car blog

SS-100-X - The Kennedy Lincoln (posted 11/20/2009)

the view through the windshield

It was perfect matching and perfectly contrasting.

President Eisenhower wore hats and was chauffeured around town in a big 'ol bulbous black 1950 Lincoln Cosmopolitan limo. It made sense. Ike was a white-haired, balding, kindly-looking old guy with glasses. My friends had grandfathers like that. They wore hats and had dowdy, 10 year-old cars. And they were married to grandmotherly-looking women, like Mamie Eisenhower. They played golf and were nostalgic about the olden times - America's Past.

Then Jack Kennedy came along - what a contrast! No glasses, no hat, a head full of rich brown hair, a hot-looking, multilingual, cosmopolitan babe of a wife. So, it made perfect sense that they'd match this President up with a new kind of car - not some big old chrome-laden whale but a modern car with clean lines - a sophisticated car to fit the kind of guy Jack was.

It was called SS-100-X, derived from the new 1961 Lincoln Continental. The completely redesigned slab-sided Lincoln was a design milestone and therefore, the perfect choice. The car was built by Ford's Advanced Vehicles Group assisted by the coachbuilder, Hess & Eisenhardt. The stretched SS-100-X had a 156-inch wheelbase and was over 21 feet long. It weighed almost 8,000 pounds but, because of its simple lines, it didn't look like a whale or barge.

It wasn't painted the usual funereal black either; the vehicle was finished in a rich, preppy navy blue. Elegant. Inside, it had a two-tone blue leather interior. Posh. They finished the car off with turbine-blade Continental Mark II wheelcovers. Classy. The SS-100-X was the first Presidential limo with air conditioning. Cool. It had several tops including a clear bubble top which could be left off on sunny days. Clever.

Ford Motor Company offered to lease it to the White House for $500 per month. Picture Jack, sitting in his rocking chair in that classic Kennedy pose, waving his cigarette around and telling some staff member, "Pay them. It's worth it." The finished car was delivered in June, 1961. The big Lincoln soon became almost as recognizable as JFK himself.

In November 1963, it all ended. Jack was dead. Killed in his Lincoln. Assassinated by rifle bullets. People said he would have lived if only they had mounted the clear Plexiglas bubble top on the car on that sunny day in Dallas. They were wrong. Because the acrylic was only 1/4 inch thick - just substantial enough to keep out the weather. To be bulletproof, the plastic needed to be almost 2 inches thick.

They sent the car back to Ford. It was completely overhauled and returned to President Johnson. Gone was the Plexi bubble top, replaced by a rigid, non-removable roof. The Lincoln had been bullet-proofed, armor-plated and now weighed almost 10,000 pounds. They repainted the vehicle in a somber black, reupholstered the interior in a muted, bland grey fabric and stuck on some anonymous Lincoln wheelcovers.

The car was never the same. And neither were we.


I have posted additional thoughts about John F. Kennedy here. And here.

Remember When: 1961 & 1963
car blogIn 1961, John F. Kennedy became the 35th President of the United States and, at 43, the youngest. In his inaugural address, the president promised a New Frontier and soon rode in a new, modern Presidential limousine, based on the 1961 Lincoln Continental. In December 1960, the musical 'Camelot' opened on Broadway.

JFK was named as Time magazine's Man of the Year. The Peace Corps was created in '61. The Bay of Pigs Invasion of Cuba failed. Russian Yuri Gagarin made the first manned orbital flight.

The IBM Selectric typewriter with a moving type ball was introduced, priced at $450. Kids tried out Legos (new to the U.S.) and Wham-O's Slip 'n Slide. New words included 'A-OK', 'knee-jerk', 'high rise', 'neutron bomb' and 'soul music'. Barbie's friend, the suspiciously-androgynous Ken doll, debuted in 1961.

Top songs included 'Run Around Sue' (Dion & the Belmonts), 'Theme From Exodus' (Ferrante & Teicher), 'Shop Around' (The Miracles) 'Big Bad John' (Jimmy Dean), 'Blue Moon' (The Marcels) and 'The Lion Sleeps Tonight' (The Tokens).

New movies included 'The Absent-Minded Professor,' 'Breakfast at Tiffanys,' 'West Side Story,' 'Blue Hawaii', 'The Hustler' and 'The Guns of Navaronne'.

Several new television programs debuted in'61: 'Ben Casey', 'Mister Ed', 'The Bullwinkle Show', 'The Dick Van Dyke Show' and 'Car 54 - Where Are You?'

U.N. Secretary General Dag Hammarskold died in a plane crash in the Congo. Other deaths included writers Ernest Hemingway and James Thurber, Swiss psychiatrist and the founder of analytical psychology Carl Jung, actors Leo Carillo, Gary Cooper and Charles Coburn, authors Ernest Hemmingway and James Thurber, painter Grandma Moses and baseball legend Ty Cobb.

In 1961, Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth's home-run record. The Yankees won the World Series 4-1 over the Cincinnati Reds. Golfer Arnold Palmer won the British Open.


In 1963, the USS Thresher nuclear sub sank killing 129 aboard. Civil rights leader Medgar Evers was killed in Jackson, Mississippi. President Kennedy presented a $98.8 billion budget, the largest in American history, to Congress. The projected $10 billion deficit of 1963 exceeded the total U.S. budget for 1940.

In Berlin, JFK gave his famous "Ich Bin Ein Berliner" speech before a crowd of 150,000. In August, Martin Luther King gave his famous "I Have A Dream" speech before a crowd of 200,000 in Washington, D.C.

Several new products debuted in '63: TAB, Valium and touch-tone phones. Green Giant introduced boil-in-bag frozen vegetables. Mary Kay Cosmetics and Weight Watchers were founded during that year. Troll dolls became a big hit with a price of $1.95 each for the three-inch tall version. Boeing tested its 727 prototype jetliner. Coca Cola brought out a new slogan: 'Things Go Better With Coke', while Avis Rent-A-Car introduced its 'Try Harder' campaign. In a memorable television ad, Volkswagen asked, "Did you ever wonder how the man who drives a snowplow drives to the snowplow?" And Mrs. Olsen pitches Folger's Coffee, noting that it's "mountain grown."

New words included 'biodegradable', 'Cosa Nostra', 'jet-setter', 'peacenik', 'surfer' and 'software'.

In music, The Beatles were introduced to America, beginning with the song 'Please Please Me'. Other 1963 hit songs included 'Hey Paula' (Paul & Paula), 'It's My Party' (Lesley Gore), 'Louie Louie' (Kingsmen), 'Little Deuce Coupe' (Beach Boys) and 'Puff The Magic Dragon' (Peter, Paul & Mary). The Rolling Stones were formed in January of '63.

Several new TV shows debuted in 1963, including 'Burke's Law', 'The Fugitive', 'The Outer Limits' and 'My Favorite Martian'.

Numerous movies were released in '63: 'The Birds', 'From Russia With Love', 'The Great Escape' and 'It's A Mad, Mad, Mad Mad World', the first single-lens, single-camera Cinerama commercial film screened in theaters. Liz Taylor's 'Cleopatra' was considered the biggest and most expensive film flop of 1963.

In November, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated while riding in his open-topped Presidential Lincoln in Dallas, Texas. Other deaths include poet Robert Frost, Pope John XXIII, singer Patsy Cline, novelist Aldous Huxley and actor Adolphe Menjou.

In baseball, the LA Dodgers won the World Series, defeating the New York Yankees 4-0. The Cincinnati Reds' Pete Rose was named 'Rookie of the Year' by the National League.

copyright 2009 - Joseph M. Sherlock - All applicable rights reserved


Disclaimer

The facts presented in this blog are based on my best guesses and my substantially faulty geezer memory. The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author and are protected by the U.S. Constitution. Probably.

Spelling, punctuation and syntax errors are cheerfully repaired when I find them; grudgingly fixed when you do.

If I have slandered any brands of automobiles, either expressly or inadvertently, they're most likely crap cars and deserve it. Automobile manufacturers should be aware that they always have the option of giving me free cars to try and change my mind.

If I have slandered any people or corporations in this blog, either expressly or inadvertently, they should buy me strong drinks (and an expensive meal) and try to prove to me that they're not the jerks I've portrayed them to be. If you're buying, I'm willing to listen.

Don't be shy - try a bribe. It might help.


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