A Short History on Presidential Cars and Who Used Them
In 1901 President William McKinley took a short ride in a Stanley Steamer. He was the first sitting President to utilize an automobile but certainly not the last. Automobiles soon became an integral part of presidential travel. Although Theodore Roosevelt continued to use a horse-and-buggy to protect his “image as a rough-riding horseman,” the secret service shortly began to use automobiles following behind the carriages for protection.
During President William Howard Taft’s time in office, he converted the stables into garages and purchased four automobiles for presidential use including the Pierce-Arrow pictured below.Presidents continued to use consumer vehicles for travel until the attack on Pearl Harbor. At this point it was determined that presidential cars needed defense features such as bullet proof glass, flat proof inner tubes, and a compartment for machine guns. Up until 1961 Presidents enjoyed a lot of fresh air. Franklin D. Roosevelt especial enjoyed his convertible Lincoln which was dubbed the Sunshine Special. JFK’s Lincoln Continental, although it had many security features, was actually designed to display the President to the public. Unfortunately, the design contributed to his assassination.
In 1974, Ford leased a six-passenger limo to the secret service under Gerald Ford. This vehicle was used for 10 years and protected both Ford and Reagan. In 1984 the Presidential limo switched to a Cadillac Fleetwood model which was used up until 2001.
The rigors of Presidential driving were hard on the adapted platforms of existing consumer models. Brakes wore quickly, transmissions failed, and performance suffered. During the George W. Bush administration GM produced a limousine designed from the ground up in their R&D department using an SUV platform. This vehicle weighs approximately 14,000 pounds, has 5-inch armored doors, and uses extremely thick bulletproof glass. It was nicknamed “The Beast” for obvious reasons and is still in use today.
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For more on presidential vehicles, please check out this Wikipedia article where the information found in this article was obtained.