Lincoln Continental Bubbletop Kennedy Limousine

The Elwood Engel-designed and new-for-1961 Lincoln Continental’s stature and expression made it a natural fit with the Kennedy White House; a confident, expansive but also generation-shifting environment that combined homegrown American success with flair, style and sophistication. Ford Motor Company had a long-established relationship with the White House fleet, making it natural for the Treasury Department’s Secret Service to turn to Ford to supply the automobiles that transported the President, his family and their official guests. Ford, in turn, relied upon Hess & Eisenhardt of Cincinnati to make the numerous changes that White House fleet service required.

The first White House Continental was a 1961 Continental convertible designated 100-X by the Secret Service. Extensively modified, including a major stretch of the wheelbase to make room for comfortable jump seats suitable for dignitaries, it was the primary parade car of the Kennedy White House and was routinely flown ahead of the Presidential party to affairs of state and important events. It proved to be so successful in both practical and aesthetic terms that a second car was requested by the Secret Service.

Known by its Secret Service fleet number, 297-X, the new car was intended for more extensive use. It is that 1962 Continental Bubbletop limousine, used by President John F. Kennedy and even more frequently by First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, which we have the pleasure of offering here. The White House ordered Secret Service Vehicle 297-X in 1961. Built on the Continental convertible’s unit-body structure but with a fixed roof, it replaced a 1950 Lincoln seven-passenger convertible, which had been acquired during the Truman administration. That car had been modified at Dwight D. Eisenhower’s suggestion in 1954 with a three-piece removable Plexiglas roof over the back seat for protection from the elements while still allowing onlookers to view its occupants at parades and functions.

The 1962 Bubbletop received a similar but much more sophisticated treatment from Hess & Eisenhardt. The Bubbletop was converted into a formal limousine by installing a black vinyl skin over the Plexiglas roof. When not needed, the formal cover stowed in the trunk but was available for quick conversion, allowing the Continental Bubbletop to be used for a wide variety of purposes. Unfortunately, the original vinyl roof panel has since been lost.

Over its years in the White House fleet, the Continental Bubbletop’s luxurious and spacious interior hosted an endless stream of dignitaries, diplomats and important guests. In addition to Jacqueline Kennedy, who favored this car among the many available to her, passengers included Pope Paul VI, Mrs. Lopez Mateos, the First Lady of Mexico, President Lyndon Johnson, Luci Baines Johnson, Vice Presidents Hubert Humphrey and Spiro Agnew, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos and wife Imelda, and the Apollo astronauts and their wives. As a result, this Continental Bubbletop remains without doubt one of the most important parade cars in America’s history.

While the Continental was not armored, the craftsmen at Hess & Eisenhardt carefully created a number of special features. A full set of warning lights and sirens are integrated into the bumpers, along with flag mounts in the front fenders and Herculite safety-glass windows. While in service, there were separate two-way radios in the front and rear compartments and a radio-telephone for the rear seat occupants. A full partition with a division window separates the front and rear compartments, and there are dual air conditioning systems.

There are two fluorescent spotlights mounted at the base of the divider. They are focused on the rear-seat occupants so that even at night, the Plexiglas canopy could serve its purpose of letting spectators catch a glimpse of the passengers. Luxuriously appointed with the finest materials, 297-X is upholstered in black leather to the front and a combination of light blue cloth and leather to the rear.

It was in the White House fleet until 1970, after which it was donated by the Ford Motor Company to the Henry Ford Museum in 1972. In 1985, 297-X was purchased by and displayed at the Imperial Palace Collection before entering a private collection, where it remained until early 2005, when it joined another large and respected private collection. It has been meticulously and consistently maintained throughout its life, first by the U.S. Secret Service, to whom reliability and the comfort and security of passengers is paramount, and later by a succession of caring owners who recognized its unique historical significance. Its odometer shows only 15,276 miles at the time of writing, although it presumably covered many more than that in the belly of the U.S. Air Force cargo planes that carried it on many ceremonial trips abroad.

Today, the Kennedy Lincoln remains in stunning original condition. So rarely does one see historic and significant cars maintained and cared for to the level as displayed on the Bubbletop. This Presidential car is a “time warp” car in every respect, and its cosmetic condition is one of the greatest assets in ensuring its authenticity; the Lincoln has never been subjected to a comprehensive restoration nor has it ever required one.

This car was auctioned off by RM Auctions in August of 2010 at the Portola Hotel & Spa and Monterey Conference Center, Monterey, California.

300 bhp, 430 cu. in. V8 engine, two-barrel carburetor, three-speed automatic transmission, independent front suspension with unequal-length A-arms and coil springs, live rear axle with leaf springs, and four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes. Wheelbase: 123"

Source: RM Auctions
Photo Credit: Copyright Darin Schnabel

Gallery: Lincoln Continental Bubbletop Kennedy Limousine