Of Presidents and their Cars


Sometimes we don’t think about why things are the way they are, we just accept them. For example, why, in a “car country” like the U.S., does neither the president nor the vice president drive on public roads? It’s not actually a law, that they can’t, but its official policy.

Perhaps the image that springs to mind is of a chauffeur ferrying the president about to important appointments–occasionally chatting with the POTUS about his day. In actual fact, the presidents’ drivers are part of their security team who is highly trained to take evasive action when necessary.

This all stemmed from the assassination of JFK. Even though the President wasn’t actually driving when that occurred, it reshaped how the secret service looked at threats during transport.

PresidentReaganLeaningonhisCJ8-700x469Still, a number of presidents find ways around the rule. Noted Jeep enthusiast, Ronald Regan drove a number of jeeps off-road, which some might think is more dangerous. He and Nancy bought a working 688-acre ranch in California to get away from the politics when he was governor and kept in through his Presidency. Hard to say if he did any stunt driving while acting, but he did get a vanity plate for the jeep that read, “Gipper.”

Which president sacrificed the biggest in terms of loving to drive? That depends on how you measure it. Donald Trump was certainly already accustomed to someone else doing the driving, however, he put the largest car collection of any President-Elect to garage until the end of his time in the White House. From a 1956 Rolls to a 2003 Merc all must remain in the garage. It’s a wonder why he wanted the job really.


On the bright side, traffic is no longer a problem. As you can imagine, the chief benefit of being a world leader is that your driver needn’t stop for a traffic light and even if things get really bad you can just go by helicopter instead.


Contrary to popular belief, there are several plains outfitted for the President, and whichever one he’s on becomes “Airforce One.” Likewise, whichever helicopter he takes is “Marine One.” The car equivalent is Limousine One, AKA the First Car, but it’s seldom called that. Most reporters and security personnel seem to refer to the main armored limousine containing the president by a codename, “The Beast.”

It kinds of make sense if you had a limousine that you wouldn’t drive it yourself, you’d hand over the keys to someone else. Perhaps doubly so if you’re running a nation 24/7.

Interestingly, with all the flags, etc. it still has Washington D.C. numbered plates. (Some national leaders don’t, the Queen of England for example.) This started in 2013 is most notable because the D.C. plates contain the Moto of Washington D.C. “Taxation without representation.” (The reference is to D.C. not having any representation in Congress but still paying federal taxes.)

Where is the car kept? Well, the 1910s were a tipping point in the car versus horse debate and the stables at the White House were converted into a garage at that time. Fear not, the President still has access to horses but they are kept elsewhere. Mostly though, the only time you’d see a presidential horse is at the swearing-in ceremony or at a president’s funeral; they have gone out of favor in recent years.

As most people know the Beast and its retinue of cars form what is known as “motorcade”. It should come as no surprise the term was coined by an automobile reporter in 1912 who worked for Arizona Republican. One of the vehicles in a presidential or vice-presidential motorcade is a Chevrolet Suburban, equipped with ECM (electronic countermeasures) to protects against guided attacks from a number of devices.

The Beast itself is highly customized by GMC, but most resembles a Cadillac. The Secret Service gives precise specs for the vehicle but obviously tells very little details about it. We are told it costs between $300,000 and $1.5 million. That’s a big range.

As of 2009, the weight increased drastically which necessitated higher capacity tires. Clearly visible to expert eyes are Goodyear Reginal RHS tires meant for trucks. Much of the weight comes from the armor plating and 5 inch thick, bulletproof glass.

The cabin is airtight against gas attacks, which creates some quirks. For example, there are no keyholes. The Passenger doors are opened via a method the Secret Service doesn’t disclose. Notice a theme here? Another quirk, the only window that rolls up or down is the drivers. Let’s hope it’s a powered window. Who wants to crank that puppy up and down?

rendering-of-new-presidential-limoThe Beast also contains fire extinguishers, 1st aid kits, and 2 pints of the blood in the Presidents type. But the best defense is a good offense, and the Beast’s offensive capabilities, include rocket-propelled grenades, a tear gas cannon, pump action shotguns, and infra-red smoke grenades. Okay, now I’m envious.

Finally, before you ask, yes the Beast Goes pretty much everywhere with the president. They have around 13 of them and they load them into c-130 aircraft even on trips to Asia.

It seems the Secret Service has responded adequately to the black eye they got from JFK’s assassination.


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