Nothing ever stays the same. For better or worse, change occurs and we adjust to the new reality. If luck is on our side, there are benefits we can enjoy. More often than not, there are disadvantages we have to accept as the price of progress. Sadly, the days of deference have gone. In the good old days, the majority respected the leader of a country. If there were people who preferred the “other guy”, they waited for the next elections to come around and tried to correct the past mistake. But there have always been a few prepared to take the law into their own hands. John Wilkes Booth demonstrated the risk of going to the theatre. This was the first of the four successful assassinations of sitting US presidents. Obviously, it’s not the safest of roles. Take Franklin D Roosevelt as an example. The assassin tried to shoot him while he was in a Buick. Thinking this particular make might be unlucky, he commissioned the first of the Lincolns which earned the nickname, the Sunshine Special, in part because the president liked to ride with the sunroof down when he was on display to the public. When you consider someone had already taken a shot at him, this was brave but, having suffered polio and finding it difficult to get out of the car, it gave people the chance to see him.
|Franklin D Roosevelt|
|Roosevelt and Harry Truman|
|Truman and Dwight Eisenhower|
|John F Kennedy|
|Lyndon B Johnson|
|Reagan and George H W Bush|
|George W Bush|
|George W Bush|
Ground Force One
You should take special note of the Town Sedan used by Franklin D Roosevelt in 1941. There’s a myth that, following the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese, the president decided he would be safer being driven in the heavily armored car used by Al Capone.
This is the original Sunshine Special. It’s currently on display at the Henry Ford Museum. It had extra wide running boards for the secret service agents to ride alongside the president. With the roof down and the windows wound down, they were the president’s only line of defence should anyone take a shot at him.
Harry Truman continued the tradition of a Lincoln with the manufacturer consolidating the use of its models by the White House as a marketing hook to boost its brand image. This is an example of the Cosmopolitan that continued in use up to 1967. But this model was the first to be fitted with bulletproof glass. Although it was designed as a convertible with a soft top, a special glass canopy was fitted in 1954. It should be said Puerto Rican terrorists fighting for independence did try to shoot their way into Blair House to kill the president. They failed but president became more wary.
This is the SS-100-X in which John F Kennedy was assassinated. This was not bulletproof as supplied. Despite the vulnerability of passengers, there was no armor-plating to the body, ordinary glass was used in the windows and it had a soft top. After the assassination, the vehicle was completely rebuilt. The side panels were made out of titanium and a permanent bulletproof roof and windows were fitted. This is the first of the customized protective vehicles. As a mark of respect, it was also painted black to remind the world this was the car in which JFK was killed. It’s now on display in the Henry Ford Museum.
When Gerald Ford took over at the White House, he updated the car which then defended both him in 1975 and President Reagan in 1981 when assassins tried to shoot them. It should be said the vehicle had nothing to do with their survival. Sarah Jane Moore managed to get off one shot before being overpowered. It hit a bystander. The bulletproofing of the vehicle was not put to the test. Ronald Reagan was shot in the chest. There was not a scratch on the vehicle. However, Reagan then broke the tradition of the White House by switching back to a Cadillac. The rivalry between the Ford and GM had grown intense over the years with both effectively giving their vehicles to top government officials to get the publicity. The Fleetwood Brougham Series 75 was marketed as Cadillac’s top of the line model. Sadly, it looked like a box on wheels and was armored like a battle tank. Reagan had learned his lesson well.
The Obama administration began its drive through the first four years of office in a Cadillac which was sometimes nicknamed The Beast or Cadillac One as a reference to the aircraft. But fearing assassination, the President now rides across country in one of the purpose-built vehicles based on a bus chassis manufactured by Prevost, a Canadian company, and fitted out by in Nashville. His personal vehicle is called Ground Force One.
This is The Beast and its detailed specification is unknown. It’s presumed to be the most heavily armored vehicle ever put together with resistance to attack by guns, rifles, grenades and roadside bombs. Needless to say, car safety has now won out over visibility. When the president drives by, it’s very difficult to get a clear sight of him. Fortunately, television cameras follow him everywhere the public are entitled to go. That keeps him in the public eye and helps to maintain his popularity. Everything else is just transport with the maximum car safety technology built in.