In honor of Presidents’ Day and the vehicles that served them, we’re going over some famous personal cars that U.S. presidents have driven. Many of these vehicles continue to be as historically relevant as the presidents themselves.
If we held elections based on the kinds of cars our candidates drove, we’d probably have a much different history. Love them or hate them, a U.S. president has personally driven all of the unique cars on this list.
Although George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and every U.S. president up to Taft didn’t own a car, after the discovery and proliferation of the motor car, every single president after that not only owned one that reflected their personality, they also had their own White House vehicle.
What Car Does the President Drive?
Actually, the President isn’t allowed to drive except when on a private closed track that the Secret Service has deemed safe and secure. It’s simply too risky.
The U.S. presidential state car, sometime nicknamed “The Beast,” “Cadillac One,” or “First Car,” is a bulletproof car equipped with many offensive, defensive, and life-saving features. FDR was the first president to have a bulletproof vehicle, and we certainly can’t imagine any modern president not doing so. The President also uses Ground Force One, a collection of black armored buses, as well as fortified yachts and aircraft for transportation.
From 1939 to 1972, the official President’s car was a Lincoln, then a Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham used by Ronald Reagan, followed by a line of Cadillacs that continue to this day.
Click here for a list of official state vehicles of the President of the United States.
William Taft – Baker Electric Runabout
The first administration to embrace cars for the White House, Congress purchased multiple automobiles for the new fleet and replaced the horse stable for a car garage. One of the more interesting cars in the fleet was an all-electric Baker Electric car. The other cars were a White Steamer and two Pierce-Arrows.
Woodrow Wilson – Pierce-Arrow
Woodrow Wilson didn’t own a automobile before taking office, but once in the White House, he fell in love with the Pierce-Arrow limousine he used as President. After leaving Washington, his friends bought him his very own Pierce-Arrow.
Herbert Hoover – Cadillac V-16 Fleetwood
By choosing one of the most stylish and well-known cars in American history, Hoover’s Cadillac V-16 gave this president an added cool factor. Designed by Harley Earl, the same guy who came up with the Corvette, this classic Cadillac turns heads in in any era.
Franklin D. Roosevelt – Packard 12
FDR is a beloved American president with one of the most beautiful cars on the list. The Packard 12 may have been his taste, but it wasn’t the most practical vehicle for safety. History has it that in order to protect the president, FDR had to stop using the Packard 12 in favor of an armored vehicle. While this special bulletproof car was being built, the president actually took Al Capone’s shot-resistant Cadillac for a few spins.
Harry S. Truman – Ford Super Deluxe
There are several Fords on the list, making the iconic brand a presidential favorite. Truman’s Ford Super Deluxe Tudor Sedan has historical significance beyond just belonging to an American president. The car Truman owned was literally the very first car to roll off the Ford assembly line post-WWII. This signaled a new time in American industry and a symbolic rejuvenation for a war-tired nation.
Dwight D. Eisenhower – Chrysler Imperial
Eisenhower was a car guy, not as much as LBJ, but definitely a fan of now-vintage vehicles. His favorite was the ‘56 Chrysler Imperial, a stunningly slick convertible with high-tech appeal. This car boasted the first all-transistor radio, meaning that Eisenhower enjoyed great tunes as well as a great ride.
John F. Kennedy – 1961 Ford Thunderbird
JFK was very proud of his 1961 Ford Thunderbird convertible. Packing a V8 engine and rocking the redesigned “Bullet Bird” look, the T-bird was the luxury vehicle of its day. The car received a huge boost in sales after 50 of the ’61 Thunderbirds were driven in John F. Kennedy’s inaugural parade. Maybe JFK’s T-bird love helped influence his decision to name Ford executive Robert McNamara as Secretary of Defense; it certainly didn’t hurt.
Lyndon B. Johnson – Amphicar, Lincoln Continental Convertible
Lyndon B. Johnson may be the only U.S. President who can be considered a true automotive enthusiast. He enjoyed driving visitors around his Stonewall, Texas ranch in his prized Lincoln Continental Convertible. The ranch, now the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park, displays many of his personal cars, including his famous blue Amphicar—“ the only civilian amphibious passenger automobile ever to be mass produced” (National Park Service).
LBJ would enjoy playing practical jokes on his unsuspecting passengers in the Amphicar, pretending the brakes were shot and heading straight for the water. According to Joseph A. Califano Jr., one of the President’s aides:
The President, with Vicky McCammon in the seat alongside him and me in the back,was now driving around in a small blue car with the top down. We reached a steep incline at the edge of the lake and the car started rolling rapidly toward the water. The President shouted, “The brakes don’t work! The brakes won’t hold! We’re going in! We’re going under!” The car splashed into the water. I started to get out. Just then the car leveled and I realized we were in a Amphicar. The President laughed. As we putted along the lake then (and throughout the evening), he teased me. “Vicky, did you see what Joe did? He didn’t give a damn about his President. He just wanted to save his own skin and get out of the car.” Then he’d roar. (Source: National Park Service)
In addition to surprising folks with his Chitty Chitty Bang Bang car, he also found pleasure in ringing the fire bell in his 1915 Fire Truck and making children laugh with his little green wagon hitched up by two donkeys. If this list were a contest, Lyndon B. Johnson would win hands down.
Richard M. Nixon – Oldsmobile
People question whether or not Nixon actually liked the 1950 Oldsmobile 98 or was just using it as a political stunt (a way to connect with common folk), as the Oldsmobile was then a staple on the American highway.
In his “Checkers Speech” at the 1952 Republican Convention, Nixon said:
“I own a 1950 Oldsmobile car. We have our furniture. We have no stocks and bonds of any type. We have no interest, direct or indirect, in any business. Now that is what we have. What do we owe?”
Whether or night he was using the Oldsmobile to make a political point, the streets would be much more stylish if this were still a common car today.
Ronald Reagan – Subaru BRAT, U.S. Army Jeep
Reagan’s “old friend”, a red U.S. Army Willys CJ-6, was a patriotic Christmas gift from Nancy Reagan in 1963. If you want to see this car today, it’s actually still around. In fact, it’s still at home on the same California ranch once owned by Reagan. Images of him in his red Jeep are some of the most memorable images of his presidency. Later, Nancy Reagan surprised him with another Jeep, this time a light-blue ’83 CJ-8 Scrambler.
Reagan also owns a red Subaru BRAT in order to get around his huge ranch property. Although sold several times, it has ultimately been restored to a beautiful condition and kept on Reagan’s ranch, where it belongs.
You can visit all three vehicles at the ranch except when they might be on display elsewhere. It would be a privilege to see Reagan’s retreat where he would use these vehicles to clear brush and work the land. Jeeps still represent this freedom.
Bill Clinton – 1967 Mustang Convertible
Clinton has always been considered suave, and his taste in classic cars only boosts this image. Clinton didn’t just drive a Mustang convertible; he drove a vintage one. At one point the car even had an Arkansas license plate that said BILL CLINTON. This car was beloved by Bill, and he publicly mentioned how much he missed driving it once he moved to the White House.
Barack Obama – Ford Escape Hybrid
The Ford Escape Hybrid is a fitting vehicle for this environmentally conscious president. People mention his many “dad-jokes” over the years, and this is definitely a family-man car. Similar to Nixon’s pick, this Hybrid could have been part of a political message about going green. We all know the Obamas weren’t able to drive themselves around for 8 years, so now that they’re living as civilians, we’ll let you know if the Ford Escape Hybrid makes an appearance.
Donald J. Trump –
Although we may not yet know which of these cars is his go-to, our newest president does have a small and luxurious collection, including a ‘50’s Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud (known today as a quintessential vintage wedding car) and a blue ’97 Lamborghini Diablo (custom made for Trump). Others include:
- 2003 Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren
- Rolls Royce Phantom
- 1997 Lamborghini Diablo VT
- 2011 Chevrolet Camaro Indianapolis 500 Pace Car
The wheels of the White House give us a glimpse into the sensibility and style of America’s most powerful men. From classic to convenient, every car tells a story. Just like the men who drove them, these cars will go down in history.
Inspired to pick up a Ford like many of our famous Presidents? What about a Chrysler? Auto Simple is here to help you find your ideal car, and with our stellar customer service, you’ll be given the presidential treatment.
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Happy Presidents’ Day!
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