The US Government is shopping for a new set of wheels for the man or woman who succeeds President Barack Obama in January, 2017.
Bids from US carmakers to build the next tank-like limousine close on August 29 this year. The rules say only carmakers with their headquarters in the US can apply, which leaves bidding pretty much up to Ford and General Motors, although Chrysler – despite being now owned by Italy’s Fiat Group – is said to be working on a proposal.
Ford and GM have both competed for presidential limo contracts since the Secret Service insisted after Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941 that President Franklin D. Roosevelt get around in a bullet-proof car.
But the US Government actually didn’t have such a vehicle, so they ‘borrowed’ jailed gangster Al Capone’s 1928 armour-plated GM Cadillac Town Car. It had been confiscated by the government after Capone was convicted of tax evasion. “I hope Mr Capone won’t mind,” Roosevelt was reported to have said.
Roosevelt used the Capone car until he got his own tailor-made limo in 1942-43. It was a 1939 Ford Lincoln K-Series model called “Sunshine Special” and came with a siren, two-way radio, extra-wide running boards and grab handles for Secret Service agents, armor plating for the doors, inch-thick windows, and storage compartments for sub-machine guns.
Cadillac might have been the maker of choice for the past 20-odd years (Bill Clinton, George Bush Jnr, Obama), but the Lincoln brand has actually provided more presidential limos. The last Lincoln was a 1989 Town Car used by George Bush Snr.
President Obama’s seven-seat limo car went into service in 2008. It is known by the White House as ‘Cadillac One’ but nicknamed “The Beast,” mostly because it weighs eight tonnes and is often referred to as the ‘car that thinks it’s a tank.’ It’s 5.4m long and 1.8m high with doors as heavy as those of a Boeing 757 airplane, and powered by a 6.5-litre V8 turbo-diesel engine.
It is based partly on a model that is no longer sold: the Cadillac DTS. Really, it’s a Cadillac in name only, using tail-lights from the STS sedan, headlights from the Escalade, but sitting on chassis from the workhorse Chevrolet Kodiak truck.
Exact details are classified, but it is known to be packed with military-grade armour plating 12cm thick, an armoured leak-proof fuel tank, run-flat tyres with Kevlar lining, encrypted satellite phone system, a fully sealed cabin with its own oxygen supply, night vision cameras, tear gas cannons, advanced weapons, and medical equipment that includes a supply of the president’s blood type.
Obama originally wanted a limo with a hybrid drivetrain. The Secret Service said no, because they argued that it couldn’t produce enough power to move quickly in emergencies. Later, the president seemed to agree. He told an energy forum the reinforced limos “weigh twice or three times what an ordinary car weighs. So they just couldn’t get the performance, in terms of acceleration, using a hybrid engine.”
But US analysts say the real reason was the Secret Service feared the hybrid’s batteries could catch fire and cripple the presidential limo. That’s why they said no.