A long stretch - 100 years of the state limousine
Last updated: 10/04/2019
Political leaders throughout history have always travelled in style, with their prefered vehicle reflecting the gravitas of their position. From Carthaginian General Hannibal Barca crossing the alps accompanied by an army of Elephants, to the British Royal family employing the 300-year-old Gold Stage Coach for grand state occasions, the mode of transport used helps to solidify the wealth and power weilded by the world's leaders.
In this article, I take a look at some of the more well-known limousines used by Heads of State in the last century.
1. 1922 Daimler TS State Limousine - King George V
The British Royal family favoured the Daimler marque from 1896. These cars were manufactured in Britain under licence from Daimler in Germany and it was not until the late 1940's that the Royal Family started to use Rolls Royces and Bentleys for official duties.
The 1922 Daimler TS 6.30 had a 6 cylinder, 5-litre engine, and was used King George V and Queen Mary. The car can be found on display at Autoworld in Brussels, and the interior is still upholstered in snakeskin from former British colonies in India.
2. 1939 Sunshine Special - Franklin Roosevelt
Franklin Roosevelt, the 32nd President of the US, nicknamed this Lincoln K-series the “Sunshine Special” because he loved riding with the top down.
The 12-cylinder Lincoln featured oversize rear-hinged rear doors to make it easier for the wheelchair-bound Roosevelt to enter and exit the car, and jump seats for passengers. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the Secret Service fortified it with an armored body, and a bullet-resistant tyres fuel tank and tyres for extra protection against potential assassination. The Sunshine Special was in use until 1950.
3. 1961 Lincoln Continental SS-100-X - John F. Kennedy
The last of the open-topped cars used by any U.S. president, the SS-100-X was a heavily modified 1961 Lincoln Continental four door convertible (Model 74A), best known as the car in which John F. Kennedy, 35th president of the United States, was assassinated on 22nd November 1963.
With a retail price of $7,347 (around $59,000 in 2017 prices) the Lincoln had a number of changes made and extras fitted, bringing it's total cost up to $200,000, or nearer to $3.8 million in 2017.
In late December 1963, after Kennedy's murder, the car was sent to be modified further, and was rebuilt from scratch. The Lincoln was equipped with titanium armor plating, bullet-resistant glass and a bulletproof permanent roof, having had no bulletproofing previously. The insides of the tyres were fitted with solid aluminium rims to make them flat-proof.
This iconic car remained in service for eight more years, clocking up 50,000 miles. The vehicle was equipped with a communications system including radio patch to the White House. The car was finally replaced in 1967, but remained in service completing less important duties until 1978, when it was retired to the Henry Ford Museum.
1995 Gold Rolls Royce Silver Spur - Sultan of Brunei
Brunei’s Royal Family certainly don’t do things by half. The Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah, has one of the world's biggest car collections, with an estimated value of more than $4 billion (£3 billion).
Out of more than 7,000 high performance and luxury vehicles, one of the more unusual cars in the collection is a custom-made Rolls Royce Silver Spur limousine.
Plated with 24 carat gold, this car is valued at an incredible $14 million (£10.5 million). Wheel caps and other parts of the car are also coated with ornamental gold designs to show off the Sultan's wealth.
The back seating area has an open top and canopy to shelter passengers from the blazing sun of this small equatorial country.
When one of the Sultan's sons, Prince Al-Muhtadee Billah, married in 2004 he took the stretch on a five-mile parade across Brunei's capital, Bandar Seri Begawan, accompanied by 103 further (presumably slightly less flash) limousines, and preceded by a marching band.
2002 Bentley State Limousine - Queen Elizabeth II
The Bentley State Limousine is an official state car created by Bentley for Queen Elizabeth II on her Golden Jubilee in 2002.
This luxurious limousine is mostly used on official engagements, and always has an escort of marked and unmarked Royal Protection Squad vehicles with local police and motorcycle outriders. When at Balmoral and Sandringham House, the Queen also uses the Bentley to travel to church.
Almost 3 foot longer than a standard Bentley Arnage, with 10 inches of extra height an 3 inches of width, this car can not be missed. Even at this size and extra weight, a twin-turbocharged, 6.75-litre V8 engine, modified from Bentley's Arnage R version, produces 400 bhp to give the car a maximum speed of 130mph.
The Bentley is equipped with broad coach doors that open to the rear almost 90 degrees. Opaque panels over the backlight of the car can be installed for either added privacy or removed for added visibility of its passengers.
While Bentley is seen as one of the most elegant marques, the Queen’s state car contains some features that take security to a new level. The bodywork and glass are armoured to provide protection for the Queen, and the cabin can be sealed air-tight to protect the car’s occupants in case of a gas attack. Further security features include Kevlar-reinforced tyres and a blast-proof cabin.
When the Queen is on board, the Bentley "Flying B" bonnet ornament is either replaced by the Queen's personal mascot of Saint George slaying the dragon or a single standing Lion.
2009 Cadillac One "The Beast" - Barrack Obama
Since JFK's assassination in the open-topped Lincoln, subsequent U.S. presidents started taking automotive security much more seriously. So much so, in fact, that only the Secret Service are privy to the closely guarded mechanics of opening the passenger doors on the current United States presidential state car (nicknamed "the Beast", for good reason).
Because of the secrecy surrounding all aspects of presidential security, the speculated weight of this unique Cadillac, which is built upon a medium-duty truck platform, is anywhere between 6,800 to 9,100kg - even at the lightest estimates this car is heavier than an adult male African Elephant.
This isn't surprising when we take a look at the defensive, offensive, and life-saving measures that have been built in at a cost of up to $1.5 million.
With 8-inch-thick doors and 5 inches of bulleproof glass, The Beast is built to withstand attack, and includes counter-measures to rocket propelled grenades and anti-tank missiles, including it's own RPG and multi-spectrum infrared smoke grenades.
Mohamed Zouikri, from Ruby Limousine Service adds the following:
"The nature of 'luxury' cars is constantly evolving - there was a time when just having a hood over the head of the passenger was considered luxurious.
Sometimes the luxury is outwardly exhibited; such as with John Lennon's famous 1965 Rolls Royce Phantom, complete with a television! But for others luxury, involves discretion and anonymity, as well as comfort and opulence.
We are fortunate to live in times when the level of luxury now provided by car manufacturers was previously undreamt of.
It is a perception that is constantly evolving with technology and design, but one thing is certain: you know luxury when you feel it."