Presidential state car (United States)

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 that debuted on September 24, 2018.

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 United States 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. President Kennedy's assassination began a progression of increasingly armored and sealed cars; the 2009–2018 state car had five-inch-thick (13 cm) bulletproof glass and was hermetically sealed with its own environmental system.

Decommissioned 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

Public records show that General Motors (GM) was awarded three contracts for the new limousine.[9] Each state car was expected to cost $1–1.5 million, and by January 2016, GM had been paid US$15,800,765 (equivalent to $16,495,280 in 2018) for its work on the new model.[9]

The new version of the executive limousine was expected to debut at the inauguration of Donald Trump on January 20, 2017.[9] After prototypes of the new model were seen driven on public roads wrapped in monochromatic multi-scale camouflage, Cadillac confirmed to Fox News that "We’ve completed our task and we’ve handed over the vehicle to the customer". The Secret Service confirmed that the program to replace the presidential car was "on track and on schedule" and should be in service by late summer 2018. Fox News' Gary Gastelu opined that the camouflaged prototype looked similar to the Cadillac CT6.[10]

The current model debuted with a presidential trip to New York City on September 24, 2018. Road & Track reported that "the design appears to be a simple evolution of the old model with more current Cadillac design cues, like an Escalade sedan." At the time, Road & Track was only able to report that the state car was "massive and tall", and weighs between 15,000–20,000 pounds (6,800–9,100 kg).[11]


The first serving president to ride in a car was President William McKinley who briefly rode in a Stanley Motor Carriage Company steam car on July 13, 1901.[12] 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.[13] The president himself eschewed riding in the vehicle due to his "image as a rough-riding horseman".[12]


President William Howard Taft changed things at the White House, converting the stables there to a garage and purchasing a four-car fleet[12] on a budget of $12,000 (equivalent to about $335,000 in 2018):[14] two "luxurious" Pierce-Arrow cars, a Baker Motor Vehicle electric car, and a $4,000 (equivalent to about $112,000 in 2018) 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."[12]


President Woodrow Wilson was such a fan of the three Pierce-Arrow cars purchased by his administration, he bought one of them from the government for US$3,000 (equivalent to $42,140 in 2018) 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 qualified driver to be elected president.[12] President Herbert Hoover had a Cadillac V-16.[14]


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.[12] The Sunshine Special (so named because the top was frequently open)[15] 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.[12] Built on the chassis of the Lincoln K-series,[15] 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.[12] 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, one-inch-thick (2.5 cm) 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 six feet (1.8 m) longer.[12]


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.[15] The White House leased ten Lincoln Cosmopolitans. The cars were modified by coachbuilder Henney Motor Company [16] and Hess and Eisenhardt provided extra security features, 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.[12] All ten cars were outfitted with 152-horsepower (113 kW) V8 engines "with heavy-duty Hydra-Matic transmissions."[17] 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.[12]


In 1961, President John F. Kennedy accepted a modified, dark blue, 1961 Lincoln Continental that cost almost $200,000 (equivalent to about $1,700,000 in 2018). 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 10 12 inches (270 mm) off the floor. Both of these feature sets were designed to make the president more visible to the public, but they also increased the president's vulnerability (e.g. the assassination of John F. Kennedy). After the assassination, the X-100 was redesigned for an estimated cost of $500,000; the car 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 13 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.[12] 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. As of 2016, it was publicly exhibited at The Henry Ford museum in Dearborn, Michigan.[18]

President Johnson preferred white convertibles, but "concerns for protocol and safety" had him receiving a 1967 Lincoln Continental as his state car. The black hardtop cost the Ford Motor Company about $500,000 (equivalent to about $3,760,000 in 2018); they in turn leased it to the federal government for $1 (equivalent to $7.51 in 2018) per year. With 4,000 pounds (1,800 kg) of armor, "a bubble top thicker than the protective cockpit of an F-16 fighter", and a 340-horsepower (250 kW) V8 engine, the 11,000-pound (5,000 kg) car could still reach speeds of 100 miles per hour (160 km/h) or 50 miles per hour (80 km/h) with four flat tires. The car served Presidents Nixon, Ford, and Carter, and traveled to 32 nations before it was retired in the mid-to-late 1970s. In 1996, Ford Motors restored the car to its original state and donated it to the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum; the auto manufacturer chose Nixon's library because he took the car on several of his most-significant presidential trips.[19]


A modified, 22-foot (6.7 m),[12] 13,000-pound (5,900 kg)[15] 1972 Lincoln Continental was delivered to the White House in 1974.[12] The six-passenger limousine was leased from the Ford Motor Company for US$5,000 (equivalent to $25,401 in 2018) per year 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.[12]


The next presidential state car was a 1983 Cadillac that was delivered on January 30, 1984.[12] This Cadillac Fleetwood is 17 inches (430 mm) longer and 3 inches (76 mm) taller than the stock Fleetwood.[15] It featured armor and bulletproof glass (2 38 inches [60 mm] thick),[15] 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.[12]

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.[12]


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]

CNN interviewed Joe Funk, a former Secret Service agent and driver of 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 communication capabilities including phones, satellite communications, and the Internet.[13]


In 2001, for the first inauguration of George W. Bush, Cadillac no longer produced a car suitable for conversion into a presidential limousine.[15] 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.[20] "[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 five-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.[15] 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).[15] 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 street; the car was re-started, 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.[21]


Front and rear views of the 20092018 United States presidential state car

The 2009–2018 presidential state car went into service on January 20, 2009 and drove President Obama the two miles (3.2 km) down Pennsylvania Avenue from his inauguration to the inaugural parade.[13] A Cadillac, the presidential state car was not based on any single model of car,[13] though it had the "dual-textured grille and the dinner plate-sized Cadillac coat-of-arms badge" emblematic of the Cadillac CTS and the Cadillac Escalade. The headlights and taillights were 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 asserted that the car ran on a gasoline-fueled engine.[20] The Obama/Trump presidential state car was 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).[15] Due to the weight of the car, it could only reach about 60 mph (97 km/h), and only achieved 3.7 to 8 miles per US gallon (64 to 29 L/100 km; 4.4 to 9.6 mpgimp).[3][20] The limousine was reported to cost between US$300,000 and US$1,500,000 (equivalent to about US$400,0001,600,000 in 2018).[1][20] The presidential state car was maintained by the United States Secret Service.[22]

The doors had no keyholes; the way to open the passenger doors on the limousine is a secret known only to the Secret Service.[23] It had more five-inch-thick (13 cm)[24] bulletproof glass than the previous model.[25] It also had run-flat tires and an interior which was completely sealed to protect the occupants in the event of a chemical attack.[25] The 2009 presidential state car model had night vision optics, a tear gas cannon, onboard oxygen tanks, an armored fuel tank filled with foam to prevent explosion, and pump-action shotguns.[1][20] Whether it was[24] or was not[20] armed with rocket-propelled grenades, the car could fire "multi-spectrum infrared smoke grenades as a counter-measure to a rocket-propelled grenade attack or anti-tank missiles."[23] The car featured eight-inch-thick (20 cm) doors. General Motors spokeswoman Joanne K. Krell said of the 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."[13]

In 2013, the presidential state car was outfitted with standard Washington, D.C. license plates which read "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.[26]


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.[12]

Presidential motorcades

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 3045 other vehicles.[3][23]

The Obama presidential motorcade included many other vehicles than the official presidential state car. Involved were 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 were 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.[22] Due to difficulty in organizing motorcades, helicopters (Marine One) are preferred.[1]

See also


  1. Harris, Paul; McKie, Robin (March 28, 2009). "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 September 28, 2015. Retrieved February 6, 2016.
  2. Stolberg, Sheryl Gay (June 11, 2007). "Bush in Europe was a man on the run". International Herald Tribune. Sofia. ISSN 0294-8052. OCLC 185273721. Archived from the original on June 13, 2007. Retrieved January 20, 2019.
  3. Churchill, Allison; Johnson, Robert (December 4, 2012). "Obama's Cadillac Is Basically A Tank". Business Insider. Archived from the original on September 22, 2015. Retrieved February 7, 2016.
  4. Merksamer, Gregg D. (June 14, 2001). "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 February 7, 2016. Retrieved February 7, 2016.
  5. Goodwin, Antuan (January 15, 2009). "Cadillac One: Obama's new wheels". ROAD/SHOW. CNET. Archived from the original on February 6, 2016. Retrieved January 20, 2019. 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.
  6. Merksamer, Gregg D. (November 6, 2008). "Cadillac testing new Obama limo". The Boston Globe. P. Steven Ainsley. New York Times News Service. ISSN 0743-1791. OCLC 66652431. Archived from the original on October 5, 2016. Retrieved May 30, 2019.
  7. Ambinder, Marc (February 8, 2011). "The Presidential Motorcade". The Atlantic. ISSN 1072-7825. Archived from the original on May 11, 2015. Retrieved August 22, 2019.
  8. Mack, Ben (January 20, 2009). "Obama Rolls in an Armored Cadillac Stagecoach". Wired. Condé Nast. ISSN 1059-1028. OCLC 24479723. Archived from the original on July 20, 2017. Retrieved May 30, 2019.
  9. "2017 presidential limousine spotted undergoing secret tests". Fox News. January 28, 2016. Archived from the original on August 26, 2016. Retrieved June 5, 2019.
  10. Gastelu, Gary (April 12, 2018). "Exclusive: Trump's new presidential limousine with Secret Service, set to transport president this summer". Fox News. Archived from the original on May 8, 2018. Retrieved May 9, 2018.
  11. Perkins, Chris (September 24, 2018). "This Is President Donald Trump's New Cadillac 'Beast' Limo". Road & Track. ISSN 0035-7189. Archived from the original on September 24, 2018. Retrieved September 25, 2018. Meet the new armored Cadillac limousine that just debuted during Trump's visit to New York.
  12. Freeman, David W. (January 1993). "Cars of the Presidents". Popular Mechanics. New York City: Hearst Corporation. 170 (1): 36–39. ISSN 0032-4558.
  13. Ahlers, Mike M.; Marrapodi, Eric (January 6, 2009). "Obama's wheels: Secret Service to unveil new presidential limo". CNN. Archived from the original on February 2, 2016. Retrieved February 6, 2016.
  14. Ramey, Jay; Vaughn, Mark; Woodard, Justine (February 14, 2016). "See the secrets behind these presidential limos". Autoweek. Crain Communications. ISSN 0192-9674. Archived from the original on July 30, 2016. Retrieved October 20, 2018.
  15. Huffman, john Pearley (January 19, 2009). "The Secret Seven: The Top Presidential Limousines of All Time". Popular Mechanics. Archived from the original on March 23, 2015. Retrieved February 6, 2016.
  16. Henney Motor Company
  17. "President Gets New Convertible". Popular Science. Harlan, Iowa: Bonnier Corporation. 157 (3): 158–159. September 1950. ISSN 0161-7370. OCLC 488612811.
  18. "Kennedy Presidential Limousine". Dearborn, Michigan: The Henry Ford. Archived from the original on January 3, 2016. Retrieved February 7, 2016.
  19. Hamashige, Hope (August 27, 1996). "Nixon's Limo Makes Its Final Stop at Museum". Los Angeles Times. Yorba Linda, California: Richard T. Schlosberg. ISSN 0458-3035. OCLC 3638237. Archived from the original on June 16, 2019. Retrieved June 16, 2019.
  20. Greenberg, Peter (October 17, 2013). "Inside the President's armored limo". Autoweek. Crain Communications. ISSN 0192-9674. Archived from the original on October 16, 2015. Retrieved April 23, 2016.
  21. Ensenat, Donald (January 18, 2007). "Ask the White House". Washington, D.C.: White House. Archived from the original on September 8, 2015. Retrieved February 7, 2016.
  22. "The President's Motorcade". Washington, D.C.: White House. Archived from the original on October 30, 2015. Retrieved February 7, 2016.
  23. Bracken, Ali (May 22, 2011). "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 August 4, 2012. Retrieved February 7, 2016.
  24. Pearse, Damien (March 31, 2009). "Obama In UK With Limo Dubbed 'The Beast'". Sky News. Archived from the original on April 3, 2009. Retrieved February 7, 2016.
  25. Montopoli, Brian (January 6, 2009). "Obama To Ride In Armored Cadillac Limo On Inauguration Day". CBS News. Archived from the original on February 6, 2016. Retrieved February 6, 2016.
  26. Brittain, Becky (January 15, 2013). "The 'Beast' gets new license plates". CNN. Archived from the original on February 1, 2016. Retrieved February 6, 2016.
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