When President Barack Obama steps into his ride, it isn’t just any old limousine. It’s a custom-built beast designed to provide the smoothest and most secure overland travel possible. There’s a fun history behind the presidential limousines of President Obama and those before him.
The Sunshine Special
During the early years of the automobile, American presidents got around just like everyone else — in standard production cars. But as security grew in importance following the attempt on President Franklin Roosevelt’s life, Lincoln’s “Sunshine Special” became the primary mode of transportation for the president in 1939. The Lincoln featured an armored body, armor plating and bulletproof glass. It stayed in service through 1950, when another Lincoln, the Cosmopolitan, replaced it.
What’s one of the benefits of riding around in a custom-made limo? Waving to adoring crowds, of course. Presidents Harry Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower appreciated the 1950 Lincoln Cosmopolitan, which is sometimes used today for parades, according to Popular Mechanics. Eisenhower realized keeping the top up prevented him from connecting with Americans who stopped to watch him pass. The car was promptly modified to include a bubbletop canopy, hence the nickname.
No other presidential limousine is as closely linked with national tragedy as JFK’s 1961 Lincoln Continental, the car he was riding in when assassinated. Currently ensconced in the Henry Ford Museum, JFK’s Lincoln was rebuilt after his death to include armor and a permanent bulletproof hardtop. It remained in the Secret Service fleet until 1977 and was used by Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon.
The Last of the Lincolns
The Secret Service counted on Lincoln and Ford Motor Company to build presidential limousines for decades because of President Truman’s dislike of General Motors. Before the country turned to Cadillac, however, the last of the Lincoln limos was built — including the car that protected both President Gerald Ford and President Ronald Reagan following assassination attempts.
Since 1984, American presidents have ridden in Cadillac limousines, first the Fleetwood and, later, the Deville and DTS. Safety and security requirements have increased significantly since the first presidential limousines, and details on the construction of these elegant yet sturdy vehicles are scant. Features such as a secure air supply, run-flat tires, thick bulletproof glass, armored doors and a powerful engine are certain.
What’s the latest version of the presidential limousine? A commissioned Cadillac, built with heavy armor on a medium-duty, diesel-powered truck chassis, according to Fox News. Nicknamed “The Beast,” it will be part of the Secret Service fleet of 12 identical limousines. You’ll get a chance to see The Beast in January 2017, when it will make its debut on Inauguration Day, alongside our new president.