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President John F. Kennedy's Parade Car

JFK MotorcadeIt was 48 years ago today, on November 22, 1963, that the world changed again forever. We all know the horrible details of our 35th President, John F. Kennedy's assassination, so I'll refrain from them in this post. But on that day, our nation and the world immediately went into unified mourning and shock, and national television was uninterrupted for four days. Nothing of this magnitude had been repeated until September 11, 2001.

He was riding in an open-car motorcade as all Presidents had done before, and none have done since.

JFK in limo (GOOD!)The President's Parade Car, known as SS-100-X (Also X-100) by the Secret Service, began life as any other 1961 Lincoln Continental convertible. Mr. Kennedy loved these cars when they came out, so they made a very special one for him.

After factory assembly, it was shipped to Hess & Eisenhardt in Cincinnati and cut in half (It is a unibody design). The car was then elongated about 3½ feet and modified with special luxuries, plus foldable jump seats, grab handles, rear bumper footrests, special lighting, flagstaffs, and a rear seat that would rise 10 inches.

When it was delivered to The White House on June 15, 1961, it was 255 inches long, had a wheelbase of 156 inches, was 78.6 inches wide, and weighed 7,800 pounds, powered with a 430-cubic-inch V-8. This car is one of a kind, and is not to be confused with other limousines of the time built by Lehmann-Peterson.

JFK car roofsThe car has always been owned by the Ford Motor Company. It cost approximately $200,000 to build, was leased to the United States government for $500 a year, and it is currently on display at The Henry Ford in Dearborn, Michigan. The car was originally a dark "Midnight Blue," though it appears to be black in some movies and photographs. The 1962 model grille and bumpers were updated from the original '61 model long before it went to Dallas.

The limousine was designed for open parades, but there were two tops in case the weather went foul. One was a clear Plexiglas "bubble top," the other was a black steel rear half-roof that made the rear passenger area look totally enclosed. The bubble top was installed after the car reached Parkland Hospital in Dallas, then covered in vinyl to hide the interior's gruesome images from the public. Despite some rumors, none of the removable tops had any real ballistic protection whatsoever.

JFK in BerlinPresident Kennedy used the car during his famous trip to Berlin (shown here). In front of 450,000 people he said, "Ich bin ein Berliner!" ("I am a Berliner!"). This speech was a highlight of his Presidency, and helped set the stage for the fall of Communism in Europe. 

As mentioned, the car was used in a motorcade in downtown Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963. President Kennedy was on his way from Love Field to the Dallas Trade Mart to give a speech. As the parade car and its passengers entered Elm Street in Dealey Plaza, Mr. Abraham Zapruder caught 8mm home movie images that became the most-studied film of all time.

Immediately after the tragedy, the car was returned to The White House, then delivered back to Hess & Eisenhardt for repair and extensive modifications. "Project D-2" or the "Quick Fix," was the code name(s) given to the repair and armorment of the SS-100-X. A permanent, bullet-proof roof and glass were fitted, a larger engine was dropped in, stronger axles went on, additional air conditioning and communications systems were installed, more grab handles were attached, the entire rear interior was replaced, and eventually it was painted black. All of this beefing up added about another ton of weight to the parade car, as well as about $500,000 to the cost.

025Amazingly, the car was used while Presidents Johnson, Nixon, and Carter were in office, even though other Presidential limousines were made.

In January, 1967, Project "R-2" was performed on the X-100. Again, Hess & Eisenhardt rebuilt the car, increasing the air conditioning power, allowing the right rear door to drop and raise its bullet-proof glass, reinforced the deck lid, added some roof grab handles, and sanded the car to bare metal for dent removal and repainting.

Later on, the car's front red flashing lights were moved from the bumper to the grille, and President Nixon had the large one-piece glass roof replaced with one with that has a smaller glass area and a solid hinged panel. This would permit the President to stand during parades. While this somewhat opened the President to the public, it granted less security than a fully-closed car, obviously. The car was finally retired from government service in early 1977, almost 14 years after Dallas.

The parade car, as it appeared in 1963, was faithfully reproduced for Oliver Stone's 1991 film, "JFK."

008As mentioned earlier, President Kennedy's car is displayed at The Henry Ford museum. It's parked parallel with other stately American Presidential limousines, including the Lincoln limousine that both President Ronald Reagan was using while he was shot, and President Gerald Ford was shot at while trying to enter. Maybe that car needs a write-up as well.

No Presidential limousines newer than the "Reagan" Lincoln will be added to the collection. The Secret Service wants the security details of these cars kept confidential, so the public will not be allowed near them. The story goes that they are going to be blown to bits anyway. Currently, President Obama rides in "The Beast," which has been described as a tank that looks like a Cadillac.

Hopefully the SS-100-X will be on display here for many years so we can all see a reminder of Camelot.

Note from Chuck: To observe the 50th year after President Kennedy's assassination, I would like to share some pictures of Dealey Plaza that I took in July, 2010. The first 5 were taken exactly where Abraham Zapruder stood and filmed:






This is the triple underpass where the limousine went out of sight.


The "grassy knoll."


The view behind the picket fence above the grassy knoll.


Formerly the Texas School Book Depository Building, a black marker shows the window where Oswald was positioned.


Dealey Plaza/Elm Street and the grassy knoll.

I spent about three hours in Dealey Plaza that day. To say it was somber was an understatement. The biggest surprises were how much the road actually dropped in elevation in front of the grassy knoll, and that the Plaza itself had been virtually undisturbed since 1963.

 --That Car Guy (Chuck)

Image Credits: The Dallas motorcade image is from The limo by the Washington Momument photo was found at The Parade Car and roof(s) display image is from The Berlin parade image is from The models are from my collection; I took the museum picture of the X-100 in 2001.


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I do have some photos of this if you want more - from my visit to the Ford Museum this past summer. I can verify it is very dark blue and tough to photograph in the dark area it currently sits in the museum (they're remodeling the whole car area).

Pics of all the presidential limos in the Henry Ford Museum collection here:

Video of presidential carriages, including the one that carried Abraham Lincoln to and from Ford's theater, in the Studebaker museum, here:

A Limo Oozing With Class, Fit For A President Oozing With Class

I agree, Al. And I wish we had more style, grace, and class as a society today.

The current, and recent past, presidential limos have been terrible looking. Really, really, ugly. They don't do any favors for their supposed makers...Cadillac or Lincoln. I can see Ford doing a deal on the limo lease, because the limo was attractive and reflected well on the marque. Today, I wouldn't claim credit for that thing President Obama rides in.

(BTW: Why is it other heads of state manage to be safe in less ungainly contraptions? Surely, they're armored?)

If the cars have next to nothing in common with their supposed look-alikes, why not give them a unique body?
A Checker cab-like timeless presidential limo?

Lets Take A Look At Past Limos Shall We?
Regan's Was Good Looking Except That The Roof Was Much Too High
H.Dubya's Was Decent Looking. (Now Where Near JFK's Lincoln But Still Cool
Bill Clintons Was Fantastic.Mostly Because Of The Car It Was Based Off.
Riddle Me This Car Luster: Why Can Clinton Have An Armored Cadillac That Still Looks Like The Car Its Based Off But Not Obama?

Al, it's my opinion that "The Beast" is stronger than President Clinton's car because of hightened threats against President Obama's life. Form followed function in this case. Thicker doors, more armor, and other measures probably dictated the shape, not the stylists.

I Suppose Its A Diffrent Time, And The Car Must Reflect That

Wasn't JFK's classiness completely a production of the press that protected him from the populace learning what sort of man he really was? The public knew nothing of the reality of JFK, and he knew nothing of their realities.

CJ: A lot of the "Camelot" mythos developed after President Kennedy's assassination, but he was relatively young for a president and came off as energetic and engaged. Some of that was image manipulation, but not all of it--but that sort of image manipulation is not atypical for heads of state. 1963 was also the high point of mid-century "swank" culture, and JFK and the '61 Continental fit that paradigm like a glove--and Mrs. Kennedy was even swanker.

"The window where Oswald was positioned." Really.......??

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