The US All-time Top Presidential State Cars

The US All-time Top Presidential State Cars

Ted Marcus

"The Beast", "Cadillac One", "Limousine One", "First Car", "Stagecoach" – those are only a few nicknames, used for the official state car of the President of the United States. The car, rode by the president of the world’s most powerful state, was always the centre of attention and, throughout its history, it underwent some really interesting modifications.

Before 1939, when the first official presidential state car was procured, the Secret Service had not dedicated exceptional attention to the security of the President’s transportation and therefore standard vehicles, available to common mortal citizens with sufficient funds, were used.

The history evidences that the first ever president to ride in a car was President William McKinley, who was transported in a 1901 Stanley Steamer. William Taft (1909-1913) could be named as the first motoring president. He commissioned four vehicles for the presidential garage. The price of the cars was 12 000 USD. Those were two Pierce-Arrows, a White Motor Company steam car and a Baker Motor Vehicle electric car - truly high-tech for the times. The latter was able to develop the 14 mph speed and, what is more important, it didn't require a hand crank to start.

President Woodrow Wilson standing in a 1919 Cadillac Type 57, seven passenger car, marking the first American President on foreign soil
President Woodrow Wilson standing in a 1919 Cadillac Type 57, seven passenger car, marking the first American President on foreign soil
© General Motors archive

Presidents rode in stock, unmodified cars until the moment when the 1928 Cadillac V-16 was confiscated from the legendary mobster Al Capone. The armour-plated car became Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidential limousine. That was one of the most eccentric vehicle to ever serve a head of a state therefore it is no wonder it was not too popular in Washington therefore it was replaced by the 1939 Lincoln convertible – the Sunshine Special. Some might say that was the beginning of the history of official vehicles of the President of the United States.

1939 Lincoln K chassis Presidential Limo Sunshine Special
1939 Lincoln K chassis Presidential Limo Sunshine Special
© Ford archive

The Sunshine Special (so named because its top was frequently open) was manufactured in accordance with the specifications, provided by the Secret Service – rear doors hinged backwards, heavy-duty suspension, two side-mounted spare tires, and standing platforms attached to the exterior to accommodate Secret Service agents. Then, in 1942, after the attack on Pearl Harbour, the car underwent the addition of armour, 1-inch (25 mm)-thick bulletproof glass, metal-clad flat-proof inner tubes, a radio transceiver, a siren, red warning lights, and a compartment for submachine guns. As the result, the car weighed 4200 kg (9300 pounds). The limousine can now be found at display of the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.

Lincoln Sunshine Special (L) built for President Franklin D. Roosevelt as modified in 1941 and (R) 1950 Lincoln Continental Limousine built for President Harry Truman
Lincoln Sunshine Special (L) built for President Franklin D. Roosevelt as modified in 1941 and (R) 1950 Lincoln Continental Limousine built for President Harry Truman
© Ford archive
President Harry S. Truman and a 1947 Cadillac Fleetwood Series 75 Limousine at the White House
President Harry S. Truman and a 1947 Cadillac Fleetwood Series 75 Limousine at the White House
© General Motors archive

The presidential state vehicle, which replaced the Sunshine Special, was the 1950 Lincoln Cosmopolitan, used by Harry S. Truman. Legend has it that Truman held a grudge against General Motors, because they would not give him use of their cars during his run for the 1948 presidential election, thus, when it was time to replace the presidential limousine, Ford-owned Lincoln received the commission once again. The new car was the first to use a bulletproof "bubbletop" canopy. The car remained in service until 1967, when it too was retired to the Henry Ford Museum.

1950 Lincoln Continental Limousine built for President Harry Truman
1950 Lincoln Continental Limousine built for President Harry Truman
© Ford archive
President Dwight D. Eisenhower, a noted car enthusiast, rides to his inaugural address in a 1953 Cadillac Eldorado Convertible
President Dwight D. Eisenhower, a noted car enthusiast, rides to his inaugural address in a 1953 Cadillac Eldorado Convertible
© General Motors archive

Another car, worth a story of its own was the 1961 Lincoln Continental SS-100-X, used by John F. Kennedy. Beyond any doubt, that is the most infamous presidential state car, since it was involved in the Nov. 22, 1963 Dallas tragedy.

1961 Lincoln Presidential Limousine built for President Kennedy
1961 Lincoln Presidential Limousine built for President Kennedy
© Ford archive
President John F. Kennedy and Mrs. Kennedy visit Canada in a custom modified limousine made for a visit from Queen Elizabeth II to Canada
President John F. Kennedy and Mrs. Kennedy visit Canada in a custom modified limousine made for a visit from Queen Elizabeth II to Canada
© General Motors archive

The best presidential state car ever produced, it included a heavy-duty heater and air conditioner, a pair of radiotelephones, a fire extinguisher, a first-aid kit, and a siren. What made it even more unique – the vehicle was equipped with retractable standing platforms, three sets of removable roofs (a standard soft top, a lightweight metal one, and a transparent plastic one) and a hydraulic lift that raised the rear cushion 11 inches (280 mm) off the floor. All of the above for the sole purpose: President must be visible when in public. Unfortunately, it proved to be not the best decision.

1964 Lincoln Presidential Limousine
1964 Lincoln Presidential Limousine
© Ford archive
1969 Lincoln Presidential Limousine
1969 Lincoln Presidential Limousine
© Ford archive

Following Kennedy's assassination, the vehicle was not refused: it was redesigned to strengthen the security, equipped with a bulletproof roof and repainted black instead of navy blue. The car served President Lyndon B. Johnson until 1967. Kennedy’s assassination entrenched Lincoln Continental’s image as one of the most iconic and recognisable cars in history. Another thing worth mentioning is that it was the last convertible presidential limousine.

The White House residents rode Lincolns until 1983, when they were replaced by Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham, used by Ronald Reagan. It featured armour and bulletproof glass and was described as "distinctively styled, with a raised roof and a large rear greenhouse."

The 1984 Cadillac Fleetwood Seventy Five Presidential Limousine was used by President Ronald Regan
The 1984 Cadillac Fleetwood Seventy Five Presidential Limousine was used by President Ronald Regan
© General Motors archive

In 1989-1993 George H. W. Bush returned to the Lincoln brand. He rode a modified Lincoln Town Car however Cadillacs have been the Presidents’ cars of choice since 1993.

1989 Lincoln Presidential Limousine
1989 Lincoln Presidential Limousine
© Ford archive
1993 Cadillac Fleetwood Presidential Limousine
1993 Cadillac Fleetwood Presidential Limousine
© General Motors archive

Since 2009, when Barack Obama became the President, the state vehicle has been the armoured Cadillac, alternately nicknamed “Cadillac One” (after Air Force One) or “the Beast.” Although one can note from outside that certain tones are similar to other Cadillac models, that is a unique vehicle, exclusively developed on a medium-duty truck platform.

The doors are 8 inches and the bulletproof glass is 5 inches thick. The car is equipped with many life-saving, offensive, and defensive measures. It has run-flat tires, armour-plated fuel tank and an interior which is completely hermetically sealed to protect the occupants in the event of a chemical attack. The current presidential state car model boasts rocket-propelled grenades, night vision optics, a tear gas cannon, on-board oxygen tanks, an armoured fuel tank filled with foam to prevent explosion, pump-action shotguns, and 2 US pints (0.95 l) of blood in the president's blood type.

2009 Cadillac Presidential Limousine
2009 Cadillac Presidential Limousine
© General Motors archive
2009 Cadillac Presidential Limousine
2009 Cadillac Presidential Limousine
© General Motors archive

The current presidential state car is surrounded by mystery. The type of engine is not known. There might be two options: gasoline-powered Vortec 8.1-litre (490 cu in) V8 engine or a diesel-powered Duramax 6.6-litre (400 cu in) turbo V8 engine. Speculated weights range from 15.000 to 20.000 pounds (6.800 to 9.100 kg). Due to the weight of the car, it can only reach about 60 mph (97 km/h) and only achieves 3.7 to 8 miles per US gallon (64 to 29 L/100 km). According to unofficial information, the White House has twelve of such cars.

And what will the next US President’s car be? A new presidential limousine has been designed and engineered every four to eight years however there still has not been any official announcement on Donald Trump’s new vehicle. It is only known that it is developed by Cadillac in accordance with specifications, provided by the Secret Service. However, beyond any doubt, that will be a much more modern car, surpassing the previous one design-wise and equipped with cutting-edge technologies.

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