Posts Tagged limousines
How one day in history transformed presidential travel from an open-air exchange into a defensive exercise
November 22, 1963, was a warm, sunny day in Dallas, Texas. President John F. Kennedy was in town as part of his early re-election campaign.As his motorcade passed through downtown, the president and first lady Jackie Kennedy waved to the crowds from their open-top Lincoln convertible. Though the Secret Service was alert, agents didn’t perceive any special threat.
In the following car was Clint Hill, one of two Secret Service agents assigned to protect Mrs. Kennedy. “We knew that Dallas was a somewhat conservative area and that President Kennedy might not be as popular there as he was other places, but it didn’t seem to be a bigger problem than going anywhere else,” said Hill.
The crowds were large, and Hill was busy making sure that he remained close to the first lady as the president’s car negotiated the streets — especially when the crowds came close or when the car stopped so the president could shake hands with bystanders.
“The situation was always the same,” said Hill. “Big crowds, open windows, people on balconies and rooftops. It was standard procedure.”
Then, at 12:30 p.m., the first shot rang out, and Hill rushed toward the president’s car. His memories of the next few moments are vivid nearly 50 years later.
“I heard these noises that came from the rear of the motorcade, and I started to look toward that noise. But I only got as far as the back of the car when I saw the president react when the bullet hit him in the neck. When he grabbed his throat, I knew he was in trouble, and I jumped and I ran. My objective was to get up on the top of the car and lie there between the president and Mrs. Kennedy and anybody who was trying to do them harm. Unfortunately, by the time I got to the car, the third shot had been fired and hit the president in the head. It was too late to do anything except protect Mrs. Kennedy and the other occupants of the car.”
President Kennedy was rushed to Parkland Memorial Hospital four miles away and declared dead at 1 p.m.
“All the advantages went to the shooter,” recounted Hill. “We didn’t have any. I did everything I could do, but it wasn’t enough.”
Then and Now
Hill’s firsthand recollection of that tragic day in Dallas is also seared in the American collective memory. We talk of turning points, but this truly was one for the United States. Even the immediate aftermath showed how unfathomable such an event was as the Secret Service scrambled to get the vice president, President Kennedy’s body and the first lady back to Washington, D.C., as quickly as possible.
“We really didn’t know how elaborate the situation was,” said Hill. “We didn’t know if it was a lone gunman or a coup d’etat.”
With 2013 marking a new presidential term and the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination, how things have changed is obvious if you just conduct a simple comparison of presidential cars then and now.
Consider, for example, President Franklin Roosevelt’s Sunshine Special. The first “official” presidential limo, this Lincoln got its nickname in the 1930s because, when President Roosevelt was in it, the top was almost always down. In similar fashion, Kennedy’s 1961 Lincoln Continental X-100 was a large luxury convertible modified for a longer wheelbase. It wasn’t bulletproof. It had a removable plexiglass top. In addition, a metal rail gave the president the ability to securely stand upright and be exposed when the vehicle was moving. Plus, the rear seat could be raised hydraulically for better visibility.
In today’s lexicon, such accessibility to a world leader — in an uncontrolled, open environment — is both shocking and would even be considered by some as point-blank reckless. But, at that time in history, there was logic and a certain naivete behind it. From Roosevelt to Kennedy, an important duty of the president was to be seen by — be accessible to — the people who elected him.
The current presidential limousine, affectionately called “the Beast” by the Secret Service, fails miserably in the accessibility department. A tank-like machine with leather upholstery, the Beast has armor-glass windows that make it difficult to get even a small glimpse of the president from within.
Neither the Secret Service nor General Motors will comment on the Beast’s presidential specs for security reasons, but Mark Burton, CEO of International Armoring Corp. in Utah, which turns luxury cars into armored vehicles, said that GM took technology to the point of “overkill” with this vehicle. The Beast can not only withstand armor-piercing bullets but gas, explosives, fire, bioweapons and just about any other threat to national security you can think of.
Common sense tells us the Beast’s technological overload is still in direct response to what happened in Dallas a half century ago. According to Hill, the X-100 also got its own bit of technological excess when it was decided that the vehicle should be rebuilt rather than retired after the assassination. “The car was sent back, redone completely and didn’t return until 1964,” noted Hill. “It was armored and bulletproof glass installed and was used then on a limited basis by President Johnson.”
The Secret Service also received a total overhaul after November 22, 1963. “The organization was completely reorganized from that point on,” said Hill. “The entire headquarters staff was revamped. A great many things were done and changed completely.”
Symbols of the Presidency
Since then, security around the president has been airtight, and all presidential limousines have followed the example of the revamped X-100, which is now on display in Henry Ford Museum, along with four other presidential rides (see sidebar at right).
Unfortunately, the Beast and future presidential vehicles will never be seen in a museum collection or elsewhere for that matter. Although the government once leased the cars for a nominal fee and returned them at lease end, it now purchases each vehicle outright and keeps them, but not as historical artifacts. Instead, the Secret Service, looking to keep the secrets of these high-tech cars confidential, uses the retired vehicles for security tests, which end with the vehicles’ destruction.
Hard to feel sorry for a machine, but the demise of these presidential wheels is tinged with a little regret, according to Matt Anderson, curator of transportation at The Henry Ford. Anderson sees these vehicles as symbols of the American people’s relationship with the automobile and of the presidency itself.
“They tie in beautifully with the automobile in American life,” said Anderson. “They’ve become a symbol of the presidency. Most people don’t see the president in the White House; they see him when he comes to visit their town in his armored limousine. It’s a connection between the people and the president himself.”
The security measures now in place after Kennedy’s assassination equate to a safer president when en route, but they also signify an impenetrable distance between a leader and those he serves.
To see more of The Henry Ford's presidential limousines, take a look at this expert set from our online collections.
By David Szondy. The story originally appeared in the June-December 2013 edition of The Henry Ford magazine.
Texas, The Henry Ford Magazine, presidents, presidential vehicles, limousines, JFK, convertibles, cars, by David Szondy, 20th century, 1960s
JFK Remembered: The X-100
This month, we mark the 50th anniversary of one of the most dramatic – and traumatic – turning points in American history: the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963. In that single instant, the perceived calm of the postwar era was shattered and “The Sixties” – civil rights legislation, Vietnam, the counterculture – began. Few artifacts from that day are as burned into public memory as the 1961 Lincoln Continental that carried President Kennedy through Dallas.
The car, code named X-100, started life as a stock Lincoln convertible at Ford Motor Company’s Wixom, Michigan, assembly plant. Hess & Eisenhardt, of Cincinnati, Ohio, stretched the car by 3½ feet and added steps for Secret Service agents, a siren, flashing lights and other accessories. Removable clear plastic roof panels protected the president from inclement weather while maintaining his visibility. The car was not armored, and the roof panels were not bulletproof. The modified limo cost nearly $200,000 (the equivalent of $1.5 million today), but Ford leased it to the White House for a nominal $500 a year.
It was a perfect marriage between car and passenger. The Lincoln’s clean, modern lines broke away from the showy chrome and tail fins of the pervious decade, and they seemed to mirror the young president’s turn toward a “New Frontier.” Kennedy used the limo many times during his thousand days in office, and it became tied to him in the public consciousness even before the tragedy in Dallas.
After the assassination, officials from the Secret Service and the FBI examined the car and removed any potential evidence, and then ordered that it be rebuilt and returned to duty. While this decision is astonishing in retrospect, it was one of simple practicality. The president needed a parade car, and it was much faster to modify the X-100 than to build an entirely new vehicle. The $500,000 project (some $3.8 million today), dubbed the “Quick Fix,” produced a true armored car. Titanium plating reinforced the doors, body panels and floor. Filters in the heating and cooling systems protected against poison gas. The now-permanent roof, fitted with bullet-resistant glass, provided a compromise between safety and visibility. In a final change, the car’s deep blue paint was replaced with a more somber black.
The rebuilt car served Presidents Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Carter before being retired in 1977. By then it was 16 years old and outdated in both appearance and equipment. It returned to Ford Motor Company, which in turn donated it to The Henry Ford in 1978. The limousine quickly became one of the most important pieces in the museum’s collection.
Fifty years after the assassination, the car has lost none of its power as an icon of American change. Visitors still pause to reflect on the limousine, whether they are older adults who lived through those painful November days, or young children whose parents weren’t even born when the car came to The Henry Ford.
Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation.
by Matt Anderson, cars, Ford Motor Company, presidential vehicles, presidents, limousines, JFK
Morgan Gies: Driver to the Presidents
One of the great pleasures of being archivist at The Henry Ford is the continuing ability to receive interesting collections and to meet the donors. One such person was Edward Gies, who called to ask if we would be interested in some photographs of presidential vehicles. Since we have a number of presidential vehicles in our collection, but not a large amount of support material, I said I certainly was. He said he and his wife were planning a trip to the museum and he would bring the material along. When Mr. Gies arrived, he brought a small but very rich collection not only of photographs but also of ceremonial flags that had flown on a number of our vehicles.
What made the experience even more exciting was to discover that the collection had been gathered by Mr. Gies’ father, Morgan Gies. Morgan Gies was a member of the United States Secret Service and the man in charge of the White House vehicles. He held that position for 27 years, serving five presidents from Franklin Roosevelt to Lyndon Johnson. In addition to overseeing the White House fleet, he was often the driver of the presidential vehicle or the backup car.Continue Reading
railroads, airplanes, #Behind The Scenes @ The Henry Ford, archives, presidents, by Terry Hoover, cars, presidential vehicles, limousines
A few split-second decisions on March 30, 1981, made that the historic day on which Ronald Reagan survived an assassination attempt instead of the day he was assassinated.
When Secret Service Agent Jerry Parr reacted within four-tenths of a second from the time the first of six shots were fired by John Hinkley, Jr., he took President Ronald Reagan out of direct range of gunfire. Then, just minutes later, it was Parr who realized the President had been hurt and made the decision to take him to an unsecured hospital instead of returning to the safety of the White House and its medical staff.
Listening to Jerry Parr and author Del Wilber recount the story, in Henry Ford Museum during a lecture based on Wilber's compelling book "Rawhide Down: The Near Assassination of Ronald Reagan," while they stood near the actual presidential limo used that day was more than just a treat.
Wednesday night's event was just plain cool.
The free lecture required reservations, which met maximum capacity and had to be closed days before the event.
I know I wasn't alone in my appreciation. I talked with many people afterward and saw their enthusiasm as they asked Parr questions by the car, or waited to have Wilber sign their books. The place was really buzzing with a unique excitement.
As I was waiting in line to have a couple books signed, I met a woman who said her husband decided to be a secret service agent because of the events of that day. (He was just 11 at the time.) I couldn't help but wonder if the day had played out differently, would he have made that same decision. It was kind of a hit-you-over-the-head example of how certain events in history, and split-second decisions, can change our lives, collectively and individually. Cool.
Kristine Hass is a mother of five and long-time member of The Henry Ford. She frequently blogs about her family’s visits to America’s Greatest History Attraction.
books, presidential vehicles, events, by Kristine Hass, presidents, limousines
Thirty years ago today, Ronald Reagan - 40th president of the United States - survived an assassination attempt by John Hinckley, Jr.
One of his Secret Service agents, Jerry Parr, recently filmed a segment with CNN inside Henry Ford Museum, recounting the terrifying events of that day while exploring the presidential limousine that carried them both to the hospital immediately after the shots were fired.
Today, you can see this vehicle on display inside Henry Ford Museum; due to security restrictions, it is the last of the presidential limousines that will ever be preserved (all others are now destroyed).
A few interesting facts about the vehicle itself include:
For more background on this historic event, USA Today published an article by Mr. Parr describing what happened after the shots were fired (including their ride to the hospital in the limousine), and CNN.com also has a gallery of rarely-seen photographs from the attack.
Where were you when you heard that President Reagan had been shot? What do you remember most from that day?
Washington DC, 21st century, 2010s, 20th century, 1980s, presidents, presidential vehicles, limousines, Henry Ford Museum, convertibles, cars