The title can mean a lot of things and sounds a little bit ambiguous but when you read this line, it’s will be perfectly clear that we aren’t going to organize a contest to choose the best car in the USA. No, we’re simply going to talk about American presidents’ second first ladies: their cars.
Being the president of the USA comprises many duties and consists of many aspects. Aside from all those mainstream presidential responsibilities, one of the most important questions if we talk about the presidential function is the appearance and safety features of his car. Although it would be more politically correct to say “his or her car”, a “she” still hasn’t been the boss of the White House, so we can stick to “he”.
The president of the USA has at disposal Air Force One – the Presidential plane. He also has Marine One – the Presidential helicopter. Finally, the third member of this presidential holy trinity of transport is Limo One (also called Cadillac One or Ground Force One) – the Presidential car. The institution of the Presidential car has origins in the 1930s when the first official state car was made.
That first official presidential car was called the Sunshine Special and it was manufactured by Ford Motor Company (their Lincoln branch). This car was used by the 32nd President of the USA and one of the most influential and most charismatic ones: Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
The introduction of a specially designed car, equipped with additional safety features didn’t come out of the blue.In 1933 Roosevelt was riding in Buick in Miami when five shots were fired at him. He wasn’t hurt in that assassination attempt, but it was an alarm for the secret service to launch new safety measures for Presidential cars.
Ford vs. Cadillac
With the establishment of the official presidential state car, a new race began: the one between the car manufacturers. Ford had been the supreme presidential car provider from 1939 to 1983, when it was replaced by Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham during the Reagan’s rule.
However, in 1989 George W.Bush returned to Lincoln and then in 1993 Bill Clinton’s administration chose Cadillac to be the Presidential Car.
It had been taking the prime position until 2009, when the Cadillac One model was made to be the First Car of the USA. Is is based on the 2005 Cadillac DTS model.
Presidents’ private car affairs
Although their official protocols demand riding the official Presidential cars, all the American presidents (have) had their own favorite cars which they would drive when off duty. Some of them were real car enthusiasts, while others were ordinary drivers. What is incredibly exciting is conducting a research about their driving habits and the models they drove and are still driving. It is thrilling to find out what cars the most powerful people in the world have driven.
Roosevelt and Truman
Although he was the first US President to be honored with a custom-made state car, Roosevelt had a private automobile love of his own – 1931 Plymouth PA Phaeton convertible. Whenever he wasn’t on duty and despite the fact that he was physically disabled, Roosevelt adored going to the country, driving his good old Plymouth.
F. D. Roosevelt’s successor in the White House, Harry S. Truman, rode in Sunshine Special, Lincoln Custom and Lincoln Cosmopolitan presidential cars.
During Truman’s time in office, the Cold War started and the security issues of the presidential car were on top of the list of requirements for the Custom and Cosmopolitan models. Truman’s personal favorite in the field of cars was Ford Super DeLuxe Sedan.
There is an interesting historical trivia about that car. Namely, that model was the first one to be produced by the Ford assembly line after the production was revived when World War II had come to an end. The new President (in charge from 1945 to 1953) and the new age were celebrated and hailed by the car industry, i.e. Ford Motors.
After Truman’s defeat in 1952 elections, Dwight D. Eisenhower became the 32nd President of the USA. A famous US Army general and one of the most prominent commanders of the Allied forces in World War II, Eisenhower ruled with the strong fist, which is reflected in his car preferences, as well. He was a car and speed enthusiast, who liked sturdy engines and audacious design.
Eisenhower preferred tail fins resembling those which can usually be seen on jet planes, together with the V8 engine by Hemi and a modern design. His 1956 Presidential car, Chrysler Imperial had all those features and was highly respectable car for that age. When not chasing the Reds throughout America or in Korea, Eisenhower enjoyed driving his 1958 Dodge pickup. For his pensioner days he treated himself to a richly equipped and embellished 1968 Chrysler Imperial LeBaron.
Kennedy and Johnson
The democrat John Fitzgerald Kennedy took the hot seat of the American President in 1961, after a narrow win over the Republican candidate Richard Nixon. His official Presidential cars were Lincoln Cosmopolitan, which he inherited from the Eisenhower service in the White House, and later Lincoln Continental SS-100-X. JFK was a tragic character, since he was assassinated in Dallas, in November 1963. He was riding in the Continental SS-100-X model when shot to death.
Originating from an established and well-off family of Irish Catholics, JFK didn’t have problems to meet the expenses of anything he wanted even before he was inaugurated. Aside from his must-be-driven-in official cars, his great love was 1959 Pontiac convertible. However, in 1961 he got himself a new 1961 Ford Thunderbird. He expressed an interesting request for his inauguration: the participation of T-Bird models. The request wasn’t an easy one at all because at that time the T-bird model was the best-selling Ford’s model and it was a tricky task to find 25 unreserved T-birds. However, Ford did manage to fulfill the President’s wish.
After JFK was killed, his vice-president, Lyndon B. Johnson, took over the command over the USA to become its 36th President. The official car during his rule was Lincoln Continental, just as it was during the Kennedy’s presidency.
Johnson wasn’t only a car enthusiast. He was a real car freak, with a fleet of more than 50 cars. His beloved ones were richly equipped gems, like Cadillacs, Lincolns and Imperials, but he is mostly remembered for his Amphicar. This model was a German-produced chimera which could behave both as a car and as a boat. Since Johnson was an eccentric and a real comedian, he would take his guests to his ranch in Stonewall, Texas and drive them around the ranch. Then he would steer the Amphicar into the pond, to the great amazement of his guests. When he accomplished the mission of misleading the guests, he would turn on the amphibic features of the car and propel to the bank. And who says presidents can’t joke?
Nixon and Ford
When in 1969 Richard Nixon finally became the President of the USA (losing it narrowly in 1961), he wasn’t a terribly old man, but definitely wasn’t in his prime. Whether it’s because the age or not, he was an Oldsmobile fan. While his regular Presidential car was the same Lincoln Continental that served well presidents Kennedy and Johnson (although a Republican, he didn’t turn to another manufacturer, but stayed devoted to Ford), his private affection were Oldsmobiles. Even before taking place of the President, he owned a 1939 Oldsmobile, as well as the eponymous models for 1950 and 1955. He also had a 1946 Ford. Since he didn’t finish his second term as the President, due to his involvement in the Watergate affair, he couldn’t do anything much in terms of changing the Presidential car, but he still had his Oldsmobiles.
Gerald Ford, who was first Nixon’s vice-president and then became the President when Nixon resigned, to round off his mandate, drove Fords (nomen ist omen!) and Jeeps. His very first car was a 1924 Ford Coupe. Although he wasn’t an especially vigorous person, he did own some fairly powerful cars before the post in the White House, out if which 1969 Ford Mustang and 1972 Jeep are among the most prominent ones.
Ford’s successor Jimmy Carter didn’t change anything when it comes to Limo One. He wasn’t such a car enthusiast, but respected the protocol when it required riding in a car. However, he broke it on the first day of his mandate, that is, he didn’t want to be driven in a limo, but rather walked during his inauguration ceremony. His first car, however, was 1948 Studebaker.
Although Carter wasn’t much of a car freak, some measures brought by his administration still influence the world. Due to 1973 OPEC oil crisis, in the aftermath of the attack that Egypt and Syria launched against Israel, Carter ordered the founding of the Energy Department, which later made the Corporate Average Fuel Economy, which is still a standard for car manufacturers, in terms of fuel-efficiency production.
Reagan and Bush
In 1981 Ronald Reagan became the 40th American President. He was a Hollywood star back in the 1940s and 1950s, which meant he could afford buying some posh and modern cars before his time in the Oval Office. During his rule General Motors entered the White House, since in 1983 the Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham became the official Presidential state car.
Reagan’s pre-presidency car park exhibited some really fine models, like 1934 Nash, 1946 Cadillac, 1952 Army Jeep, 1965 Lincoln limo, 1969 Ford station wagon and 1976 Mercury Monarch sedan. During his presidency his favorite car was 1985 Ford Ranger Pickup, which he was given by his wife, Nancy, in 1985.
Reagan’s Republican heir, George H.W. Bush sat into the Presidential chair in 1989 and inherited not only “the chair”, but the Lincoln Town car as the Presidential car. He isn’t much of a car enthusiast although he is an oil magnate, which would make a perfect couple if he in addition had affection for cars. The first car the elder Bush owned was 1947 Studebaker Champ.
Clinton and Bush Jr.
Bill Clinton, on the other hand, is a car lover and he even worked as a car salesman when he was in high school. His Presidential car was Cadillac Fleetwood, which was the first car made by General Motors for the specific purpose of being a presidential car.
His private driving habits have been supported by various cars, such as 1963 Buick LeSabre convertible, AMC Gremlin and Chevrolet El Camino. Nevertheless, his greatest automobile pride and joy and his trademark was 1967 Ford Mustang convertible.
Leaving it behind when moving to the White House in 1993 was a tough thing, according to Clinton himself.
George W. Bush, the 43rd President if the USA, who was the chief of the White House from 2001 to 2009, now drives a Ford F-250 pickup. During his presidency the Presidential car was Cadillac DTS.
Bush used to drive Triumph and an Oldsmobile Cutlass convertible when he was a youngster, as well as AMC Gremlin, which was also the car of Clinton’s youth. Not only that they shared similar goals in foreign policy, but they had a similar taste for cars.
The current President, Barack Obama, can show off his Ground Force One, the Presidential car produced by Cadillac. It is often referred to as Cadillac One.
On Obama’s paygas list you can find a Toyota Tercel, which he drove on his studies, a Jeep Cherokee, which he bought after graduating, and a Chrysler 300C, which was a stylish cutting-edge model. However, in the dawn of his race for the White House he turned to a 21st century environment-friendly Ford Escape Hybrid.
Presidents, just like ordinary people, need to meet some official everyday requests and do their tasks as good as they can to ensure the peace and prosperity of the country. While doing that, they have to ride in their Presidential cars. However, it is so amusing and interesting to see what the presidents of the USA liked and still drive in their pastime, when they were free of ceremonial and official duties. This was a short insight in their driving habits.