The History of the Presidential Limousine
by Jennifer Jordan
The Presidential Limousine may seem like a recent invention, something that came about within the past few Presidential terms. This, however, is a misconception. Officially, the first President to ride in what has become known as the Presidential Limousine was Woodrow Wilson. Taking the streets during a parade celebrating the US victory in World War I, he was honoring the end of the war and, unknowingly, starting the beginning of a transportation tradition.
Following Wilson, Calvin Coolidge used a 1928 Cadillac town car during his administration, but proceeding presidents had something even better. In 1938, the US government received two Cadillac Convertibles, which stretched 21.5 feet long and weighed nearly eight thousand pounds. They were named after ocean liners and called the “Queen Elizabeth” and the “Queen Mary.” These vehicles included nearly failsafe generators, two way radios, and a full arsenal or ammunition. Harry Truman, Franklin Roosevelt, and Dwight D. Eisenhower, using these two Cadillacs during their respective reigns, were the first Presidents to ride in both style and heightened safety.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the heightened safety got even taller and an armored limousine that was originally owned by Al Capone was used. The Department of Treasury took possession of this limo after Capone was found guilty of tax evasion and placed it in an impound lot. Amid the horror of the Harbor attacks, it was believed to be the safest mode to take FDR to congress, allowing him to deliver his “Date that will live in infamy” speech to the thousands of Americans listening at home.
Once Al Capone’s limousine was put to rest, a 1939 Lincoln V12 convertible named the “Sunshine Special” was built for Roosevelt. Used until 1950, it is now on display at the Henry Ford Museum.
Another specially designed limo, named the “Bubble Top” was used by Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson. After fifteen years, it was retired in 1965 and – following in the tire tracks of the “Sunshine Special”- is now also on display at the Henry Ford Museum.
While the limos were increasingly becoming more secure, they were certainly fallible, especially when the roof was removed. This brings us to JFK.
Arguably the most famous Presidential limousine was John F. Kennedy’s. A 1961 Lincoln Continental Convertible, known as a X-100, provided JFK with his final ride on November 22, 1963. Known for lack of air conditioning, the top was removed during the Dallas parade (and many times before) to make the passengers more comfortable. This obviously provided a high security risk, one that did not go unnoticed by the assassin.
During Lyndon Johnson’s term, a trio of 1965 Lincoln Continental Executive Limousines was used and Richard Nixon rode in a modified X-100 as well as a 1969 Lincoln limousine with a sunroof, which he requested.
Near the mid-1970’s, a 1972 Continental with armored plates, bullet proof glass, and a V.8 was given to the US government and used by Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan and eventually found its way into the Henry Ford Museum. George Bush (the first one) rode in a modified 1989 Lincoln Town Car.
Reagan was also given a Cadillac Fleetwood limousine during his presidency and Bill Clinton was given a Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham Presidential series during his. These vehicles were designed to offer optimal security
The Cadillac Fleetwood given to Reagan is now in the Ronald W. Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in California and Clinton’s 1993 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham is located in the Clinton Presidential Library in Arkansas. These are the last of the Presidential Limousines that will ever be put on display. The rest will be destroyed by the Secret Service.