Friday, August 24, 2012

THE "SS 100-X" LINCOLN CONTINENTAL

Some of my favorite cars ever made were “one offs,” cars that either were taken off the assembly line and redesigned to such a uniqueness that not another one was ever built or a car that was built from the ground up and an additional one was never made. Prototypes usually go through this but most of these kinds of cars are usually scrapped or if that unique, are placed in a museum. One-offs and prototypes both share a commonality in that even though not that many exist, they are usually trailblazers either in design cues for what the manufacturers have in store for us in the future if not for their historical contribution. One such car of significance was not just the 1961 Lincoln Continental, but the 1961 Lincoln Continental Presidential Parade Car dubbed as the “SS 100-X.” This was the car that was commissioned into US Secret Service duty during John F. Kennedy’s Administration as the president’s state car, and upon its debut as it became known as “the Kennedy Lincoln.” Unfortunately it also gained notorious fame as the car in which President Kennedy was murdered two years later in 1963.
At the North Portico of the White House, March 1961 as the USSS introduce to the White House Press Corps President Kennedy's new limousine, the 1961 Lincoln Continental Presidential Parade Car, dubbed by the USSS as the "SS 100-X." As much as I know about this car I never could find out why it was called the "100-X."
The 100-X standing by on the north side of the White House in one of its different bubble top glass configurations, as it had more than one type of roof before the assassination.
Just before Robert McNamara walked out the door as Ford’s CEO to become President-elect Kennedy’s Secretary of Defense, and just before Elwood Engel also left as design chief at Ford before heading to Chrysler, both in 1961, McNamara put Engel in charge of designing a car that would turn Ford’s fortunes around after successive years of failure. The Ford Edsel project of 1958 proved to be a disaster, and the late 1950’s Lincolns and Continentals were proving not to be the hotcakes compared to what Cadillac was spinning out just before Harley Earl was winding down his career as design chief over at GM. Looking back at automotive history, do you ever remember a 1959 Lincoln catching anyone’s eye as opposed to a 1959 Cadillac Fleetwood, fins and all? That was the problem facing Ford, and they needed a car that was going to be a trailblazer and a hot seller, so they gambled their money on Engel’s eventual iconic award winning design that initially had its sights on becoming a Ford Thunderbird. But by 1961 the Ford Division felt that the Thunderbird was becoming too big as it already was as it originally was supposed to compete with the Chevrolet Corvette, which by then Ford had given up as the ‘Vette competitor as the Chevy had already surpassed the T-bird to its own iconic status. The new Thunderbird was becoming a “personal sized luxury car,” but Engel’s design with an additional two doors was perhaps a bit too much, so the Ford Division rejected Engel’s flat angular squared-off design as a new Thunderbird. McNamara, the utilitarian he was whether it was about rockets, jets, tanks, or cars (one product for many divisions or service branches), wasn’t having it, so after spending all that money on product development he announced at an executive committee meeting just before he left Ford that somebody was going to manufacture and sell the car no matter what. Lincoln was left holding the bag, and the iconic 1961 Lincoln Continental was born. As a good measure just before he walked out the door at Ford to head for Washington, he called the Wixom assembly plant in Michigan to have a ’61 drop top unit pulled off the assembly line after completion and shipped to Ohio to be cut up, coached, and used as President Kennedy’s new state car. This is where the SS 100-X was born.
A stock 1961 Lincoln Continental.
The 100-X in its early days of service in one of its bubble top configurations.

The 100-X in its steel top confuration. None of these tops were bullet proof before the assassination. In fact they were done away with as per Warren Comission guidelines in lieu of a permanent hardened ballistic steel roof with the largest bullet proof glass panel currently in its present configuration at the Ford Museum. (See further below).
From taking a $7400 top of the line Lincoln convertible, Ford and the Secret Service shipped the car to Cincinnati Ohio to the coaching house of Hess and Eisenhardt who once specialized in creating and modifying automobiles into security vehicles to have the car heavily modified for presidential use, though initially the car wasn’t “hardened” or modified for ballistic protection. The $200,000 car was lengthened two feet longer, further reinforced to prevent convertible undercarriage body flex, and had a myriad of additional grab-handles and steps added for Secret Service agents to use while riding alongside the car. A hand assembled 430 cu. in. 350 horsepower V-8 engine was added. The most unique feature of the car was its assortment of different glass and stainless steel removable tops, all not bullet-proof, but that could be used in all sorts of processions and motorcades under varying weather conditions. The car was given a front grille refresh in 1962. One of the flaws of the design was that since the car was so large and long with all that glass overhead, the car would become a greenhouse in the sun or warm weather with its wimpy stock air-conditioning unit that only blew in the front of the car, suffocating passengers in the back, especially when the glass partition was up for private conversations. President Kennedy and his passengers would often complain about this problem for him to frequently insist when traveling to have the top down, as he did on that warm sunny day on November 22, 1963 in Dallas.
But as the Kennedy Administration chugged along though the early 60’s the SS 100-X became closely associated as Kennedy’s car. It went with him just about everywhere around the world, even to the Berlin Wall where he gave his famous “Ich Bin Ein Berliner” speech. The car was also loaded onto to a transport plane in late November 1963 for his political fence mending trip to meet Texas Democratic Party leaders with him and Vice President LBJ in Dallas and Forth Worth. One of the special features of the car that probably assisted the gunman in killing Kennedy was a hydraulic lift that was fitted into the rear seat of the car that when lifted made the back seat more visible as the car drove by. This combined with the back brace the president wore for his ailing back that gave him a stout posture, made him an easier target for a sniper.
You would think after President Kennedy’s assassination that a blood, brain, and skull-splattered car would be cleaned up, decommissioned, retired, and placed into a museum as an exhibit for the ages. That’s what they did to President Lincoln’s bedroom at Petersen House across the street from Ford’s Theater after he was assassinated at it is now enshrined forever. For some reason, Warren Commission and all, only the bullet riddled windshield of the 100-X made it to the National Archives and the car was unbelievably sent back to Hess and Eisenhardt for what was called “the Quick Fix.”  The car was rebuilt from the ground up and finally given titanium ballistic armored plating. This would be the last car a President of the United States would ever ride with an open roof, as using a state car like the old “Lincoln Sunshine Special” from the Roosevelt Days was finally over. They affixed what was at the time the largest piece of bulletproof glass anywhere in the world into a new steel roof that was permanently attached and hardened against attack. The gas tank was hardened to prevent puncture or explosion. The first run flat tires were added to a presidential car, probably any car anywhere in the world, as the rims were replaced with aluminum to keep the car running in case of a code black (attack on the motorcade) or code red (attack on the president). The president could now never roll down a window to talk to someone to instead use a PA system installed in the car to speak to the crowd with a microphone. Many new features that were added to the "Quick Fix" were progenitors to what is currently on President Obama's state car, a 2009 GMC Topkick heavy duty truck that has been specially modified to look like a 2009 Cadillac sedan, another "one-off" special security vehicle that is another one of my favorites. 
At GM's Hamtramck Plant in Michigan, their special vehicles division is able to convert a 2009 GMC Topkick Heavy Duty Truck (above) and make something special like the next two pictures below, a heavily armored car that looks like a late model Cadillac sedan. GM in fact makes no such car for production like President Obama's limousine, although it does look like a Cadillac.

Thanks to the 100-X many of its security features were inherited into President Obama's limousine, the 2009 Cadillac Presidential State Car, which is actually a heavy duty truck modified to look like a Cadillac. If you carefully look at the size of the tires compared to the Secret Service Agents, you can see that this is a huge car.

LBJ never liked the stock midnight blue the car came with from Wixom, it reminded him too much of JFK's identity to the car and was afraid the car would be dubbed “the JFK Assassination Car,” which is exactly what happened by the press when the car was returned to the White House Garage for service in early 1964. He ordered the car back to Hess and Eisenhardt to have it repainted Earl Scheib style (sans the door jams, trunk and hood wells) the standard funeral black, which remained the official presidential state car color ever since. The car was finally fully repainted after every presidential turn over of administrations to cover dents and dings until the car was decommissioned from Presidential service during the Carter Administration in 1977. Most importantly, the “Quick-Fix” also included a separate air-conditioning unit that was added in the trunk that would cool the back seat passengers. Too little, too late, but timing is everything. How prolific that Presidents Johnson, Nixon, Ford, and Carter sat in the same car and seat that President Kennedy did when he was murdered, whether they realized it or not.
The SS 100-X on permanent display at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, MI. The bullet proof glass panel over the rear passengers' heads and slopes down behind the back seat where the president would normally sit seen here (above) was once the largest piece in the world. It was also the heaviest at almost 1000 lbs.
If you notice in the above picture the rusted paint on the door in front of the side view mirror is the Wixom midnight blue that was the original color of the car that was never painted over. There is a growing chorus of history buffs that are calling for the car to be restored back to its original livery of 1961 when the car first entered service during the Kennedy Administration, just as the car looked when JFK was assassinated while sitting in this car.
Notice that after several years of a grille refresh the car stayed in its permanent livery of having a 1962 grille until its retirement in 1977. The Lincoln star crucifix on the hood was also removed as well, probably either as a precaution or from its many re-paintings.
After 50,000 ground and one million air miles of presidential service, the car remains for the ages on exhibit at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn as an iconic piece of history not just for its occupants, most notoriously its first one, but also as a showcase representative of what would become the quintessential styling cue of the Lincoln Continental brand, from the angular gait of the body and crucifix star hood ornament, to the spare tire on the outside of the trunk to the suicide doors, and all. As 2011 celebrated the 50th anniversary of the commissioning of the 100-X, this year in 2013 will somberly commemorate the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy's assassination while he was riding inside the 100-X. Besides the fact that the 100-X is a security vehicle which I identify with in my line of work in the security business, the Lincoln Continental convertible is one of my favorite cars and the SS 100-X is the best example of that genre of automobiles. As the commercials used to say, Cadillac might be “the standard for the world,” but a Lincoln is “what a luxury car should be,” especially when it comes to a "Kennedy Lincoln."
The "X" on the ground is the exact spot that was the JFK fatal head shot as he was driving by in Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas, November 22, 1963. One of the tours around Dealey Plaza features a replica of the SS 100-X that you see here that tourists can ride in to recreate the event.



--> EDITORS NOTE: In a previous version of this story I incorrectly stated there were two front grille refreshes done to the car when in fact there was only one. This wouldn't preclude any replacement grilles done when the car was repainted many times. When President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963 there was a 1962 grille on the car. The present front grille on the car as displayed in the Ford Museum has a 1962 grille. Please pardon the confusion. Thank you to the Lincoln aficionados out there who caught the tech faux pax; you really know your Lincolns. -AC 9/22/2014


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10 comments:

  1. Here is a link that shows the Secret Service Convertible Limousine I got to look inside of. I wonder where it is now? http://www.cadillacdatabase.org/Dbas_txt/prof8084.htm

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  2. Thanks for the link, it's a great website. I see that they have pictures of a 1984 Cadillac Fleetwood Presidential State Car that was used by President Reagan during his administration. This car like President Kennedy's was also cut up and coached by Hess and Eisenhardt. President Reagan's armored Cadillac is on display at the Reagan Library.

    FYI: the 1972 Lincoln Continental that President Reagan was shoved into after he was shot in 1981 is also on display not far from President Kennedy's SS-100-X at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, MI. This car got a refresh to make it look like a 1975 Lincoln Continental Town Car.

    The convertible limo you refer to that's also pictured on that site you gave us was in fact a presidential parade car with a convertible top. It was also delivered as a 1984 Cadillac at the same time as the two other armored Reagan limos pictured, but I don't think the USSS ever used the car to actually transport POTUS for obvious reasons, at least with the top down. It was probably used as a follow up car behind the president's car for Secret Service Agents. To use that car with the top down to transport POTUS would have been against the rules as per Warren Commission guidelines and the laws on the books as a result of the House Assassinations Committee investigations in the 1970's.

    I'm not exactly sure where this convertible topped car might be on display if in fact it was spared from the scrap pile, because that's where these cars would go unless a presidential library specifically requests that they want the car for display. For security reasons the USSS doesn't like retiring its assets to museums as they feel that classified features will be compromised to the public. In fact they've said no more POTUS limos to museums: they will be from now on after retirement scrapped. President Obama's limo "the Beast" most likely will see this fate . . .

    If anyone knows anything about this convertible or where it is please let us know.

    This week marks the 50th anniversary of JFK's assassination.

    Thanks again for the link.

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  3. During the Presidential election that President Ford lost he came to San Diego one night for an event at Westgate Hotel. After I talked my way into the lobby with my mother and little sister we were soon found out and sent packing. So I walked the three of us to the special garage entrance that had been part of the relatively new Hotels design for specifically for Presidential visits. We actually got in! We were allowed to sit in the Presidential limousine. We then got to examine the Secret Service Cadillac follow up car. It was completely open limousine so it was easy to look inside of it. I have still never seen so many different kinds of rifles and guns as there were in that car. Now that car would be nice to find.

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    1. This is probably the same open convertible referred to in the last comment. If anyone knows anything about this car please let us know, thanks.

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  4. The SS 100-X was only refitted one time with a replacement upgrade front grill, and it was a new 1962 version. The photo you posted of the car in the current state it is in on display at the Henry Ford Museum shows very plainly that that exact same '62 style grill is still in place on the vehicle. Here is the web address for the page on SuicideLincolns.com which is displays a prominent photo of that style of grill: http://suicidelincolns.com/1962.html Then for comparative purposes here their webpage for the 1964 model containing a prominent photo of that style of grill: http://suicidelincolns.com/1964.html However, that so-called "Quick Fix" as it has always been referred to was indeed later fitted with '65 Lincoln Continental tail lights which are distinguished from '61's to '64's by their horizontal louvre-like chrome ribbing overlaying them from top to bottom.

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    1. Thank you for your comment. I see that you are a Lincoln aficionado. I double checked my sources to stand corrected.

      Because of you I now know how to spot the diff btw a '61, '62, '63, and '64.

      You are correct about the Quick FIx tail light replacement for '65. This probably happened when President Johnson sent the car back for one of it's re-paintings. I didn't mention that. My sources say however, there was only one replacement of the grille during the life of the car made in '61 and that replacement was for '62.

      I checked for myself: look at the car in the Ford Museum. The grille has the rectangular crates of a '62 grille. '63 and '64 are square with columns . . . The '62 grille was on the car in Dallas . . .

      I checked photos of the Quick Fix version to see none other than the '62 grille on the car. If anyone sees a grille of another year on this car other than '61 and '62 please let us know, as that will give significance to the history of this car.

      I edited the story to reflect this change and added an editor's note with my apologies. AC

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  5. On another topic, a little known fact which I recently came across is that in early 1963 the Kennedy White House commissioned Hess & Eisenhardt to produce a back up twin for the SS 100-X. Several color photos of that unit taken back in early October 2013 in preparation for its auction via the Europeon division of Bonhams are included with the Daily Mail UK article at the following web address:
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2441329/Drive-piece-American-history-Twin-car-limousine-JFK-shot-expected-fetch-150-000-auction.html

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    1. This is a gem. Thanks so much for the link. I tried looking on the Internet to see how much the car fetched at auction as the opening bid was expected around USD $200,000, ironically the original cost of the car in 1963 dollars.

      If anyone knows what happened to this car please let us know. AC

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  6. You were actually correct when you said TWO grille refreshes were done. The first was the almost immediate change from the 1961 to the 1962 Grille. After the assassination, the "dagmar" red lights in the bumper were removed and inserted where traditionally the high-beams are located.

    Unknown to many is that a SECOND TWIN convertible nearly identical to JFK's convertible was in production in 1963 and delivered to the White House after his death. It was never put into service and ended up in a private collection, auctioned by Bonhams in 2013.

    In all respects but two it was the 100x twin except (1) the rear doors were the shorter standard length with the mid section was lengthened, and (2) a small Presidential Seal was affixed on the center panel just aft of the rollbar.

    That the original car was so quickly spirited away within weeks and refitted is unjustifiable. It was a crime scene and might have given insight into solving the murder - which may be the reason it was dismantled so quickly.

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    1. Wow. Thank you so much to TheClassicCarFactory.com for your comment and for clarifying the 100-X grille refresh issue. BTW, love your site and blog. It is a strange but delightful small world that I have visited your site before when I had a client who owned classic cars and I tried to help him find a 1975-81 Mercedes 600 Pullman for sale.

      There is no doubt that what they did to the 100-X after the assassination helped fuel the conspiracy theories. I agree it was a silly and senseless decision. We never received an appropriate explanation as to why the car was not immediately put into a museum after it was no longer needed as evidence in a crime. The car was just taken away, stripped, hardened, reupholstered, and repainted as if something needed to be covered up. Then there is the gruesome factor: what passenger let alone a POTUS and FLOTUS would knowingly want to sit in a car that had a predecessor's brains literally splattered across the rear seat and floor? The car should have been retired to either the Ford or Smithsonian museums . . .

      Concerning the 100-X grille: the "dagmar" light change would seem obvious to most who notice the differences in the car after the assassination, but perhaps others are noting the change in the radiator grille itself that is the cause of this discrepancy you mention, I'm not exactly sure. But I do know that you are correct in your assertion of what I will call for these purposes a "front fascia" change to the car. Thank you so much for clarifying that.

      If I am not mistaken, I have seen YouTube coverage (don't forget the link above in the last comment) of the Bonhams 2013 sister to the 100-X and she too, is a beauty. In fact, if anyone is familiar with the subtle changes you mentioned, I don't know which car I love more (when of the course the 100-X was in its original Wixom blue livery before LBJ "The Quick Fix").

      Even though the White House took delivery of the sister Lincoln, I bet you LBJ had a hand in returning it. Think about it: if he had a problem with the first Wixom blue Lincoln being so closely identified with JFK (which became known as "the JFK assassination car"), I could only imagine what having two of the same colored car would have meant. He didn't have the original painted black just have another one with the same old color . . .

      I guess it's no secret here that I truly am fascinated by JFK's car; the fact it was a 1960's Lincoln convertible, and that it was JFK's. I am glad Hess and Eisenhardt coached the car, but I often wonder what Lehman Peterson would have done if they had a shot to coach something similar (I don't think they were around yet in 1961). Remember, Lehman Peterson coached hardtops, not the convertible, at least I've never seen a convertible one (please chime in if you have). That too, would have been one snazzy prez limo . . . AC

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Sgt. Al here. I welcome your comments, ideas, and suggestions. You have questions about the police, and I'm interested in hearing what you have to say as a citizen. Thanks!

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