When it comes to historic and celebrity vehicles, things are not often what they appear to be. Mix in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and you can bet the facts will be hard to separate from fiction.
In the Jan. 27 issue of Old Cars Weekly, we told you about Barrett-Jackson’s offering of a 1963 Pontiac ambulance that was to be sold in the company’s Scottsdale auction on Jan. 22. This ambulance was identified by the auction company as the vehicle that carried President Kennedy’s body from the airplane in Washington, D.C., to the Bethesda Medical Facility for autopsy immediately after the assassination. Indeed, a 1963 Pontiac ambulance in the employ of the U.S. Navy did carry President Kennedy’s body, as well as a mourning Jackie Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy. However, investigative work by members of the Professional Car Society have uncovered photographic evidence and accompanying documents — complete with the car’s military identification number — showing the original ambulance was scrapped in 1986 at the request of the John F. Kennedy Library.
The Professional Car Society’s forum currently has nearly 20 pages of conversation on the topic, and on pages 16 and 17 of the thread “JFK Pontiac ambulance up for auction,” images supplied by the Kennedy Library show the car in the crusher’s jaws.
Members of the PCS have alerted the auction company of their evidence of the original 1963 Pontiac ambulance. Now, the question remains, will this vehicle go the way of the supposed “Buddy Holly 1958 Impala” pulled from last year’s Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale auction, or will it make it to the block?
The following image of the car is one of several supplied by the Kennedy Library and posted on forums of www.professionalcarsociety.org:
Barrett-Jackson released the following statement on Jan. 22:
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Jan. 21, 2011 – Executives with Barrett-Jackson released a statement today about the 1963 Pontiac ambulance (Lot # 1277) to be sold at No Reserve on Saturday, Jan. 22, 2011. The car is part of the 40th Annual Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale Auction from Jan. 17-23, at WestWorld of Scottsdale.
“The sale of this vehicle has received media attention from around the world. It has also generated considerable dialogue among and interest from Kennedy historians and even enthusiasts dedicated to the preservation and study of historical ambulances.
As you know, we work diligently to verify to the best of our ability the representations of consignors on every vehicle we offer for sale. In the case of this vehicle, we applied a heightened level of scrutiny because of its historical significance.
The tragic events of November 1963 surrounding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy are some of the most significant in our nation’s history. We are respectful of this fact and are presenting this car for sale with that in mind.
There has been a great deal of discussion about the history of this car at the auction site, in the media, and on various discussion boards on the Internet. Some of that discussion has been very useful in helping both us and the consignor clarify the description of the car. For example, there has been conflicting information about whether the ambulance took the President’s casket and family members from Andrews Air Force Base to Bethesda Naval Hospital and then to the U.S. Capitol building or to the White House. Different versions of these events were even recorded in multiple Associated Press stories in November 1963.
As an auction company, we do not hold ourselves out to be historians, and certainly not experts in the particular history surrounding the unfortunate events of November 1963. There are many people who have dedicated their professional lives to studying the events of this period, and even in that context there remains a great deal of disagreement about many key facts.
As with many other facts related to this topic, the particular details surrounding the history of this ambulance will remain shrouded in mystery for years to come.
For example, there are credible reports that indicate there were two 1963 Pontiac Bonneville ambulances involved in the events of the night of Nov. 23, 1963, with one actually carrying President Kennedy’s casket and family members and the other acting as a diversion.
There is documentation—available for you to review here today—that directly ties the Naval Registration number of the vehicle used to transport President Kennedy’s remains to the physical identification numbers that are stamped in multiple places on the vehicle consigned to our auction.
There are also credible reports—and even photos—that suggest a 1963 Pontiac Bonneville ambulance involved in the situation was ordered to be destroyed in the mid-1980s. Some believe this was the original “JFK Ambulance” while others believe there is not enough proof to link the particular vehicle that was crushed with the one that actually carried the President’s casket.
Since this vehicle was consigned to our auction, we have fielded dozens of inquiries from around the country and reviewed countless documents submitted by interested parties, including our consignor.
Despite all our diligence on this issue, we are unable to either confirm or refute with certainty whether the vehicle offered for sale at auction tomorrow was in fact the vehicle that transported President Kennedy’s casket and his family members. Based on all research and our conversations with experts around the country, we do not believe there is a person alive who can answer this question with certainty.
What we can tell you today is that Barrett-Jackson’s team has physically examined this particular vehicle in great detail. We have confirmed that the historical documentation provided by the consignor matches the results of our physical inspection. For example, we were able to locate and confirm that the engine block does have an engine serial number matching the VIN. We have examined each location of tags and stampings on the vehicle and have compared our findings to the consignor’s documentation. We even located the “hidden VIN” on the vehicle chassis, and confirmed it matched the documentation as well.
These various physical inspections have been performed not just by Barrett-Jackson’s own collector car experts, but also by third-party automotive experts and even members of federal law enforcement.
There will always be a great deal of discussion and speculation around this vehicle and the events surrounding this important time in our nation’s history. We will offer the vehicle for sale tomorrow and invite interested parties to bid with all of this in mind, and based on their own research and examination of the car.”