After Barack Obama takes the oath of office Tuesday, he’ll ride to the White House in a new custom-built Cadillac limousine that, other than larger windows, isn’t dramatically different from the presidential limo built for President George W. Bush in 2005.
But that doesn’t mean the car isn’t unique.
“Making comparisons to any other car falls apart because there is no comparable car,” said Cadillac spokesman David Caldwell.
The specifications and construction of presidential cars are overseen by a small government group that has run the program for years.
One hundred years ago, Congress first approved money for a White House automobile fleet for President William Howard Taft. The first presidential garage would please environmentalists of today – it included a steam-powered, 40-horsepower White Model M seven-passenger touring car and a Baker Electric.
Taft’s successor, Woodrow Wilson, first rode in his 1919 Pierce-Arrow Vestibule Suburban Limousine. Wilson never drove the car; he didn’t know how to drive. After leaving office, he bought the car for $3,000.
Two years after acquiring the Lincoln Motor Car Co., Ford supplied President Calvin Coolidge with a 1924 Lincoln Model L.
His successor, Herbert Hoover, was a Cadillac man, and he purchased his presidential 1930 Cadillac V16 after leaving office. The days of off-the-shelf cars for presidents ended after an assassination attempt was made on President Franklin Roosevelt while he rode in a convertible in Miami in 1933.
In response, the feds had FDR use Al Capone’s 1928 armored Cadillac, which the government acquired after Capone’s indictment on tax-evasion charges. Capone had the car fitted with boiler-plating and bulletproof glass and painted to resemble a Chicago police car.
But FDR preferred open cars and was frequently seen in a graceful Packard Twelve.
FDR rode in a 1939 Lincoln, nicknamed the Sunshine Special. The V12-powered car transported Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman in places all over the world, including Yalta, Casablanca, Tehran and Malta.
Perhaps the most famous presidential Lincoln is the 1961 Continental built for President John F. Kennedy. It was the car Kennedy was riding in when he was assassinated in Dallas in 1963.
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