1 1939 Lincoln "Sunshine Special"
During the early years of the automotive age, presidents got around in standard production cars. Then, in 1939, the specially built “Sunshine Special” entered the Secret Service’s fleet.
Based on a Lincoln K-Series chassis with power from a V-12 engine, the Sunshine Special (so named because its top was virtually always open) was built with both security and convenience in mind. Security was paramount because Franklin Roosevelt had already survived an assassination attempt in 1933 while giving a speech from the back of an open production Buick convertible. Convenience was important in order to get the wheelchair-bound Roosevelt in and out of the car while maintaining presidential dignity.
Stretched out over a massive 160-in. wheelbase, the Sunshine Special’s armored body, built by coach builder Brunn in Buffalo, New York, had oversize rear-hinged rear doors. In 1942 the car was updated with that year’s new front end. Various armor-plated elements were added at that point, and improved bulletproof glass was installed. After Roosevelt died in 1945, the Sunshine Special remained in presidential service until 1950. It’s now in the collection of the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.
2 1950 Lincoln Cosmopolitan
President Harry S. Truman, legend has it, had a strong dislike for General Motors products because he was denied use of them during his 1948 presidential campaign. So when it came time to replace the Sunshine Special, it was Ford’s Lincoln division that got the job.
A stretched 1950 Lincoln Cosmopolitan (with a 145-in. wheelbase) was ordered from Ford and provided to the Secret Service for a nominal lease fee. Still a convertible for parades, the Lincoln was modified in 1954 with the addition of a large “bubbletop” canopy after President Dwight Eisenhower realized during a rainstorm that with the top up no one could see him.
The Bubbletop, as it became known, remained in Presidential service through 1965 when it too was retired to the Henry Ford Museum.
3 1961 Lincoln Continental SS-100-X
Since this was the car in which John F. Kennedy was riding in on November 22, 1963 when he was assassinated, it will forever be entangled with tragedy. Still, it’s a car worth appreciating outside the context of that grim day.
Starting with the truly beautiful, new-for-1961 Lincoln Continental four-door convertible, Hess and Eisenhart of Cincinnati stretched the car a total of 33-inches both between the front and rear doors and behind the rear doors to both add space to the passenger compartment and make the car a true limousine. A metal hoop just behind the driver and over his head gave the President something to hold onto while standing during parades (as Kennedy did while visiting Germany during the summer of 1963). In addition, the rear seat could be raised in order to give crowds a better view of the President. Power came from a standard 430-cubic inch Lincoln V-8.
After the assassination, the SS-100-X was rebuilt, armored, fit with a permanent bulletproof hardtop, and returned to the presidential fleet. Though superseded by another Lincoln in 1967, both presidents Johnson and Nixon used the SS-100-X before it was retired to the Henry Ford Museum in 1977.
4 1972 Lincoln Continental
Built over three years by the Ford Motor Company (its serial number indicated that it was a 1970 model, but the original styling was from ’72), this is the limousine that protected both Presidents Ford and Reagan from would-be assassins’ bullets.
During a 1975 assassination attempt by Sara Jane Moore in San Francisco, Secret Service agents pushed President Gerald Ford into this massive 13,000-pound Lincoln and to safety. Six years later, and now decorated to look like a 1978 model, the Secret Service used this car again as a safe haven after John Hinckley attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan.
Powered by a 460-cubic inch V8, this was the last presidential limousine equipped with roof openings through which the president could stand.
5 1983 Cadillac Fleetwood
After decades of presidential Lincolns (named, of course, after a president), Cadillac was finally given the chance to produce a limousine for the secret service in the early 1980s. Appearing in 1984 were a pair of 1983 Fleetwoods built by Hess & Eisenhardt. Since the coachbuilder started with production Fleetwood limousines, the cars were stretched only 17 inches and their roofs raised three inches. Power for both came from Cadillac’s own massive 500 cubic-inch V8.
Though awkward in appearance, the Fleetwoods provided excellent visibility for the president. Large greenhouses were made possible by the develop of 2 3/8ths inch thick bulletproof glass and powerful air conditioning systems that kept the cabin cool.
Upon their retirement, one of the Fleetwoods was returned to GM who lent it out to producers of the 1993 Clint Eastwood film In The Line of Fire. The other Fleetwood is on display at the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California.
6 2001 Cadillac Deville
By the time of George W. Bush’s inauguration, Cadillac no longer produced a full-frame rear-drive car suitable for conversion into a presidential limousine. Meanwhile, the Secret Service’s safety requirements for the limousine had grown ever more ambitious and, well, weighty. So when the Bush DeVille debuted—it really wasn’t much of a DeVille at all.
Informed speculation had this Presidential limousine built atop the frame of GM’s full-size SUVs—like the Chevrolet Suburban, GMC Yukon and Cadillac Escalade. Besides five-inch thick armored doors and bulletproof glass so thick it blocks out parts of the light spectrum, Bush’s DeVille was rumored to feature a self-contained passenger compartment with its own secure air supply, run flat inner cores inside the tires, and a big 454 cubic inch truck engine so the 14,000-or-so pound monster could push through any obstacles.
By the time of the Bush’s second inaugural in 2005, Cadillac was ready with an updated fleet of limousines that featured styling that mimicked the DTS production sedan.
7 2009 Cadillac Presidential Limousine
President Obama’s new ride isn’t much larger than Bush’s Cadillacs, but it’s apparently much heavier. A look at photos released by GM reveal a limo-looking behemoth running on Goodyear Regional RHS tires—that’s rubber usually reserved for medium- and heavy-duty trucks.
Prototypes of the new Cadillac Presidential Limousine (there’s no claim from Cadillac that it has any relationship with a production car) were often seen in the company of GM’s TopKick medium duty trucks leading many to believe that under the new skin of Obama’s commuter is the frame and drivetrain from the TopKick. That would make sense, since the weight of this giant has to be somewhere beyond 15,000 pounds and may be approaching a full ten tons.
Secrecy abounds about the latest POTUS ride, but rumors are that this one is the first to be diesel powered. The engine may be GM’s familiar 6.6-liter Duramax turbodiesel V8, or it could be some even more powerful diesel build for large commercial trucks. While the chassis, suspension and drivetrain of the new limousine is all new, most of the body seems to derive directly from the previous DeVille and DTS limousines. However the styling has been revised using pieces from Cadillac’s current line. For instance, the headlights, side view mirrors and door handles all come from the Escalade SUV. Meanwhile, the taillights, rear back up lights and third brake light all come from the STS sedan. In all, it’s a surprisingly handsome conglomeration of pieces, even if it lacks the sheer beauty of Kennedy’s Lincoln or friendly disposition of Roosevelt’s Sunshine Special.
The Secret Service isn’t saying how many of the new limousines are being built, but probably at least a dozen. And no, you can’t have any of them. Unless of course, you’re elected in 2012.