From the December 1987 issue of Car and Driver.
“Hon’, ever since that Cessna cut us off at the ranch, you know I don’t like riding in the chopper—and, well, you know how crowded these airways are and how those controllers can be so…uncontrollable. Let’s just go in the new limo.”
“That’s what I just suggested, dear…”
“Oh. Well, uh…I, uh…You did?”
So for the prez and the first missuz, it’s off to Camp David for a respite from politics and peccadilloes. Cruising in the most famous limo in the land should be a great way to wind down. We at C/D, however, feel compelled to investigate, probe, document, and lay buck-naked-to-the-bone the latest generation of the Presidential Limousine, as promoted by Cadillac.
Based on the virulently opulent Brougham d’Elegance, Cadillac’s limousine de presidente detours through the O’Gara Hess & Eisenhardt Armoring Company for a heavy haute couture treatment of its coachwork on its way to the White House motor pool. Jack Kennedy’s bachelor party was about the last time anybody revealed a body and a frame that weren’t unitized, but the big Brougham survives in this era of unibody building as an example of old-school car construction. Messrs. O’Gara, Hess, and Eisenhardt cut clean through the Caddy’s torso, exposing the frame rails underneath. Since the body shares none of the primary load-bearing duties, the welding of 46.3-inch boxed-steel inserts into the frame is a relatively simple job, complicated only by the need for a few braces at critical points. The workers who knock together the floor, the walls, the doors, and the roof are left to butt up everything as necessary. By the time they finish, they’ve jacked up the roof three inches, providing added headroom atop the limo’s head-turning 267.3-inch overall length. And they’ve created a car that has not only A-, B-, and C-pillars, but D- and E-pillars as well.
If six pillars are good, ten must be better, especially for framing optional armoring and bulletproof glass and for propping up a roof whose surface area can be accurately measured only by satellite photo or registered surveyor. The roof is padded in vinyl, and probably priced by the acre. A check of the limo de prez’s weight demands more than the scales down at your neighborhood Weight Watchers chapter. We’re talking an undiplomatic 5963 pounds. And the limo in which we’ve been at large doesn’t even have the no-noKhomeini, keep-back-Kaddafi, anti-Hormuzian-mine armor option. Adding such amenities must shift the weight into the earthmover class.
Making the earth move is something that the 5.0-liter Oldsmobile V-8 under the hood simply can’t do, no matter how hard it’s throttled. With three tons of road-mugging weight virtually denying the presence of an engine, the small V-8’s 140 humble horses can’t begin to cut the mustard; in fact, they can’t even unscrew the lid. With our foot stuck to the floor in self-defense—other drivers apparently want to see fenders crowded with flags and Secret Servicemen before they will render respect—the best we could average was 11 mpg. A four-speed automatic transmission and a lockup torque converter are caught between the monster’s mass and its munchkin motor.
At the test track, the Presidential Limo moves like a true ship of state. It produces a zero-to-60 time of 23.5 seconds—which happens to match its quarter-mile result, plus a headlong top speed of 93 mph. It teeters around the skidpad at 0.60 g, only slightly stickier than a unicycle on an oil slick. Stops from 70 mph take a sobering 254 feet, and brake fade falls into the same class as the curb weight: heavy. The worrisome message that seeps up through your foot every time you toe the brakes is that you should distance yourself from the vehicle ahead by triple the normal carlength-per-10-mph gap, which works out in this case to about the length of the main runway at Andrews AFB.
The limo’s builders have at least done a few things to upgrade the Brougham’s chassis. On our test car, the most obvious additions are 6.5-by-16-inch wheels and 225/75R-16 Firestones. An electronic level control keeps our presidential yacht on a relatively even fore-and-aft keel but doesn’t cope with its dramatic list angles in the unfriendly seas of hard cornering. The shocks and the coil springs have been upgraded to carry their weighty load in comfort, and a 24mm rear anti-roll bar joins the standard 30mm front bar.
We are given to understand, however (by a source known as “Deep Bloat”), that our test car is to the real thing as the Good Ship Lollipop is to the U.S.S. Nimitz. The detail differences are classified, but we surmise that the real item mates virtual impregnability with NASCAR-style performance. If not, then Congress should have somebody’s head on a stick.
The amenities in our test limo are said to be even nicer than the president’s—just your everyday, run-of-the-Taj Mahal perks. The man at the wheel, though, gets only ordinary doodads d’Elegance, such as automatic headlight dimming, cruise control, electronic climate control, power windows, and an AM/FM stereo radio, with no cassette player. But after all, he’s just the lowly driver. If he’s to be comfortable, he’d better be lowly—the shorter the better—because the bulkhead that separates driver from driven intrudes substantially on what would normally be the front cabin. Herein, it’s a cabinette. A normalsized driver is unceremoniously smushed like putty between the wheel and the seatback. The wheel telescopes, but exercise that option and you’ll be folded and spindled.
The cramped front compartment makes the rumpus room behind it look all the more inviting. The bulkhead houses a pane of glass and an opaque privacy screen, either of which can be raised at the indiscretion of any world misleaders hobnobbing in the back. The politicos can draw curtains around their atrium, too, and, to vent their cigar smoke, can open the “Astroroof.” You’d think they would put in Astroturf down below: there seems to be so much room that the Super Bowl may be played there next year. Even the punters would love the 95 cubic feet of rear-cabin space, especially the scads of dome room. But, punters being guys who spend a lot of time sitting, we recommend they bring along their own benches. The standard seats look good, but they are short of height, shaping, padding, support, and comfort.
The roominess, too, looks better than it is. There are cubic feet aplenty, but a more meaningful measure is human feet. The passenger compartment ostensibly holds ten of them (for those of you wintering in Nome, that adds up to five passengers), but there isn’t enough room in the foot bay to keep the front- and rear-facing riders from having to intertwine their legs. We loaded all the women in the office into the Presidential Limousine—purely as a test, of course—and transported them not only across state lines but even across international boundary waters for a trip to racing school. By the time the return trip rolled around, all but the most starry-eyed limo lovers were volunteering to ride in the vans we’d also brought.
The riders suffer no shortage of frills, however. A many-buttoned panel stretches across the headliner above the rearmost seat and controls lights, locks, the bulkhead screens, and other features. Three cellular telephones, including one for the driver, bring in the outside world. Everything from handles to ashtrays to cubbyholes is finished in handsome burled elm, including a big cabinet that houses writing tables (but no shredder), a crystal beverage set, and a gaga entertainment system. This audio-video come-on features a Delco AM/FW/cassette unit, a Delco CD player, a Sony TV, a Panasonic VCR, and a dozen speakers of the house-on-wheels.
For everyday potentates, Cadillac and O’Gara Hess & Eisenhardt are happy to build the basic, man-in-the-chips version of the Presidential Limousine; all you have to do is cash in enough chips to ante up $200,000. Figure on about three times as much moolah if you want to ride home fully armored. Ten to fifteen armored civilian models have been built, each managing the extra weight with a hybrid, specially engineered chassis and one of several high-output engines, from mildly tuned Chevrolet 454s to virtual racing mills. If you can’t live without the high-tech security and communications gear the Big Guy gets, plus Secret Servicemen on the fenders, figure twenty million bucks for campaign expenses and another mill or two for the wheels. Deficit spending may be necessary.
The Reagans, having made these investments already, will undoubtedly want to cadge the Presidential Limousine when they retire. They can put it up on blocks at the ranch, add a sauna and a water bed, and rename it the Residential Limousine.
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