The lowdown on President Barack Obama’s presidential ride

Ever since U.S. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated inside a 1961 Lincoln Continental convertible, the U.S. government has made it a top priority to build presidential cars that effectively resembled heavily fortified citadels on four wheels. Over the years, presidential cars have been designed strictly for the purpose of keeping the president safe.

Such has been the case during the administration of President Barack Obama. Ever since becoming the 44th president of the United States, President Obama has relied on a limousine often referred to as “Cadillac One,” or as it’s more popularly known, “The Beast.”

The Beast is the latest in a long line of limousines that have been put into service for the Commander-in-Chief. Each presidential car typically has a four-year lifespan, although some presidents who have served multiple terms, including Obama, have opted to stick with their first presidential car. That’s why the Beast, which was delivered to the White House in 2009, is still in use today. That said, the president did take delivery of another presidential car in 2011, an armored Prevost bus that has been nicknamed “Ground Force One.”

So seeing as today is the last President’s Day the Obama administration will have, let’s take a look at the presidential car that has served him faithfully since 2009 and try looking ahead to the next presidential car for the next administration.

Continue after the jump to read the full story.

It’s a Cadillac...except that it isn’t

Presidents Day Special – Getting To Know "The Beast"
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From the outside, the Beast looks like a Cadillac. It’s got the old Escalade’s headlights and taillights from the since departed STS. It even has Cadillac’s old wreath badge on the front grille, just above the night vision’s cameras. But here’s the thing, calling the Beast a Cadillac is like calling a Volkswagen Beetle that’s been “converted” into a Porsche an actual Porsche. Obama himself quite famously described the Beast as a “Caddy on a tank frame” in an episode of Jerry Seinfeld’s “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.”

So if the Beast isn’t really a Cadillac, what is it? The answer to that is really tricky because the car itself isn’t really an actual version of any production car that Caddy has in its lineup. Its chassis, transmission, and 6.6-liter turbodiesel engine are all based on the Chevrolet Kodiak, a rugged commercial truck used for a variety of purposes, including but not limited to dump trucks and moving trucks.

On sheer aesthetics alone, the Beast isn’t going to win any design awards. While the pupu platter of features does make it look like a DTS sedan, it doesn’t have the visual appeal that really identifies it with the most powerful man in the world.

Don’t mess with The Beast

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As awkward as it looks, Obama’s “The Beast” isn’t the kind of car you’d want to mess with. That comes with the territory of having the responsibility of transporting the most powerful man in the world. When it comes to protection, the Beast is second to none. The doors, for instance, are eight inches thick and reportedly weigh as much as the doors found on a commercial plane. Just as impressive are the five-inch thick, bulletproof windows. The car also has a reinforced, five-inch steel plate that runs the length of the underbody to help protect it from roadside bombs. Just as crucial is the gas tank that’s surrounded by a special foam material to help it keep insulated in case of attacks. Even its tires aren’t your ordinary Goodyears. First, they’re run-flats, which means that they can still function even if they’ve all been punctured. They’re also reinforced with Kevlar, a synthetic fiber of high tensile strength that’s commonly used in the military.

In the event things get really hairy, the Beast also has an offensive/defensive arsenal that’ll make James Bond blush. According to reports, the trunk is loaded with firepower of the literal kind, including tear gas canisters, shotguns, and grenade launchers. It also has firefighting equipment, oxygen tanks, night-vision cameras, and a cache of the Commander-In-Chief’s blood type for “just in case” purposes.

With all the armoring done to its exterior, the Beast’s interior predictably looks stuffy. Photos of President Obama seated inside the car with a guest on the other seat makes them look squished together. Space may not be a premium, but the amount of technology inside certainly is. Obama’s seat, for example, comes with a foldaway desktop, a laptop with Wi-Fi, a satellite phone with a direct line to the vice president and the Pentagon, a panic button, and the only available switch that can lower the glass partition.

Does it travel well?

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Here are a few more pertinent things to know about the Beast. It measures 18 feet in length and almost six feet in height. It also weighs close to 20,000 pounds thanks in large part to the amount of armor and next-level protection it comes with. Combine its size and its weight and you basically have a car that doesn’t travel very fast. Actually, it doesn’t even travel fast to begin with. It may have a 6.6-liter engine, but with that much weight carrying around, it can only hit 60 mph in 15 seconds, which is reportedly also its top speed. Oh, and it’s far from the poster boy of fuel efficiency either as it basically chugs fuel to the tune of just eight miles per gallon.

On the flip side, it does have it’s own plane – a C-17 Globemaster transport carrier that exclusively brings along the car, as well as a second limo and an armored Chevrolet Suburban that’s used as a communications vehicle wherever the president goes.

Too big and too slow?

The presidential car is arguably the most important car in the U.S. so as you can expect, it’s always prodded over and criticized for being too big and too slow. Both criticisms are actually valid and the part about the car being too big has made for some incredibly awkward moments in the past. Back in 2009, the Beast had an embarrassing episode when it struggled just getting into the British Prime Minister’s driveway in London, simply because it was too long. A separate incident also occurred in 2011, this time in Dublin, Ireland, where the car got stuck in the driveway of the U.S. Embassy in the Irish capital. It came to the point that President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama actually had to transfer to a backup limousine because of the unforeseen delay.

The other criticism surrounding the Beast is its inability to travel at speeds exceeding 60 mph. Granted, this problem isn’t as serious because in the event the president does get into trouble somewhere along the road, he’s got enough help and backup to thwart any problem that comes his way. That includes his own driver, who is not just an ordinary chauffeur but is actually a CIA agent who is trained to deal with the most demanding road and safety conditions.

What can we expect from the new presidential limo

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Ever the true and loyal servant, the Beast will step down from its duties as the presidential car as soon as President Obama steps down from office. With a new administration set to take office in late 2016, the time has come for the Beast’s successor to take its place. Based on what we know so far, the new presidential car will once again carry the badge of Cadillac, albeit with the automaker’s new wreath-less crest logo.

It’s still unclear if this car will follow in the same blueprint as the Beast and won’t be based on an actual production Cadillac. That said, spy shots of the less serious type have been taken of the car doing some test runs and through all that camouflage, there appears to be a lot of hints pertaining to the car looking like a mutated version of the CT6 sedan.

Details on its features are unlikely to be divulged anytime soon since it’s actually in everyone’s best interest to keep the specs on the down-low. But given the nature of the car’s importance, it’s inevitable for it to have as many as, if not more, safety and security features as the Beast. It’s going to be bulletproof, that much is sure. It’s also going to be able to withstand a lot of terrorist attacks and will feature the latest in safety and communications technology, some of which may not even be available to the public yet, if at all.

The car is expected to go into service when the new U.S. President takes office. Nobody knows who that’s going to be just yet, but rest assured, whoever becomes the 45th President of the United States, he or she is going to have a car that fits his or her position as the successor to President Obama’s title as the most powerful person in the world.

Some interesting facts about presidential cars

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  • William Howard Taft, the 27th president of the United States, was the first U.S. President to use a government-owned presidential car. According to Peterson Museum curator Leslie Kendall, Taft was given a budget of $12,000 back in 1909 for his presidential ride. That was a relatively large amount at that time, but pretty cheap today when you take into account inflation. In fact, $12,000 in 1909 only amounts to $319,354.74 in 2015. By comparison, reports indicate that the Beast cost around $1.5 million. Going back to Taft, the president ended up using up the $12,000 by purchasing a White Stanley Steamer, a Baker Electric, and a pair of Pierce Arrows.
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt once ended up using a Cadillac owned by notorious gangster Al Capone when his presidential car, a 1942 Lincoln Zephyr nicknamed “Sunshine Special," was getting armored. Capone’s 1928 Cadillac 341A Town Sedan was the only armored car available at that time, hence the decision to let FDR use it while the Zephyr was getting work done on it.
  • President Roosevelt’s “Sunshine Special” is the first car specifically built for presidential use.
  • Despite its association to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963, the 1961 Lincoln Continental 4-door convertible “X-100” is one of the longest tenured presidential cars in history, having been used occasionally by Presidents Lyndon Johnson, Nixon, Ford, and Carter until its retirement in 1977. The car did undergo extensive modifications after the Kennedy assassination, including the complete re-armoring of the rear passenger compartment, the addition of a permanent roof, and the replacement of the engine with a hand-built, high compression unit.
  • The 1972 Lincoln Continental that was used by three U.S. Presidents - Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan - is the only presidential car to have been involved in the assassination attempts of multiple presidents (Ford in 1975 and Reagan in 1981).
  • Only two automakers (Lincoln and Cadillac) have been entrusted to build cars for the U.S. President, although President Richard Nixon’s administration did order a pair of 1972 Chrysler Imperial LeBarons, the last Chrysler-based limos used by the White House.
  • Ground Force One isn’t considered an official presidential car used by the Obama administration. Instead, it’s described as the unofficial code-name for the black X3-45 VIP 3 axle shell buses that was designed by Quebec, Canada-based specialist firm Prevost Car. A pair of these buses joined the federal government’s fleet of cars in 2011, initially used by President Obama in his campaign leading up to the 2012 Presidential Elections.
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