No other vehicle is as seared into the memory of a nation as the Lincoln limousine President John F. Kennedy rode in during his assassination on November 22, 1963, in Dallas.
In 1961, a short time into Kennedy’s presidency, the White House leased a specially-modified Lincoln Convertible built by the Ford Motor Company. The vehicle — codenamed the SS-100-X by the US Secret Service — came with added extras such as telephones, a retractable roof, flashing lights, standing platforms for security agents and — questionably, in hindsight — a hydraulic lift that raised the president’s seat so that he could be more easily seen.
It was by far the most expensive and sophisticated car built for a president but, impressive as it was, the SS-100-X did not have the armor plating and bulletproof glass that would soon become standard for presidential limousines.
The Kennedy limousine is one of the most famous vehicles in history, with countless documentaries, films and books devoted to what happened to its most famous passenger in 1963. Photos and vision of the limousine on that day have been examined, dissected, discussed and disputed for decades, but many people do not know what happened to the vehicle in the years that followed.
“A lot of people assume it was destroyed, or locked away in some warehouse never to be seen again,” said Matt Anderson, transport curator at the Henry Ford Museum.
After the assassination, and still covered in blood, the SS-100-X was flown from Dallas back to Washington DC, where it was stored in the White House garage and searched for evidence by the FBI.
Lyndon B Johnson was sworn in as president and one of the biggest criminal investigations in history began.
It would have been well down his list of priorities given the recent events, but the new president found himself without an official limousine — certainly without one that met appropriate security standards given the events in Dallas.
“It was a simple matter of expediency — the president needed a parade car, and it was much faster to rebuild the existing car than to build something from scratch,” explained Anderson.
So, the decision was made to refit the SS-100-X. This was considered the quickest and most cost-effective solution, earning it the nickname The Quick Fix.
The vehicle was sent to the Hess & Eisenhardt company, which specialized in making armored vehicles, and was stripped back to its bare bones before being modified. Titanium plating was added to the body, along with a bulletproof roof and windows, and flat-proof tyres. It was also fitted with an air-filtration system to protect against chemical attack.
However, Lyndon B. Johnson must have had at least some qualms about the vehicle because he had it painted black, not wanting anyone to recognize his presidential limo as being “that” presidential limo.
“Johnson took one look and ordered that the car be repainted in black,” Anderson said. “He thought the blue was too associated with President Kennedy and the assassination.”
After a repaint, the limousine was returned to the White House in May, 1964, six months after JFK’s assassination. President Johnson was said to have been extremely uncomfortable about riding in the infamous limousine, for obvious reasons, but used it as his official car until 1968.
The SS-100-X clocked up tens of thousands of kilometers on the road in the service of the White House, and even more air miles on many overseas trips.
But, even when Johnson commissioned a new limousine, which came into service in 1968, that was not the end of road for the iconic car. The vehicle stayed in service at the White House until the late 1970s and — although no longer the main presidential limousine — was occasionally used by presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter.
“People are surprised to learn that it was rebuilt and used for another 14 years following the Kennedy assassination,” Anderson said.
After the White House stopped leasing the SS-100-X in 1978, it was returned to the Ford Motor Company and now sits in the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.