Presidential state car (United States)

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The United States presidential state car (nicknamed "The Beast",[1][2][3] "Cadillac One",[4][5] "First Car";[6] code named "Stagecoach")[7][8] is the official state car of the President of the United States.

The current model of presidential state car is a unique Cadillac built upon a medium-duty truck platform. The car is equipped with many life-saving, offensive, and defensive measures, and is built to the United States Secret Service's standards. When riding in the state car, the president is cut off from the outside world, but has extensive 21st-century communications gear at hand. In a recent change, the vehicle bears standard Washington, D.C. license plates. The next generation of presidential state car is currently under development.

United States presidents embraced automotive technology in the early 20th-century with President William Howard Taft's purchase of four cars and the conversion of the White House stables into a garage. Presidents rode in stock, unmodified cars until President Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration bought the Sunshine Special, the first presidential state car to be built to Secret Service standards. Until the assassination of John F. Kennedy, presidential state cars frequently allowed the president to ride uncovered and exposed to the public. After President Kennedy's assassination began a progression of increasingly armored and sealed cars until the current state car which is hermetically sealed with its own environmental system on board.

Modern presidential state cars are dismantled and destroyed with the assistance of the Secret Service to prevent their secrets from being known to outside parties.

Late 20th-century and 21st-century presidential motorcades have consisted of 24–45 vehicles other than the presidential state car, including vehicles for security, healthcare, the press, and route-clearing, among others.

Current model[edit]

2009 US presidential state car

The current presidential state car went into service on January 20, 2009 and drove President Obama the 2 miles (3.2 km) down Pennsylvania Avenue from his inauguration to the inaugural parade.[9] It is speculated that the White House maintains approximately twelve copies of the current state car.[10] A Cadillac, the presidential state car is not based on any single model of car,[9] though it has the "dual-textured grille and the dinner plate-sized Cadillac coat-of-arms badge" that are emblematic of the Cadillac CTS and the Cadillac Escalade. The headlights and taillights are identical to those used on other Cadillac production models. Anton Goodwin of CNET's ROAD/SHOW blog noted that speculation was that the presidential state car was based on the GMC Topkick platform. If that is to be the case, then Goodwin assumed the car would feature either a gasoline-powered Vortec 8.1-litre (490 cu in) V8 engine or a diesel-powered Duramax 6.6-litre (400 cu in) turbo V8 engine.[5] Autoweek magazine asserts that the car runs on a gasoline-fueled engine.[11] Though unknown, the current presidential state car is speculated to be much heavier than its predecessor as it is equipped with Goodyear Regional RHS tires that are usually reserved for medium- and heavy-duty trucks; speculated weights range from 15,000 to 20,000 pounds (6,800 to 9,100 kg).[12] Due to the excess weight, the car can only reach about 60 mph (97 km/h) and only achieves 3.7 to 8 miles per US gallon (64 to 29 L/100 km; 4.4 to 9.6 mpg-imp).[3][11] The current model of limousine costs between US$300,000[1] and $1.5 million.[11] The presidential state car is maintained by the United States Secret Service.[13]

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden riding in the presidential state car

The doors of the presidential state car have no keyholes; the way to open the passenger doors on the limousine is a secret known only to the Secret Service.[14] It has more 5-inch (130 mm)-thick[15] bulletproof glass than the previous model,[16] and only the driver's window opens (to pay tolls).[10] It also has run-flat tires, and an interior which is 100% sealed to protect the occupants in the event of a chemical attack.[16] The current presidential state car boasts rocket-propelled grenades,[15] night vision optics, a tear gas cannon, on-board oxygen tanks, an armored fuel tank filled with foam to prevent explosion, pump-action shotguns,[1][11] and 2 US pints (0.95 l; 1.7 imp pt) of the president's blood type.[10] The current presidential state car can also fire "multi-spectrum infrared smoke grenades as a counter-measure to a rocket-propelled grenade attack or anti-tank missiles."[14] The car features 8-inch (200 mm)-thick doors. General Motors spokeswoman Joanne K. Krell said of the new presidential state car, "The presidential vehicle is built to precise and special specifications, undergoes extreme testing and development, and also incorporates many of the top aspects of Cadillac's 'regular' cars -- such as signature design, hand-cut-and-sewn interiors, etc."[9]

CNN interviewed Joe Funk, a former United States Secret Service agent and driver of Bill Clinton's presidential state car during part of his tenure. Funk described a dichotomy of the car: while the president is wholly cut off from the outside world by the armor and bulletproof glass of the vehicle, he has at his fingertips fantastic communication capabilities including phones, satellite communications, and the Internet.[9]

Washington, D.C. license plate

In 2013, the presidential state car was outfitted with standard Washington, D.C. license plates which famously say "TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION" in reference to the district's lack of representation in the United States Congress. The switch came after the D.C. city council petitioned the president to use the plates on his motorcade which would be seen by millions of people as the president heads down Pennsylvania Avenue for his second inauguration.[17]

2017 model[edit]

Construction contracts for the next model of presidential state car were farmed out in 2013.[10] According to Fox News Channel, public records show that General Motors (GM) was awarded three contracts for the new limousine.[18] Photographs of the 2017 model show that the vehicle has the same grille and headlamp design as contemporary Cadillac models.[10] Fox News reported that each state car will cost $1–1.5 million, and that as of January 2016, GM had been paid $15,800,765 for its work on the new model.[18] Fox News and the Daily Mail expect the new version of the executive limousine to debut at the 2017 United States presidential inauguration.[18][10]


After the introduction of the automobile in the 1890s, no sitting president rode in one until President William McKinley briefly rode in a Stanley Motor Carriage Company steam car on July 13, 1901.[19] According to the United States Secret Service, it was customary for them to follow the presidential horse-and-buggy on foot, but that with the popularization of the automobile, the Secret Service purchased a 1907 White Motor Company steam car to follow President Theodore Roosevelt's horse-drawn carriage.[9] The president himself eschewed riding in the vehicle due to his "image as a rough-riding horseman".[19]

Taft's 1911 White steamer

President William Howard Taft changed things up at the White House, converting the stables there to a garage and purchasing a four-car fleet[19] on a $12,000 budget (equivalent to $316,578 in 2015):[20] two "luxurious" Pierce-Arrow cars, a Baker Motor Vehicle electric car, and a $4,000 1911 White Motor Company steam car. President Taft became a fan of the steam car when he discovered he could conceal himself from press photographers with a "carefully timed burst of steam."[19]

One of three Pierce-Arrow cars purchased by the Wilson administration

President Woodrow Wilson was such a fan of the three Pierce-Arrow cars his administration purchased that he bought one of them from the government for $3,000 (equivalent to $39,868 in 2015) when he left office in 1921. President Warren G. Harding was the first president to use a car to drive to his inauguration, and was the first president who was driver-qualified.[19] President Herbert Hoover had a Cadillac with a V16 engine.[20]

FDR's Sunshine Special

In 1936, President Franklin D. Roosevelt bought a Ford Phaeton coupe and had it equipped with hand controls in direct contravention of a Secret Service directive prohibiting sitting presidents from getting behind the wheel of a car. In December 1939, President Roosevelt received a 1939 Lincoln Motor Company V12 convertible—the Sunshine Special.[19] The Sunshine Special (so named because the top was frequently open)[12] became the president's best-known automobile, the very first to be built to Secret Service specifications, and the first to be leased rather than bought.[19] Built on the chassis of the Lincoln K-series,[12] the Sunshine Special has a 160-inch (4,100 mm) wheelbase, room for 10 passengers, rear doors hinged backwards, heavy-duty suspension, two side-mounted spare tires, and standing platforms attached to the exterior to accommodate Secret Service agents.[19] The Sunshine Special underwent two sets of modifications. Firstly in 1941 the car's top was lowered 3 inches (76 mm) out of aesthetic concerns. Then, in 1942 after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the car underwent the addition of armor, 1-inch (25 mm)-thick bulletproof glass, "metal-clad flat-proof inner tubes, a radio transceiver, a siren, red warning lights, and a compartment for submachine guns." After the second set of modifications, the car weighed 9,300 pounds (4,200 kg) and was 6 feet (1.8 m) longer.[19]

In 1950, under the Harry S. Truman presidency, legend has it that Truman held a grudge with General Motors because they would not give him use of their cars during his run for the 1948 presidential election; thusly, he chose Lincoln for the presidential state car.[12] The White House leased ten Lincoln Cosmopolitans. The cars were modified with extra headroom to accommodate the tall silk hats popular at the time, and were painted black. Nine of the automobiles had enclosed bodies, while the tenth was an armored convertible especially for President Truman. The tenth Cosmopolitan was 20 feet (6.1 m) long, 6.5 feet (2.0 m) wide, and weighed 6,500 pounds (2,900 kg), 1,700 pounds (770 kg) heavier than a stock Cosmopolitan.[19] All ten cars were outfitted with 152-horsepower (113 kW) V8 engines "with heavy-duty Hydra-Matic transmissions."[21] In 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower had the Cosmopolitan convertible fitted with a Plexiglas roof that became known as the "Bubble-top"; it remained in presidential service until 1965.[19]

The X-100

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy accepted a modified, dark blue, 1961 Lincoln Continental that cost almost $200,000 (equivalent to $1,586,414 in 2015). Assigned the Secret Service code name of X-100, it was the most sophisticated presidential state car yet built. The car included a "heavy-duty heater and air conditioner, a pair of radiotelephones, a fire extinguisher, a first-aid kit, and a siren." The exterior featured improved, retractable standing platforms and handles for Secret Service agents, and flashing red lights recessed into the bumper. Unique to the X-100 were three sets of removable roofs (a standard soft top, a lightweight metal one, and a transparent plastic one) and a hydraulic lift that raised the rear cushion 11 inches (280 mm) off the floor. Both of these feature sets were designed to make the president more visible to the public. Unfortunately, they were also contributors in the assassination of John F. Kennedy. After the Kennedy assassination, the X-100 was redesigned for an estimated cost of $500,000. The redesigned X-100 was painted black and featured "improved telecommunications gear, a more powerful engine and flat-proof tires made of rubber-coated aluminum." The fuel tank was protected against explosion by a "porous foam matrix" that minimized spillage in the event of a puncture. The passenger compartment was protected by 1,600 pounds (730 kg) of armor, and the three removable roofs were replaced by a fixed glass enclosure that cost more than $125,000. The glass enclosure was made of thirteen different pieces of bulletproof glass (ranging in thickness from 1 to 1 1316 inches (25 to 46 mm)) and was then the largest piece of curved bulletproof glass ever made. In 1967, the X-100 was modified again with an upgraded air conditioning system, an openable rear-door window, and structural enhancement to the rear deck.[19] Despite successive presidential state cars being built and delivered to the White House, the X-100 continued to be occasionally used by Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter until it was retired from service in early 1977. It is now publicly exhibited at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.[22]

The 1972 Lincoln Continental presidential state car

A modified, 22-foot (6.7 m),[19] 13,000-pound (5,900 kg)[12] 1972 Lincoln Continental was delivered to the White House in 1974.[19] The six-passenger limousine was leased from the Ford Motor Company for $5,000 per year (equivalent to $24,032 in 2015) and featured a 460-cubic-inch (7,500 cm3), 214-horsepower (160 kW) V8 engine. The fully loaded automobile also had external microphones to allow occupants to hear outside noises, full armor plate, bulletproof glass, and racks for the Secret Service to store submachine guns. This presidential state car was the vehicle in which President Gerald Ford was shot at by Sara Jane Moore, and which transported President Ronald Reagan to the hospital after the attempt on his life in 1981.[19]

The 1983 Cadillac Fleetwood presidential state car

The next presidential state car was a 1983 Cadillac that was delivered on January 30, 1984.[19] This Cadillac Fleetwood is 17 inches (430 mm) longer and 3 inches (76 mm) taller than the stock Fleetwood.[12] It featured armor and bulletproof glass (2 38 inches (60 mm) thick),[12] and was described as "distinctively styled, with a raised roof and a large rear greenhouse." To deal with the added weight of the armor, the car had oversized wheels and tires, heavy-duty brakes, and an automatic leveling system.[19]

The 1989 Lincoln Town Car presidential state car

The 1989 presidential state car that was delivered to the White House was a modified 1989 Lincoln Town Car that was 22 feet (6.7 m) long and more than 5 feet (1.5 m) tall.[19]

The 1993 Cadillac Fleetwood presidential state car

President Bill Clinton used a 1993 Cadillac Fleetwood as his presidential state car. It is currently on display at the Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock, Arkansas where it sits with all its doors closed to the public. Museum curator Christine Mouw noted that they can "dust the outside of the car, but if we needed to get inside it, we would have to contact the regional Secret Service office".[6]

In 2001, for the first inauguration of George W. Bush, Cadillac no longer produced a car suitable for conversion into a presidential limousine.[12] Furthermore, the additional armor and amenities that were added to the state car by the Secret Service taxed previous presidential limousines beyond their limits, resulting in failing transmissions and short-lived brakes. The George W. Bush state car was instead designed from the ground-up by "an R&D arm of General Motors in Detroit" to meet Secret Service specifications.[11] "[I]nformed speculation" has President George W. Bush's Cadillac Deville actually based on the chassis of General Motors' line of full-size sport utility vehicles such as the "Chevrolet Suburban, GMC Yukon[,] and Cadillac Escalade." This "Deville" featured 5-inch (130 mm) armored doors, and "bulletproof glass so thick it blocks out parts of the light spectrum." Rumored components of the car were sealed passenger compartments with their own air supply, run-flat tires, and a 454-cubic-inch (7,440 cm3) engine.[12] Confirmed accessories include "an integrated 10-disc CD changer, a foldaway desktop[,] and reclining rear seats with massaging, adaptive cushions."[4] This presidential state car was estimated to weigh approximately 14,000 pounds (6,400 kg).[12] Bush's presidential state car was nicknamed "The Beast", a name that persisted through the presidency of Barack Obama. When traveling, President Bush took along two of the armored limousines (flown by either C-5 or C-17), one for use and one for backup. This proved fortuitous during a 2007 trip to Rome where one of the presidential state cars stalled for five minutes on a Roman street; the car started back up, but was replaced with the backup limousine after President Bush reached his destination.[2] Sometimes, President Bush would instead use vehicles already present at his destination such as embassy motor pool cars or military assets, rather than transporting the presidential state car. The president never used non-American-governmental vehicles when overseas.[23]


In the late 20th-century, it was customary for the United States Secret Service to participate in the destruction of the presidential state car after it had run its course. The federal agents use bullets and explosive rounds for two purposes. The first is to demonstrate the automobile's effectiveness against such weaponry, while the second is to shred the vehicle and destroy the secrets of its manufacture, armoring, and defensive abilities.[19]

Presidential motorcades[edit]

George W. Bush's motorcade in Croatia

Motorcades involving the presidential state car are detailed, involved operations. Motorcades under President George W. Bush involved up to two dozen cars;[2] under President Barack Obama they constituted thirty to forty-five other vehicles.[3][14]

The Obama presidential motorcade includes many other vehicles than the official presidential state car. Involved are police cars to lead the motorcade and clear the streets; sport utility vehicles to carry the United States Secret Service detail, electronic countermeasures, key staff, a counter-assault team, "hazardous-materials-mitigation" personnel and equipment, and White House Communications Agency personnel. Also included in the motorcade are press vans, an ambulance, and more.[7]

The presidential state car is maintained by the United States Secret Service, while other support vehicles in the president's motorcade are maintained by the White House Military Office.[13] Presidential motorcades have declined preferability to using helicopters (Marine One) due to the difficulty of organizing the former.[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Harris, Paul; McKie, Robin (2009-03-28). "Prospect of Barack Obama show causes UK to clear its decks". The Guardian. Kings Place, London: Guardian Media Group. ISSN 0261-3077. OCLC 60623878. Archived from the original on 2015-09-28. Retrieved 2016-02-06. 
  2. ^ a b c Stolberg, Sheryl Gay (2007-06-11). "Bush in Europe was a man on the run". International Herald Tribune. The New York Times Company. ISSN 0294-8052. OCLC 185273721. Archived from the original on 2007-06-13. Retrieved 2016-02-07. 
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  4. ^ a b Merksamer, Gregg D. (2001-06-14). "Take A Look Inside The President's New Cadillac One Limo". Popular Mechanics. New York City: Hearst Corporation. ISSN 0032-4558. Archived from the original on 2016-02-07. Retrieved 2016-02-07. 
  5. ^ a b Goodwin, Antuan (2009-01-15). "Cadillac One: Obama's new wheels". CNET. Archived from the original on 2016-02-06. Retrieved 2016-02-06. At next week's inauguration, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. will not only have a new resident, but also a new set of wheels in the driveway. 
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  7. ^ a b Ambinder, Marc (2011-02-08). "The Presidential Motorcade". The Atlantic. Washington, D.C.: Atlantic Media. ISSN 1072-7825. Archived from the original on 2015-05-11. Retrieved 2016-02-21. 
  8. ^ Mack, Ben (2009-01-20). "Obama Rolls in an Armored Cadillac Stagecoach". Wired. San Francisco: Condé Nast. ISSN 1059-1028. OCLC 24479723. Archived from the original on 2014-12-27. Retrieved 2016-02-21. 
  9. ^ a b c d e Ahlers, Mike M.; Marrapodi, Eric (2009-01-06). "Obama's wheels: Secret Service to unveil new presidential limo". CNN. Archived from the original on 2016-02-02. Retrieved 2016-02-06. 
  10. ^ a b c d e f Pleasance, Chris (2016-01-28). "The Beast gets an upgrade: First images of new presidential limo leaked as it undergoes top-secret testing". Daily Mail. DMG Media. ISSN 0307-7578. OCLC 16310567. Archived from the original on 2016-02-04. Retrieved 2016-10-06. 
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  14. ^ a b c Bracken, Ali (2011-05-22). "Bullet-proof Barack-ade: Bond-style security protects President for visit to Ireland". Daily Mail. Daily Mail and General Trust. ISSN 0307-7578. OCLC 16310567. Archived from the original on 2015-07-14. Retrieved 2016-02-07. 
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  23. ^ Ensenat, Donald (2007-01-18). "Ask the White House". Washington, D.C.: White House. Archived from the original on 2015-09-08. Retrieved 2016-02-07.