood accents, black paint, and a 454 engine designed by Roush Engineering. Several identical vehicles were delivered to the White House for service, and one is in the Clinton Presidential Library.
That car would be the last presidential car to be retired after service, and all future models would be used in security testing and probably destroyed. One car was never in service, though, and recently sold to a private party at a Barrett Jackson auction.
In 2001, George W. Bush continued the Cadillac tradition with his new Deville Presidential limousine, which was then replaced with a 2005 DTS model. These cars began the trend towards the massive rolling vaults that are today’s presidential limousine. The vehicles are actually trucks, bodied to resemble a current Cadillac model, weighing 15,000 pounds, and powered by heavy-duty truck engines. The glass alone is 5 inches thick, so thick it actually blocks out part of the light spectrum. It is rumored that the rear compartment is self-contained, with its own air supply and special security features.
Finally, we come to “The Beast,” built for Barack Obama. The new president’s car dwarfs even the massive Bush limo. The weight is much heavier (possibly 10 tons), and the chassis is rumored to be that of a TopKick medium duty truck. It is rumored to be diesel powered, and uses pieces from the latest version of the Cadillac Escalade SUV.
The entire car is covered in a minimum of 5 inches of steel along the sides, uses night vision technology, and carries defensive weaponry. The rear portion of the car is sealed, and only the president has controls to lower the divider. There is even a panic button in his seat, for him to summon help (sounds silly but true) and the car seats only four passengers, rather than the standard six.
The rear doors weighs about the same as the cabin door of a Boeing 757 jetliner, and the only window that can be opened is the drivers, by three inches, in case he needs to pay a toll (When does Obama need to stop and pay a toll?) or talk to other agents. The body of the car is made up of a mixture of steel, titanium and ceramic for ballistic protection. There is an oxygen system, a supply of the president’s blood, a few handy shotguns, and tear gas cannons. The car also has a fire fighting system, and the standard Wi-Fi, 10-disk CD changer, and phone systems that make it a Cadillac.
Some rumored secrets are that the vehicle uses equipment based on the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles used in Iraq, and that it has a 5 inch steel V-shaped hull underneath. One thing is for sure, the car is massive and almost threatening in appearance. Check out the photo of the doors and you can see the multiple lock systems that secure the door like a bank vault. President Obama said he originally asked for a hybrid, but was told that even the best available hybrid powertrain would never be able to move the car forward. As far as limousines go, this is one hell of a ride.
Article courtesy of Chris Raymond
Photos courtesy of Google Images, Getty Images, Ford Motor Company, General Motors, and Dave’s Classic Limousine Pictures