Zachary Berry

The West Wing Wheels: Harry S. Truman

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Drive down Pennsylvania Avenue with the United States Presidents in this 10-part series

The West Wing Wheel

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.

Sorry George. Only real presidential vehicles.
Sorry George. Only real presidential 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 series, 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.”

Harry S. Truman: 33rd President of the United States (1945-1953)


During the entire span of World War II, automobile production came to a screeching halt. Major car companies such as General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler focused on the production of wartime assembly parts for tanks and planes instead. Only 139 brand new American cars were manufactured after America entered the war.

When Ford restarted production after World War II, they wanted to do something special with the first car off the assembly line, a Moonbeam gray 1946 Ford Super Deluxe Tudor, which would later become the most popular Ford vehicle for that year. When production on the vehicle was finally completed, Ford decided to present the Super Deluxe Tudor to President Harry Truman as a gift.

He never drove it.

No, Truman was more of a Chrysler fan. Make that a Chrysler fanatic, as nearly every vehicle he ever owned, from before his presidency until the day he died, was a Chrysler.

President Harry S. Truman's 1941 Chrysler Royal Coupe on display
Truman’s 1491 Chrysler Royal Coupe
Photo: artistmac via CC

Following his reelection as U.S. Senator from Missouri, Truman celebrated by buying not one, but two Chryslers. For his wife, he bought a 1941 Chrysler Windsor sedan. For himself, a 1941 Chrysler Royal club coupe. Because when you’re a U.S. Senator who just got reelected, you’ve got to treat yo’ self.

In order to pay for the twin vehicles, he traded in his old car for credit. And you won’t believe what his old car was… That’s right, a Chrysler! A 1940 Chrysler Royal to be exact. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

During his presidency, Truman sent off the Sunshine Special and replaced it with a 1950 Lincoln Cosmopolitan. I guess Chrysler didn’t have a bulletproof limo for the president. However, there is a story about why a Lincoln was chosen. Apparently, General Motors denied Truman a car for his Presidential reelection campaign. Feeling peeved, Truman selected Ford when it came time to pick a new presidential car. The Cosmopolitan was used all the way through Kennedy’s term.

Truman burned GM even better than he burned Dewey. Photo: Dave Winer
Truman burned GM even better than he burned Dewey
Photo: Dave Winer via CC

Eventually, it came time for Truman to say goodbye to the White House. What better way to go out than in a Chrysler? Truman and his wife Bess packed a brand new 1953 Chrysler New Yorker with their suitcases and drove back to Independence, Missouri.

This duo of travelers was not content with one long trip in their New Yorker. So they decided to take another one. In the summer of 1953, the Trumans loaded up the Chrysler once again and drove 2,500 miles from Missouri to the East Coast and back to Missouri. During their trip, the Trumans frequented cheap motels and roadside diners.

Harry Truman’s final car was a green 1972 Chrysler Newport. The former president asked for a special license plate that read “5745”, the date of VE day in Europe. He drove the Newport until the day he died (which wasn’t a very long time, considering he died six months later). Mrs. Truman proceeded to drive the vehicle until she died 10 years later. Margaret Truman, their daughter, donated the vehicle to the National Park Service, which also maintains the Truman house. Meanwhile, the twin 1941 Chryslers reside at the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum.

In all honesty, I’m a little surprised President Harry Truman didn’t issue an executive order declaring Chrysler as the National Automobile Brand.

In the next installment of “The West Wing Wheels,” we take a look at the cool cars of the coolest president, JFK. Or for another president known by three letters, FDR and his Sunshine Special are featured in the previous installment.


Source: Harry S. Truman Library and Museum, National Park Service, Curbside Classic, Harry Truman’s Excellent Adventure, History News Network, ForbesCARFAX, Esurance