DALLAS — President Barack Obama’s hulking black limousine —all 15,000 pounds of it —reportedly carries on-board systems for fresh oxygen. It carries bottles of blood of the president’s type: AB negative.
It also carries an ungainly nickname: “The Beast.” Or, as Matt Anderson, curator of transportation for The Henry Ford museum in Dearborn, Mich., describes it: “A tank with a Cadillac badge.” The blast-resistant car rolls on tires reinforced with Kevlar. The rear doors are 8 inches thick and as heavy as the massive, main-cabin door of a Boeing 757.
In contrast, the open-top car that President John F. Kennedy waved from on a sunny day in Dallas, Nov. 22, 1963, could not have been more different.
That car was fashioned from a stock 1961 Lincoln Continental four-door convertible _ retail price $7,347 _ that had rolled off the assembly line at parent company Ford’s plant in Wixom, Mich.
The Continental’s low-slung, angular lines and rear-hinged “suicide” doors were a bold departure at the time for Lincoln styling and seemed to personify the fresh-faced Kennedy and the new frontiers he espoused for the country. The car was as glamorous and camera-ready as he was.
“All of a sudden, here was this very clean, striking and clear-cut design that did without fins,” says Robert Cumberford, the automotive design editor for Automobile magazine and a former car designer. “It was interesting technically in that it was a unit body without a separate chassis frame, so it could look long and low and still have room inside. I think it’s the best looking Lincoln since the 1941 model.”
The White House leased it from Ford for a token $500 a year and sent it off for $200,000 in modifications by elite custom coachbuilder Hess and Eisenhardt in Cincinnati, Ohio. (The firm’s other high-profile clients included the Queen of England.) In the process, the car gained Secret Service code names — SS-100-X and X-100 — and the grille of a 1962 model, so it appeared right up to date.