All the Presidents’ (Coolest) Cars: A Look at How the POTUS Rolls

Over the past couple of centuries, terrestrial transportation has evolved from the horse and cart to the Ferrari 488 Spyder. During that time, the way the presidents of the United States travel about when on the ground has undergone an equally dramatic transformation. The presidential state car serves as a reflection of technological progress, the style of the time, and the stark realities of safety and security concerns.

When George Washington occupied the White House (just checking, history buffs — I know, I know), the horse was his only means of overland transportation. Andrew Jackson was the first POTUS to ride a train, which he did in 1833. William McKinley (who served 1897-1901) was the first president to ride in a car while in office, while a few years later, William Taft (1909-1913) was the Chief of State who finally cleared out the White House stables and replaced the animals with a fleet of cars.

By the time the 1920s rolled around, not only were presidential state cars standard, but they were also awesome. Just in time for President’s Day on February 18, here’s a look back at our presidents’ coolest cars.

Wilson’s Pierce-Arrow

President Woodrow Wilson Pierce-Arrow Car
Carol M. Highsmith/Library of Congress

President Woodrow Wilson might not have been legally licensed to drive an automobile while serving in office during World War I, but he still had great taste in cars. In fact, he so loved the chauffeured 1919 Pierce-Arrow that served as his primary mode of transportation that a group of his friends came together to buy it from the government and make a gift of the car to the former president after his term ended.

FDR’s Sunshine Special

President Franklin Delano Roosvelt FDR Sunshine Special Car
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1939. Universal History Archive/Getty Images

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was not a man who did things in a minor way. Among the cars in his presidential fleet was an armored Cadillac rumored to have been seized from mobster Al Capone, for example. However, FDR’s primary set of wheels was a 1939 Lincoln Series K V12 nicknamed the Sunshine Special. The first car ever built specifically for a POTUS, the Sunshine Special was a convertible, allowing Roosevelt to interact openly with fellow Americans; wide rear doors also made it easier for the disabled president to get in and out of the car. It had a police siren and lights, a two-way radio, bulletproof glass windows, a case for guns, and wide running boards on which Secret Service agents could perch.

Eisenhower’s Bubble-Top

While in fact, it was President Truman who added 10 Lincoln Cosmopolitan limos to the White House fleet, it was Eisenhower who made the Lincoln Cosmopolitan an iconic presidential state car. Eisenhower had a thick, bullet-proof plexiglass “bubble-top” affixed over the back of the car, allowing for a clear view without too much exposure to potential danger. The 21.8-foot limousine would serve Ike for all eight years in office and would remain on standby for other presidents until 1967, giving the vehicle a 17-year working run.

JFK’s SS-100-X

President John F Kennedy JFK SS-100-X
President John F. Kennedy in 1961. Abbie Rowe

President Kennedy’s heavily modified Lincoln Continental, officially known as the SS-100-X, was a masterpiece of defensive engineering. The car, which sold for about $7,350 at the time (about $61,600 today), underwent $200,000 of upgrades (or some $1.27 million today). It had several different removable tops and a hydraulic lift under the rear seat that could elevate the bench nearly a foot, thus making the POTUS more readily visible to crowds. Unfortunately, the removed top and raised seat both made it much easier for an assassin’s bullet to find JFK (and Texas governor John Connally) on November 1st, 1961.

The 1972 Lincoln Continental that Was Ready for Battle

President Jimmy Carter Motorcade
President Jimmy Carter in 1979. Wally McNamee/Getty Images

For a nearly a decade and a half, a modified 1972 Lincoln Continental Limousine served as the presidential sate car, ferrying Nixon, Ford, Carter, and Reagan. This armor-plated, bullet-proofed, 21.5-foot, 10,500-pound behemoth was ready to protect the president in all sorts of dangerous situations. It had microphones that could detect even faint noises near the car and hidden compartments bristling with submachine guns for the Secret Service. Unfortunately, the car could not protect President Reagan, who was just outside the vehicle when shot during a failed assassination attempt in 1981, though it did keep him safe as he was rushed to the hospital. President Ford was also secured within the same car a few years earlier after a would-be assassin took a shot at him in San Francisco in September 1975. (Poor guy: Another person had tried to shoot him earlier that month, too.)

W’s Purpose-Built Cadillac DTS

President George W Bush Cadillac DTS The Beast 2008
The Beast outside 10 Downing Street in 2008.

President George W. Bush was the first POTUS to use a vehicle expressly built for the head of state. Rather than a modification of an existing vehicle, his Cadillac DTS was built from the ground up. It sat on a chassis usually reserved for large trucks or SUVs, boasted oversized tires and brakes, and featured a rear cabin complete with its own air supply. And, of course, this 14,000-pound car, nicknamed The Beast, had bullet-proof glass and armor plating all over. Also, it has a 10-disc CD changer and seats that could recline and massage their occupant.

The Next-Generation Beast: Today’s Presidential State Car

President Barack Obama Cadillac Car
President Barack Obama’s version of The Beast in 2016. Michael Thomas/Getty Images

The current POTUS is using a vehicle designed for President Barack Obama. Still using the nickname The Beast, this machine may look like a long black convertible, but it’s more like a tank, albeit without a huge gun. Except that it does, apparently, have many other weapon systems, including a tear gas cannon and smoke grenade launcher as well as multiple arms for Secret Service agents. The custom-built Cadillac limo has 5-inch-thick glass, 8-inch-thick doors, and is hermetically sealed against chemical or biological attacks. Only select Secret Service officers even know how to open the doors, and once removed from service, The Beast will be destroyed so its design secrets and technology can be kept under wraps.

Living

House of Marley Serves Up Sustainable Speakers and Awesome Audio

House of Marley keeps the spirit of Bob Marley alive and well by crafting sustainable speakers that respect the earth through production and through sound.
Living

A Review of the Floyd Sofa, a Minimalist’s Perfect Perch

The Manual received a sample of the Floyd Couch and we tested it by putting it together and binging Netflix for nearly two weeks.
Food & Drink

One for the Road: 7 Lesser-Known Ale Trails in the U.S.

Cities and regions across the U.S. are touting their beer scenes and since some get a lot more glory than others, here are a few of the hidden gems.
Food & Drink

We Ate a Poisonous Scorpion Fish and Lived to Tell the Tale

Fine & Rare's scorpion fish and chips is one of the best dishes in New York City right now.
Auto

The HoverSurf Hoverbike Is a Real-Life, Star Wars-Esque Speeder Bike

If you've ever wanted to fly around your local park terrorizing neighborhood soccer moms, your time has come thanks to the Hoversurf Hoverbike.
Auto

Take Shelter Wherever You Roam With Rhino Rack’s Batwing Awning

Hiding in your tent every time you want a reprieve from the sun, wind, or rain while camping can get old quick, which is why retractable awnings have become popular.
Travel

This Camper Wants to Be Whatever Type of Travel Trailer You Need It to Be

SylvanSport's Vast is possibly the most versatile and configurable travel trailer ever.
Travel

Futuristic Polydrop Travel Trailer Looks Straight Out of Blade Runner

The haphazard angular design is sure to polarize even the most future-forward road-tripper.
Auto

5 of the Coolest Boats, Yachts, and Subs

If you've ever dreamed of exploring the deep blue sea, why not add a super luxurious yacht or personal sub to that daydream?
Auto

This Luxury Yacht Comes With an Amphibious Car, Hovercraft, and Jet Ski

Bored of sunbathing? Try the 14 water toys included on this superyacht.
Auto

Ride Out the Apocalypse with the Ariel Nomad Tactical Buggy

With hypercar acceleration and a rally-inspired suspension, the Nomad Tactical can take you anywhere — fast.
Auto

The Trek Aerospace FK2 Is the Flying Go-Kart You Didn’t Know You Wanted

With the ability to take off vertically from a dead stop, it's like an ejector seat for daily life.
Auto

How to Live Comfortably Out of Your Car for a Few Weeks

Here’s everything you’ll need to stay safe, sane, and happy when you choose to live out of your car.
Living

This Vintage Travel Trailer Just Sold at Auction for a Ton of Money

A perfectly preserved Travelodge Vintage Travel Trailer from 1937 gives us a look at what qualified as luxury travel back in the good ol' days.