It seems that there’s been a presidential election recently, and that tomorrow is the Presidential Inauguration? Why wasn’t the news covering this? This seems important. It also seems that tomorrow the newest version of the Beast, the custom-built Presidential Limousine-State Car will be revealed. That made me wonder about other Presidential Limousines, which led to the mess to follow.
Currently, General Motors has the contract to produce the Presidential Limousine, which is why the car is badged and made to appear like a Cadillac. In the past, Lincoln has had the contracts, and very early on a variety of makes were used, but for most of the 20th century and on, it’s been mostly GM/Cadillac or Ford/Lincoln, with a very occasional Chrysler.
That doesn’t mean other American carmakers haven’t tried to get the sweet plum of a Presidential Limo contract! While the specific requirements change year to year, any American automaker can submit a proposal.
Thanks to several FOIA requests and some bribes to get into one of the sheds behind the Department of Transportation building, I was able to look through all of the rejected proposals for the Presidential Limo. They were fascinating, and I picked the five most interesting to share with you.
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1. 1953 King Midget Custom for President Dwight D. Eisenhower
The King Midget company was pretty much America’s only microcar maker for decades, and was the smallest automaker ever to submit a proposal for a Presidential Limo.
Their limo, of which they built one prototype, was based on their Model 2, which boasted a 7.5 horsepower Wisconsin AENL engine. The proposal touted the cost savings of going with their much, much cheaper car, and the hope was that Eisenhower’s military experience would make him amenable to a very open car.
Eisenhower selected a Chrysler Imperial instead, citing concerns that he could “outrun” the King Midget.
2. 1974 AMC Gremlimo for President Gerald Ford
AMC was, as almost always, in financial trouble when they put together their prototype proposed Presidential Limo. Internally, there was much hope that they could win the contract, which would have allowed them to repair their commissary in their Southfield, Michigan headquarters which had been severely damaged in a flood.
Unfortunately, their hastily-constructed Gremlin-based limousine had severe body flex issues, and, if that wasn’t enough, it was discovered that the word “President” on the Presidential Seal decal applied to the door was spelled “Pepsodent.”
It may have been a prank or an honest mistake; nobody is really sure. The Gremlimo would likely have been rejected anyway, so it hardly matters.
3. 1977 Chevrolet Chevette Scooter for President Jimmy Carter
This one actually was selected, but wasn’t exactly used. In an effort to bring attention to the fuel crisis and to show that even the President was willing to cut corners in a down economy, Carter insisted that a very inexpensive car be used as his Presidential vehicle. He specified no limousines.
A Chevette was selected, based mostly on its low price. Carter insisted that the lowest trim Chevette, the Scooter, be purchased, even though it lacked a back seat and forced First Lady Rosalynn Carter to crouch awkwardly on the rear carpeted area, since President Carter rode shotgun next to his chauffeur.
Unfortunately, on Inauguration Day, the Chevette quit in the middle of the parade route. It was suspected that the low speed and cold, humid weather caused carburetor issues.
President Carter and the First Lady opted to leave the Chevette in the road and walk the remaining distance of the route. The car was eventually pushed to the side of the road by the Secret Service, and then the license plates were removed and the car was abandoned.
4. 1993 Saturn SL1 State Car for President Bill Clinton
Saturn’s proposal is unique for a number of reasons: it was proposed with a ‘no-haggle’ price, and it was the first Presidential Limousine to incorporate any sort of on-line internet capability.
While it retained Saturn’s trademark plastic bodywork and was, as a result, not armored or bulletproof, Saturn installed a system that would detect if the car was penetrated by gunfire, at which point it would activate an early radio-modem connected to a 386-based PC that would launch America Online, log on, and send a message to the Vice President’s AOL email requesting that he take over the office of the Presidency.
In the end, President Clinton decided he’d rather have a limousine that stopped bullets, a decision that was rumored to have caused strained relations with Vice President Al Gore.
5. 2001 Plymouth Prowler with Armored Presidential Trailer for President George W. Bush
Even though Chrysler was on the verge of closing down the Plymouth marque, it was decided that one last attempt could be made to keep the brand going, if they were able to secure the Presidential Limousine contract.
Lacking a conventionally suitable platform to work from, Plymouth designers decided to try a radical approach, using their dramatic Plymouth Prowler with a modified version of the Prowler Trailer sold through Plymouth dealers.
In the proposal, the trailer would be fitted with a single seat for the President, and would be armored. The proposal suggested that in the event of an attack, the trailer with the President could be “ditched” somewhere safe.
No actual prototypes were built, with Plymouth’s limited resources only permitting one kind of half-assed Photoshop mockup.
This was President George W. Bush’s favorite option, and he lobbied hard to have it selected, until Vice President Dick Cheney made it clear that there would be no Prowler Presidential Hot Rod and Trailer.