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The JFK Parade Car

'Camelot I' and the slab-sided Lincolns.

The 1962 X-247 “bubble top” Lincoln limousine was
used for transporting the president and first lady to
less-formal events, as well as for other VIPs needing a
limousine-type ride. Here it is shown with its protective
rear cover in place.

With a totally new image for Lincoln coming in 1961, it made sense to have the most modern of limousines for the most powerful man in the free world:the president of the United States. Just before Christmas 1960, unit number 1Y86H405950, a convertible sedan in black, was pulled from the production line and sent off to Hess & Eisenhardt in Ohio. There, in a little more than one month’s time, the conversion to one of the most important and spectacular cars ever produced took place. The car was officially identified as the “X-100.”

‘X-100’ convertible sedan

Once the car arrived at Hess & Eisenhardt, a number of major modifications were undertaken. The car was stretched in an most unusual way, adding about six inches between the driver’s door and the rear door opening, which doubled as a privacy partition and a place to store weapons to fend off possible attacks. The rear door was also stretched about four inches, allowing it to open without any obstruction for the rear seat passengers, though getting in and out of the jump seats was a bit difficult.

Another extension was performed behind the rear door openings. The back seat was placed farther back from its stock position to allow a bit more room for the fold-away jump seats. All of these body modifications added more than 42 inches to the length of the car, and the wheelbase grew from its stock 123 inches to 156. The base weight also grew from slightly more than 5,200 lbs. in stock form to more than 7,800 lbs. when finished.

Built as an open parade car, the X-100 was fitted with an optional four-piece “bubble top” that could be put on the car in several configurations. Many people believe that, had this top been in place while Kennedy was in Dallas, the shots would not have had the effect they did, and the president probably would have survived. A black covering was also provided to completely enclose the “bubble top,” turning the car from an open parade vehicle to a more secure, enclosed limousine.

The 15-inch wheels were another change from the stock Continental, which normally rode on 9.00 x 14-inch tires. Special heavy-duty tires were used. A trip to the parts shelves produced the Continental Mark II wheel covers, which had also been on 15-inch rims. On the front bumper, two custom-built chrome pods were added, each containing flashing red lamps. Spotlights were mounted on the windshield pillars and flag stanchions with mini spotlights placed on the leading edges of the front fenders. A rear-mounted spare tire holder was fashioned, and the rear bumper was replaced with step plates on either side for Secret Service personnel. Concealed in the deck lid were retractable grab handles for security people on the back. There were also provisions made for mounting running boards along the side of the car for additional security.

Shown in its original form when first delivered to the
White House, the X-100 Lincoln parade car has the 1961
grille, Continental Mark II wheel covers and the Plexiglas
top in place with the protective cover over the rear portion
of the passenger compartment.

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The interior saw a number of alterations, including a rear seat-mounted AM radio, special two-way radios in both the front and rear compartments and, for open-top parades, the rear seat could be raised up to six inches.

Soon after its delivery to the White House in February 1961, a few quirks in X-100 appeared. According to retired Ford public relations man Calvin Beauregard who was often in charge of the X-100 and other VIP fleet vehicles loaned out by the company, one of the biggest problems was the frequent loss of the Mark II wheel covers. These days, collectors have been known to pay as much as $500 each for these hand-assembled items, but even in 1961, they were expensive.

There were a number of other small details that President Kennedy and his staff didn’t like about the car in its initial form, and in the fall of 1961 it was sent back to Hess & Eisenhardt for revisions.

A list of a dozen items were presented to the company in September 1961. These included re-working the center body pillar to facilitate the full removal of the upper glass frame and pillars; re-working the cross-bars to make this conversion quick and simple; total removal of the partition between the driver and passenger compartments; construction of new front seat backing to fill in the area left by the partition removal; creation and installation of grab handles on the top of the front seat (to help steady the VIPs as they waved during a motorcade); re-working the rear seat to make it more comfortable and the installation of Ensulite pads (Kennedy had a bad back due to injuries received during World War II); addition of fillers to the rear floor to eliminate the drive-shaft hump; creation of a portable armrest, specifically filled with sea-sand and trimmed in leather; design and installation of robe-straps for the rear side door pockets; installation of an updated 1962 front grille and bumper assembly; re-working of the red lamp assemblies to the new bumper; and a general clean-up of the sheet metal, as required.

The cost estimate of cost for this job by Hess & Eisenhardt was set at $4,000, which was picked up by the Ford Motor Co. Several other tasks were also performed, including re-working the flag brackets, re-doing the canvas cover for the “bubble top” to include a smaller limousine-sized rear window and solving a perplexing problem with the left rear door glass, which was getting scratched whenever it was raised and lowered.

These were items that just couldn’t go unchecked with the car that was carrying the president of the United States. It was also during this re-work that the original Mark II wheel covers were replaced with those from the 1956 Lincoln Premiere. These are the covers the car was wearing on that fateful day in Dallas.

While the X-100 car had left the Wixom assembly plant in Presidential Black, it was first delivered to the White House in a dark blue, which would later be referred to as “Presidential Blue.” Surprisingly, there were very few security additions to the car when it was originally delivered. It had no bullet-proof glass, no armor plating, and while the tires were of a specially created “run-flat” design, they were not bullet-proof.

After Nov. 22, 1963, the X-100 Lincoln was whisked back to Washington, D.C. There, items that were considered evidence in the assassination, were removed, including the rear seat soft trim and the windshield. Reportedly, Henry Ford II contacted President Johnson and offered to have a new limousine constructed. For whatever reason, Johnson dictated that the X-100 be sent back to Hess & Eisenhardt and re-worked into an enclosed limousine suitable for presidential needs.

On a rush order taking just a few months and nicknamed the “Quick-Fix,” the car was modified and returned to the White House fleet by the spring of 1964. Weighing over two tons more than when it had served Kennedy, the car now sported an entirely enclosed passenger compartment. The partition between the driver’s area and the back seats was also returned. All-new “transparent armor” (or bullet-resistant glass) was installed in the windshield, side glass and over the rear portion of the back compartment. A center section was designed to be removed, should the VIP decide to stand and be visible to the crowds.

The interior was finished in pleated black leather, while the back was in a tasteful combination of navy and silver leathers. A trunk-mounted air-conditioning system was added for the rear compartment and a specially prepared Lincoln V-8 was installed under the hood. When first delivered, X-100 retained the 1962-style grille and the 1956 Lincoln wheelcovers.

To the rear, the deck-mounted grab handles were now permanent fixtures, and the removable running boards were replaced by retractable step plates. While the new X-100 configuration had a permanently enclosed, glass-covered passenger compartment, a new removable fabric top was designed to go over the top panels, and if desired, even block off the rear pane of side glass behind the back door.

The car was used extensively by President Johnson during his 1964 presidential campaign. Shortly after his landslide victory, it was again returned to Hess & Eisenhardt for a few more tweaks, including the addition of 1965 Lincoln-style wheel covers (with the regular production cars having gone from 14- to 15-inch wheels). Also, the replacement of the original tail lamps (used in production from 1961 to 1964) with the 1965-style units, which had chrome bars protecting the red lenses.

After his election in 1964, Johnson used the car sparingly, but a number of other government officials and visiting dignitaries were transported in the car, which Ford Motor Co. continued to own and maintain. In 1967, and again in 1968, the car was re-worked with improvements that included making the new center glass panel open. Richard Nixon used this open panel on a number of occasions during his term in office. Even after a new 1972-based replacement Lincoln presidential limousine was delivered in 1973, X-100 was kept in the White House fleet and went on to see service in both the Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter administrations. After 16 years of use, X-100 was withdrawn from service and donated to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich.There, it would eventually be displayed with several other presidential vehicles, including the 1939-’42 Sunshine Special and the original 1950 “bubble top” parade cars.

As America is about to seat its 44th president, a number of pundits have referred to the upcoming Obama era as the second rendition of “Camelot” in the White House. The first version of Camelot, of course, was during the John F. Kennedy administration, which began in January 1961 and ended all too tragically on Nov. 22, 1963, when an assassin’s bullet found its mark in Dallas.

During the 1960 presidential campaign, Henry Ford II had been a major supporter of the young senator from Massachusetts. The two had much in common. Besides Ford’s own leaning toward the Democrat party, the men shared the Catholic faith and were about the same age; they may have even crossed paths in their youth, as both had served the U.S. Navy during World War II and both had come from very well-to-do families.

One of the first contributions to the Kennedy administration from Ford Motor Co. had not been a car, but rather a person — Robert S. McNamara who, in the fall of 1960, became president of the company. Tapped for his outstanding thought processes and contributions during World War II, McNamara was eventually appointed by JFK as Secretary of Defense. Although some of his later decisions, especially in regards to America’s involvement in Vietnam, have been criticized, he was, and still is, a brilliant man.

For car collectors, however, the biggest contribution that Ford made to the JFK administration was a big, beautiful Lincoln Continental parade car.

‘Bubble top’ affair
Even before the election had taken place, the decision to provide the White House with a new parade vehicle had been made. Ever since the 1939 “Sunshine Special” Lincoln parade touring car built for Franklin Roosevelt, these big cars had played an important part in official functions, motorcades and affairs of state. In 1950, the Sunshine Special was retired and returned to Ford Motor Co. to be replaced by a new one-off, extended-wheelbase convertible sedan produced by Derham coachbuilders.

This second car featured a removable “bubble top” made of Plexiglas that allowed the occupants to be seen by crowds during inclement weather. The car was delivered during the Truman administration, and it is said that he liked going fast in it and would often order his drivers to “speed it up.” There are photos showing Truman sitting alone in the back seat, zipping along at high speed and wearing a smile from ear to ear.

The ‘X-247’ sedan

Several other Lincolns were in the White House fleet during the Johnson administration, including a custom-built 1962 “bubble top” car. Like the X-100, this car was given special treatment by Hess & Eisenhardt, but it started life as a base four-door sedan.

Given the code number X-247, this vehicle was fitted with a permanent Plexiglas “bubble top,” given a very slight stretch, fitted with a partition, rear-seat air conditioning and even its own AM radio. When Johnson’s daughter, Lucy, was married, the car was used in the wedding procession, carrying the bride-to-be from the White House to the chapel. Out at Johnson’s ranch in Texas, Ford Motor Co. was reported to have kept a constant flow of Lincoln convertibles at the ready for the president’s personal use and, in 1968, the company added a custom-built limousine from Lehmann-Peterson — the firm that had created the first factory-promoted stretch limo program in conjunction with Ford.

Reportedly, Johnson believed these cars should not only provide quality transportation on the road, but also off-road when he needed to pursue a stray calf or round up a herd of Texas longhorns. These tales reportedly kept the local Lincoln-Mercury dealership plenty busy, carrying out the repairs to the suspension and engines when the cars had been in the hands of the president.

The fate of presidential Lincolns
X-100 is still on display today at The Henry Ford Museum, in the same configuration as when it was retired in 1977. The 1962 X-247 “bubble top” car is in the private collection of John O’Quinn in Houston, but was, for many years, a part of the Presidential Cars Exhibition of the Auto Collections at the Imperial Palace in Las Vegas. Several of the Lincoln convertibles used by Johnson on his ranch, as well as the 1968 Lehmann-Peterson limousine, are on display at the LBJ Library and Museum outside of Austin, Texas.

It was quite a legacy that Ford Motor Co. created in providing the ride for the most powerful men in the world. It is a saga that will no be repeated anytime soon. Since the 1990s, the cars that carry the president are not retained by the car company, but by the federal government.

Many retired cars are eventually destroyed in bomb, bullet and other forms of testing — all in the name of protecting the leader of the United States of America.

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