The West Wing Wheels: Ronald Reagan
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.”
Ronald Reagan: 40th President of the United States (1981-1989)
Scores of Republicans consider Ronald Reagan, the Great Communicator, to be our greatest president, thanks in part to his innovative policies. However, much like Optimus Prime, another hero worshiped by people during the 1980s, there is more to Reagan than meets the eye, especially when it comes to automobiles. You see, conservative leader Ronald Reagan not only helped pave the way to the modern electric car, but he also secretly test drove a Japanese vehicle.
Before he was President of the United States, Reagan was the governor of California. Actor-turned-politician Ronald Reagan was governor years before actor-turned-politician Arnold Schwarzenegger ever was. During his term as California’s governor, Reagan signed legislation that created the California Air Resources Board, or CARB for short.
CARB went on to create the Zero Emissions Vehicle, or ZEV, mandate. The ZEV mandate served as a prime motivation to create and sell electric vehicles. So President Reagan and President Taft have something in common when it comes to electric vehicles.
When Reagan left his position as California governor to run for president, he did so at a time when Japanese vehicles were unpopular. As in “damage your political career if you were seen in one” levels of unpopular! There was a huge backlash against Japanese automakers in the United States.
That didn’t stop the Subaru BRAT from catching the eye of the presidential hopeful. The Subaru BRAT was a four-wheel coupe utility vehicle. Adapted from the Subaru station wagon, the BRAT was a hybrid of a car and a pickup. The quirky vehicle had some great kick to it, an aspect that was attractive to ranch-owner Reagan.
Richard V. Allen, who would later serve as National Security Adviser when Reagan eventually became president, arranged for a BRAT to be given to the Gipper. At the time, Subaru was testing the endurance of the BRAT. Allen got into contact with the company and said that his friend Reagan owned a ranch, and that Subaru could see how long the vehicle worked for him.
With that, Reagan obtained his own fire-engine red Subaru BRAT. There was, however, one condition. Reagan needed to issue a report on its performance every six months, making the future president a test driver of sorts.
Even though he owned the BRAT, Reagan couldn’t exactly parade it around due to the unpopularity of an American politician driving a Japanese car. The vehicle stayed on his ranch, the Rancho del Cielo, and out of the limelight. Even after Reagan took office, his ranch caretaker Lee Clearwater used the Subaru BRAT for ranch work. The BRAT still resides on the ranch to this day.
When choosing a ride in which the president could be seen in public, a more American vehicle was the answer. How much more American can you get than an Army Jeep?
Reagan’s beloved wife Nancy gave him the Jeep in the late 1970s. The 1952 Army Jeep was a surplus vehicle from the US Army. The Gipper used the Jeep as another work vehicle for his ranch.
From secretly-driven Japanese cars to retired US Army vehicles, Ronald Reagan may have had one of the most diverse collections of automobiles of any president. However, I still think it would have been cooler if he had actually ridden around on a velociraptor.
We’re in the home stretch now, people! There are only two more installments of “The West Wing Wheels”. In the next article, we take a smooth ride with President Bill Clinton. If that doesn’t match your speed, perhaps a more hectic ride with Richard Nixon will do.
- 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.