In commemoration of Presidents’ Day, let’s stroll down memory lane and revisit the history of the U.S. presidential car. The official land-bound vehicle of the head of government is more than a mode of transport. It stands as a symbol of the leader and his or her country. The U.S. presidential car has a long and colorful history that started in the early 1900s.
In the past, U.S. presidents used horse-drawn carriages as their official transport vehicle. At the end of the 1800s, automotive technology improved rapidly. Manufacturers created various vehicles that run on either electricity, steam, or gasoline. In 1907, the U.S. Special Service, a group tasked to protect the president’s welfare and safety, saw the need to modernize. Therefore, they decided to use a steam-powered presidential car to escort then President Theodore Roosevelt’s carriage. That car, a White Motor Company product, must have proven it’s worth because shortly after, U.S. presidents ditched the carriage in favor of the car.
The Early History of the U.S. Presidential Car
President William Taft (1909-1913) was the first U.S. president to finally transition from carriages to automobiles. In 1911, he ordered the conversion of the White House stables into a garage. He bought four cars. These formed the initial fleet of presidential state cars. Two of the cars were made by Pierce-Arrow. One was a Baker Motor Vehicle while the fourth was a White Motor Company steam car (similar to the one used by the Special Service).
Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945) is the first president to have a presidential car with a “personality”. His 1939 four-door Lincoln was specifically modified during the height of World War II. It was fitted with bulletproof glass, metal plated armor, and a submachine gun. This “James Bond” worthy car was nicknamed Sunshine Special and started a trend of bestowing a pet name to a state car.
Harry S. Truman (1945-1953) choose a Lincoln for his state car. The previous administration’s presidential cars manufacturer was General Motors. Unfortunately, the story goes that General Motors refused to provide then presidential Harry Truman a car for his campaign. When he won, Truman awarded the state car contract to Lincoln instead of General Motors.
The Lincoln Cosmopolitan was the vehicle of choice for Truman’s presidential car. Already a large luxury car with a convertible top, it was further modified to add more security features. The finished version of the Cosmopolitan state car measured a massive 20 feet long and 6.5 feet wide.
Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961) continued using the Lincoln Cosmopolitan but ordered the convertible top fitted with a roof made of plexiglass.
John F. Kennedy (1961-1963) accepted a Lincoln Continental as his state car. Kennedy’s Lincoln Continental, nicknamed as X-100, has a removable roof and a hydraulic lift designed to raise the backseat, so the president will be more visible during parades. Unfortunately, this turned key to the successful assassination of President Kennedy.
Gerald Ford (1974-1977) also used the Lincoln Continental as his presidential state car. By this time, the Lincoln company has enjoyed a 33-year reign as the official state car manufacturer, the lasting effect of Truman’s spiteful rejection of General Motors.
Ronald Reagan (1981- 1989) used a Cadillac Fleetwood as his presidential state car. It was modified as usual with bulletproof armor and glass. It was bigger than the standard Fleetwoods and larger wheels to support the extra weight. Bill Clinton (1993-2001) continued the tradition and used a 1993 Cadillac Fleetwood as his presidential state car.
Turn-of-the-Century Presidential State Cars
In the year 2000, the Secret Service brought in more technology and firepower to the U.S. presidential car. Unfortunately, the Cadillac Fleetwood was not capable of supporting the extra armor, munitions and amenities added by the Secret Service. It caused the Cadillac to breakdown due to the heavy weight.
General Motors got the commission to design a new presidential car from the ground up. Taking design considerations from existing large SUV models like the Cadillac DeVille, Chevrolet Suburban and Cadillac Escalade.
The resulting vehicle has thick armored doors and an extra thick bulletproof glass to combat high powered sniper bullets. Since official specifications are confidential, the other safety features can’t be verified. However, some believe it to have heavy duty run flat tires to support the massive 6,400 kg state car. Due to the car’s massive stature, it got the nickname “The Beast”.
George Bush (2001 – 2009) always takes 2 of these massive “Beasts” when he travels. One as the main car and the other as backup. Being exact copies, this was also a tactic to conceal the president with one car acting as a decoy.
Barack Obama (2009-2017) also used “The Beast” as his state car. This vehicle has design and parts coming from different cars like the Chevrolet Kodiak and Escalade. Rumor has it that the White House has at least 12 Beast units and a special airplane carries 2 units to accompany the president on international travels.
Current Presidential Car Model
The current U.S. President Donald Trump ordered a new set of Beasts with specifications from the Secret Service. Some unconfirmed features trickled out which, for all we know, could have been present on previous Beast models. Kevlar and steel line the oversized tires, which makes them almost bullet resistant. Car doors are 8 inches thick and have no keyholes. Only a few select Secret Service agents know how to open them. In case of a chemical attack, the car is sealed with its own oxygen supply.
The Secret Service went all in on the design and added a launcher for rocket-propelled grenades, shotguns, night vision cameras, tear gas cannon and smoke grenades. It also has a highly redundant communication equipment that can contact critical government units — like the National Defense. The amount of armor and weapons limited the running beast to a top speed of below 100 km/hr.
As technology and innovation evolve, so will the U.S. presidential car. The threats to peace and order have made it necessary for the Secret Service to constantly improve “The Beast”. This car and all of the others discussed in this article played a crucial part in protecting the president of the most powerful country in the world.
Do you want to treat your car like a state car? Why not schedule your precious ride to a Presidential Detail that will surely give it a showroom quality shine.
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