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Presidential Limos at the Henry Ford

Updated: Sep 10, 2022

In June of 2017, we traveled up to Dearborn, Michigan and to the Henry Ford Museum. This will be one of several posts that we do about the museum and the Greenfield Village, but this one will be focused on the Presidential Limousines at the museum.

There are many interesting artifacts at the museum and village. Henry Ford had a vast collection of items, including buildings, and for a history and paranormal buff, this is one of those places you should have on your bucket list.

The Henry Ford Museum is located at 20900 Oakwood Blvd, Dearborn, MI 48124. You can check their website for operational times and ticket pricing.

First, before I start talking about the different limousines at the museum, let me explain how they actually arrived at the museum in the first place in case you were wondering. You see, The Henry Ford’s Presidential Lincolns were leased to the White House. As the leases ended, the cars returned to Ford Motor Company and the firm gifted them to the museum. Currently, Cadillac supplies the president’s state cars. Each is custom-built – most recently on truck platforms – and each is typically destroyed at the end of its service life; however, those that were owned and built by Ford are preserved at the Henry Ford Museum. One of the main reasons that I wanted to go to the museum was to see the John F. Kennedy car (which we did, more on that below), but we were amazed as to how many were actually there.

As you walk through the doors into the museum, the Presidential Limousines are to the right. I am going to talk about them now in chronological order, not in the order that you come across them in the museum. They have these lined up from the front door from the newest to the oldest.

"Brougham," - Teddy Roosevelt

President Theodore Roosevelt was not fond of automobiles and rarely used one. He preferred the old fashioned horse and carriage for parades and meetings. Inside the "Brougham' two passengers could sit inside with privacy while the driver was outside of the carriage. It was designed closer to the ground then most carriages so that passengers could easily get inside and out. This carriage was not custom built like later Presidential vehicles, but was the type of carriage used by people to show off their wealth and power.

“Sunshine Special,” - Franklin D. Roosevelt

This 1939 Lincoln Model K most often associated with Franklin D. Roosevelt, was the first parade car specifically modified for presidential use. Coachbuilder Brunn & Company focused more on utility than luxury, deleting armrests for maximum seating capacity and adding wide running boards for Secret Service agents. The car was not armored until Pearl Harbor, when bullet resistant tires, glass and armor plating were installed.

"Bubbletop," - Harry S. Truman

In 1950, Harry S. Truman took delivery of a new Lincoln with a body by Raymond Dietrich, but the car was used most often by successor Dwight D. Eisenhower. Again there was no armor, but in 1954 the limo received the weatherproof plexiglass roof that inspired its nickname, the “Bubbletop.” Security features did not extend much beyond riding steps on the rear bumper and flashing red lights at the front.

Kennedy Car - John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon

Planning for the next car started under Eisenhower, but the 1961 Lincoln Continental limo is forever tied to John F. Kennedy. Once again, armor was not considered necessary, and Kennedy preferred to travel with the top removed whenever possible. But his assassination ended the tradition of open cars. After John F. Kennedy was assassinated in this car on November 22, 1963. The midnight blue, un-armored convertible was rebuilt with a permanent roof, titanium armor plating, and more somber black paint by Ford and custom car building Hess & Eisenhardt. The limousine returned to the White House and remained in service until 1977.

More information about the Kennedy car can be found in our following video.

Ragan Car

The 1972 Lincoln limousine was the first presidential parade car designed and built as an armored vehicle from the start. Security was now of prime importance – a point dramatically underscored when Ronald Reagan suffered an attempt on his life in 1981.

President Reagan was getting into this car when he was shot by John Hinckley on March 30, 1981. The car carried Reagan to the hospital. Presidents Nixon, Ford, Carter, and George H.W. Bush also used this car. In 1982 the front sheet metal was updated, but since a 1982 grille no longer fit properly on the 1972 body, a 1979 grille was used.

Words cannot fully describe the feeling of being in the presence of this collection. So much history and the wonderment about the conversations that have transpired within these vehicles over their time of their service can be somewhat overwhelming. Plus, having the opportunity to see the Kennedy Car up close was another check mark off my bucket list. If you have been to the museum and seen these vehicles, please leave us a comment down below.

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