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JFK's Lincoln an obsession to me

November 21, 2013 - Paul Giannamore
As a gearhead, the first thing about the JFK assassination I set out at a young age to learn about was the beautiful Lincoln Continental limousine. I was such a buff about it that I still have a book my mom and dad bought for me, “Presidents on Wheels” by Herbert Ridgeway Collins, covering presidential conveyances through the Nixon administration.

I forced myself to read through all the carriages and, since President Taft, cars, right up to President John F. Kennedy’s beautiful Lincoln.

His administration also obtained a handbuilt Imperial Ghia by Chrysler for Jacqueline, as well as a big update of the fleet of White House cars. But the one that drew attention was the Continental, replacing a chubby 1950 bubble-top Lincoln that was first used by President Eisenhower.

The U.S. government did not buy the Kennedy Lincoln. Rather, it was leased for $500 a year from the Ford Motor Co., which is the source of many details here. Ford owned, and still owns, the car.

It was the perfect update to the presidential limo for the vibrant, young, hip new president of the new generation. The new Lincoln for 1961 was a classic design, no fins, no overabundance of chrome, just big and razor-edged, classy and powerful and tasteful, replacing the fairly fat-looking presidential limo that had served through the 1950s. The new limo had the option of being a full-on convertible or having snapped into place a bubble roof allowing visibility of the president and his guests, or a full-on metal roof in pieces.

It was a Continental built on the assembly line, shipped to Hess & Eisenhardt, a Cincinnati coachbuilder, and stretched and converted into the sleek presidential limo for the then-astronomical sum of about $200,000. The Secret Service code-named the pretty blue Lincoln X-100.

X-100 traveled the world, like presidential limos still do. It was in Tampa, Fla., on a trip just a few days before it went to Dallas.

It had a back seat on hydraulic jacks that allowed the president to sit tall and high and wide, visible to all. It is the jacked up back seat that seems to have been forgotten for years in analysis of the assassination, leading to the “magic bullet” theory. The wounds on the president and Gov. Connally line up much more reasonably when the jacked up seat is taken into consideration.

It is impossible, of course, to know if the bubble top, which was packed for the trip but not installed that day, would have saved the president. It was not a bulletproof bubble. The metal roof just might have deflected the bullets, but it was not often used, according to some sources I’ve seen.

X-100 went into a government impound after the shooting. She was taken back to Washington, gone over by the forensic experts of the day, held as evidence and eventually released for use again.

A committee in those dark days couldn’t come to agreement on just what a new limo might need from the ground up, so X-100 was sent back in two modification rounds eventually resulting in heavy armor, a permanent metal roof, bulletproof glass, special lighting, titanium plating, a high-performance engine, electronic communications devices, a second air conditioner for the rear compartment and complete refitting of a new interior, given the sad ending to the first edition of the car.

Eventually, she went back for more armor, more bulletproof glass, and a power rear door window requested by President Johnson, who, one can assume, felt couped up in that limo after all those years of being able to be out in the open in motorcades.

X-100, in its final form resides on display in the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn. President Nixon had a hatch installed in the roof so he could stand up during parades and wave to people. The car was no longer the main presidential limo from the Nixon administration onward, but it served Nixon, Ford and Carter, before going into retirement.

The parts that were removed after the assassination are sealed away, according to something I read somewhere over the years.

Today, decoy limos are deployed, and it’s nearly impossible to tell if the president is in the car at all. He might not be. The current presidential limo, a pseudo-Cadillac that is pretty hideous due to all of the armoring and bullet-proofing and security stuff in it, was built in 2009, though the cost is not fully disclosed. It’s assumed by auto wags to use a Chevrolet heavy truck frame and has parts sourced from various Cadillacs but it’s not really any model of Cadillac. And, unlike those innocent days of the Kennedy administration, when a big press release accompanied the unveiling of the X-100, the government doesn’t tell us much about just what The Beast, as the Secret Service calls the current presidential ride, has in it. It could be made of unobtanium, cost a billion dollars and be capable of sending satellites instructions to shoot down Soviet fighters, for all we know.

X-100 and the changes she underwent from open-top projection of a president of the people to protective armored cocoon were symbolic of the changes the nation went through as its innocence died Nov., 22, 1963.


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