A tragic piece of U.S. history delivered 50 years ago today...
I'm trying to think of a more symbolic, tragic and historic vehicle and for the life of me I can't think one.
It's the 1961 Lincoln Continental limousine that President Kennedy would die in.
The car was built by Cincinnati custom-auto crafter Hess and Eisenhardt. Kennedy preferred Lincolns over the Cadillacs that dominated the White House motor pool. It cost just over $7,000 when it came off a Michican production line and was valued at $200,000 when it left Cincinnati for DC.
For it's time, it was truly amazing--stretched to fit in a pair of jump seats between the front and rear leather benches. Spotlights inside to light up the occupants during nighttime motorcades. A rear seat that raised up to improve the President's visibility. A mobile phone--unheard of at the time. A souped up engine. Bulletproof tires. And, a plastic roof, again to make sure the public could see the folks inside, even during lousy weather. Contrary to what some think, the see-through lid wasn't bullet resistant. It wasn't armored, either. Presidential rides back then were designed more for the person standing on the sidewalk waiting to see the Chief Exec rather than for the safety of the man in the rear seat.
That changed November 22, 1963 when JFK became the last president to be assassinated and also the final one to ever ride in a convertible in a motorcade. The images are indelible for anyone who was around that day. It's impossible to see the car in any context and not thing of what happened within it's four doors.
Historic as it became, SS-100-X (the Secret Service code name) wasn't retired and sent to the nearest museum after the murder. Investigators removed the windshield which took a hit from a bullet fragment (most likely from the slug that shattered the President's head). Kennedy's successor, Lyndon Johnson, then had it sent back to Cincinnati and retrofitted. It certainly wasn't done to save money--the re-do cost another half-million dollars. The interior was stripped out and changed for obvious reasons. Armor was added, as was a permanent roof. And, LBJ had it repainted, from the orignal midnight blue to black. How someone could tool around in such a car, even after it's make-over, speaks more to Johnson's character,as well as that of Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. All used SS-100-X regularly before it was retired in 1979.
Only then was it sent to a museum--the Henry Ford, in Dearborn, Michigan.
It's on public display with the Oscar Meyer Wienermobile and, coincidentally, the limo Ronald Reagan was getting into the day he was shot in March of 1981. Its the last presidential ride to be put on public display. The Secret Service keeps the old ones nowadays. They don't want the schematics falling into the wrong hands.
Barack Obama got a new ride when he came to the White House in 2009. Nicknamed "The Beast", it's hailed as a rolling fortress capable of protecting the President from virtually any eventuality. Again, the Secret Service doesn't give out details the way it did in the old days, citing security concerns. The less bad guys know about the car, the better for the man who rides inside.
It wasn't that way 50 years ago today when a relatively new President got the keys to a brand new car. No one could imagine how their time together would end.