The West Wing Wheels: Lyndon B. Johnson
Drive down Pennsylvania Avenue with the United States Presidents in this 10-part series
From Lincoln to Ford, the United States automotive industry has been greatly affected by the Presidents of the United States. Pardon the pun. However, cars have also had a profound impact on the presidents themselves. As the most powerful person in the country, the President of the United States needs a powerful set of wheels to get around. Each president of the 20th and 21st century possessed his own fleet of personal vehicles.
Over the years, the United States Presidents have owned some very interesting automobiles. From a 20th century electric car, to a car that drove on water, presidential cars are among the most cool and quirky in our country’s extensive history. In this installment of The News Wheel, I will examine the presidential vehicles of 10 of our country’s most famous and infamous leaders. So let’s explore the personal cars of the Commander in Chief with “The West Wing Wheels.”
Lyndon B. Johnson: 36th President of the United States (1963-1969)
The previous installment of “The West Wing Wheels” ended on a somber note with the death of John F. Kennedy.
JFK was assassinated while riding in the presidential 1961 Lincoln Continental. Such horrific circumstances would have led to the retirement of most vehicles. However, JFK was not the last president to use the Continental. The vehicle that Kennedy was killed in was used by not one, not two, but three more presidents after his death. But why?
The answer is simple: the Continental was just too expensive not to use again.
At a base price, the vehicle was sold at $7,300. That was before Hess & Eisenhardt modified it. After the features were added, the car’s total price was valued at $200,000. Adjusted for inflation, that is the equivalent of $1.5 million today.
Time was another constraint. At the time, the construction of a brand new armored vehicle for the president would have taken years to complete. The president couldn’t go driving around unprotected while they waited. So it was decided that modifying the SS-100-X was the best option.
President Lyndon B. Johnson was only one car behind Kennedy in the motorcade the day of the assassination. He saw the whole thing happen, and he saw it happen in the 1961 Lincoln Continental. Throughout his presidency, Johnson was reluctant to ride in the Continental and was uneasy around the vehicle.
He wasn’t the only one. According to rumors, JFK’s Lincoln Continental is haunted. There have been reports of dark apparitions appearing near the car.
Johnson was less concerned about ghosts and more concerned about bullets. Therefore, the Continental was sent back to Hess & Eisenhardt for further modifications. Codenamed “Project D-2,” the remodeling included a permanent top and bulletproof armored plating lining the entire limo. As a final touch, the midnight blue continental was painted black, a personal request by President Johnson. The new modifications increased the value of the vehicle to an astounding $500,000.
After Johnson, the SS-100-X was used by President Nixon and President Ford. It was eventually retired in 1977, and it now resides at the Henry Ford Mueseum in Michigan.
LBJ obviously didn’t like the Continental. He preferred another vehicle in his personal fleet much more. After all, this car could drive on the water.
President Johnson owned a Lagoon Blue Amphicar, a German vehicle that was as much at home in the water as it was on land.
Built between 1961 and 1968, only 3,878 of these unique vehicles were ever produced. They came in four colors: Beach White, Regatta Red, Lagoon Blue, and Fjord Green (known to the rest of the world as Aqua). The Amphicar is the only civilian amphibious vehicle ever mass produced and sold on the market.
This amphibian vehicle looked like any other ugly car on land. However, once it hit the water, it became an ugly car that could float.
LBJ took advantage of the deceptive vehicle to play pranks on his guests. That’s right, stoic President Johnson was actually a prankster at heart. Johnson would drive them around in his car for a leisurely afternoon ride. Johnson would then act as if the brakes had malfunctioned. The vehicle would drive straight into the lake.
As terrified victims of Johnson’s clever ploy scrambled to get out of the car, the president would suddenly roar with laughter as the Amphicar floated on the lake’s surface. Joseph A Califano Jr., Johnson’s special assistant for domestic affairs, was one of the prank’s victims. After the president pulled the practical joke on him, Califano recalled LBJ saying, “Vicky, did you see what Joe did? He didn’t give a damn about his President. He just wanted to save his own skin and get out of the car.”
When it comes to presidents, Johnson is the one who docks! Get it? Because Bryan Cranston recently played Johnson on Broadway?
Yeah, I’ll just stick to writing about weird presidential vehicles.
That concludes part 6 of this 10-part series. In part 7 of “The West Wing Wheels,” we’ll take a look at Slick Rick Nixon and his fleet of vehicles. If you want to know more about the SS-100-X 1961 Lincoln Continental, check out the last installment about JFK. Make sure to celebrate the presidents and all of their weird vehicles this Fourth of July! Have a great holiday.
- Zachary Berry
Zachary Berry is a student studying Strategic Communication at Ohio University. So basically advertising and public relations writing. That means he's basically Don Draper, only with a lot less women and booze. Hailing from Oklahoma City, his family proceeded to move to Dayton, then move to Albuquerque, where he did not partake in any meth production, and finally head back to good old Dayton. That's the life of a military kid. Since he had to travel so much, Zachary got used to it, and even enjoys exploring new places. If you couldn't tell by the pop culture references, Zachary also enjoys watching and reviewing movies and television. As the Creative Writing Intern for The News Wheel, Zachary is eager to earn his place among the greats of The News Wheel, and one day wishes to write about a banana car himself. See more articles by Zachary.