A few years ago, the most expensive luxury car in the world was a Sweeptail Rolls Royce. It costs a whopping $13 million. Fast forward to 2019. Cadillac One, or “The Beast,” is US President Donald Trump’s official car, of titanium and is considered the safest presidential car in current use. Cadillac One travels with a refrigerator well-stocked with President Trump’s blood type, as well as a considerable range of medical supplies in the event he is injured.
“The Beast” also carries on board a fully equipped life support machine, its interior sealed against chemical and biological attack, and has the most modern communication system. When under attack, its front has tear gas cannons mounted on it, a 20-cm thick bullet proof undercarriage, and can outpace an unfriendly observer on its run-flat Kevlar tires. And the whole package cost the American taxpayers $1.5 million.
Now, a $13M Rolls Royce may be drool-worthy, but the memory and breathlessness of seeing the Cadillac One whizzing by will hang around in the head for a long time. What is also amazing with “The Beast” is it goes wherever President Trump goes. A C-17 Globe Master Transport Airplane carries it under the critical eyes of the US Secret Service, with a complement of a Chevrolet and a second limousine to spare.
The Office of the President entails an all-encompassing ministration of various duties to the people and the country it represents. The President’s security is, therefore, a prime concern. A presidential car provides for a safe transit to various destinations and back. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s convertible car, the Sunshine Special, was modified after the 1942 Pearl Harbor attack to include bulletproof glass and armored plating, plus a slot to accommodate a submachine gun. President Lyndon Johnson had the Amphicar, alternately usable to run from ground to water. Angela Merkel of Germany rides an Audi AB LW12 with a fire extinguisher system. The British Queen has a Bentley State Limousine and honor guards around it. Japan’s Emperor uses a Toyota Century-Royal; the Chinese President rides a Honqqi L5; the South Korean President, a Hyundai Equus; and the Russian President an Aurus Senat capable of 250kph. All cars were specifically built with security and safety as prime consideration.
Sometimes it takes pure luck to be out of an assassin’s crosshairs. On July19, 2017 five were injured and three PSGs assigned to President Rodrigo Duterte en route to Arakan, North Cotabato as the President’s advance party were killed by NPA rebels. President Duterte was still in Manila when the ambush happened. It also doesn’t do a lot for a president to connect with the people using a car with a bare topside. President John Kennedy was an easy target in the 1961 black Lincoln Continental 74A he was riding in.
Most presidential cars are colored black. In the Philippines, the President’s official cars have been black with the exception of Ramon Magsaysay who rode in a white 1953 Ford Convertible to his inauguration. US Presidents have used black cars as well, except for President Dwight Eisenhower who rode in a white 1953 Cadillac El Dorado convertible, a gift from General Motors. President Rodrigo Duterte went to his inauguration in a white Toyota Land Cruiser shielded by black Nissan Patrols. President Benigno Aquino III rode in a Lexus LX570. President Ferdinand Marcos rode in a customized black 1962 Cadillac 4-Dr Convertible.
Monochrome black is the most preferred color for presidential cars for practical purposes. It is the cheapest to make and apply unlike blue, maroon, red, and violet which are expensive to make. Black cars imply elegance, formality, authority, and power usually related to monarchy. This color inclination likewise applies to escort cars.
In the USA, when a President leaves office, the official car is disposed of by the Secret Service by blowing it up to bits with explosives and high powered guns so as not to leave traces of the secrets and official businesses that happened inside the car. The same fate, however, is not true with other presidential cars. President John Kennedy’s 1961 Lincoln Continental SS-100-X and President Franklin Roosevelt’s Sunshine Special are lodged in the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.
Filipinos must be an awful lot sentimental people. We put a deep emotional affinity to things that we once held dear to us, things that define our past lives. Part of the reason why we hoard evidence of long-ago times is simple nostalgia, memories that still burn bright, sentimental and uplifting, make us meditative or smile. The National Historical Commission and the Quezon City government must have felt the same way too --- the reason why the Presidential Car Museum, situated within the Quezon Memorial Circle grounds, came into being.
Museums preserve art and culture, and historical artifacts and have the ability to influence people to turn away from the everyday world-weariness and to re-examine subjects of thought with a fresh perspective. Both government agencies have painstakingly collaborated to conserve and display Philippine presidential cars in the museum and it has drawn in mixed groups of visitors. The cars were originally kept in a private warehouse in Pampanga. The architecture of the museum is an influence of the Philippine flag, shaped like an equilateral triangle. There are eight dividers between cars, denoting the eight rays of the sun in our flag.
President Emilio Aguinaldo used a 7-seater 1924 Packard Single 6 233 Series. It had wood and vinyl interiors and was one of the top luxury cars in the1920s. Sometimes President Aguinaldo would use a horse-drawn carriage in the course of his tenure.
President Manuel Quezon used a 1937 Chrysler Airflow Custom Imperial CW. It was the only one of its kind in the Philippines. The car was a 4-dr Sedan, with a 5.3 liters inline 8-cyl engine, 131PS power, 338 Nm torque, and a 3-speed manual floor shift for transmission, with a wheelbase of 3,721 mm (146.5 inches). It seated five passengers and was used by President Quezon from 1937 to 1941. He also used a 1934 Cadillac V16 Transformable Town Car Cabriolet, formerly used by Gen. Douglas MacArthur.
President Jose P. Laurel used a 1942 Packard Custom Super Eight One-Eighty Limo during the Japanese-sponsored government from 1943 to 1945. It was from the Japanese Administration. It had a 3-speed manual transmission, a 5.8 liter inline 8-cyl engine and 162PS power. First introduced in 1940, the Packard was exclusively designed for the society’s elite and heads of state. The interior of the car is decorated with that period’s best fabrics, leather and carpeting, plus a wool ceiling. President Sergio Osmena also used this car.
President Manuel Roxas used a 1947 Cadillac Fleetwood Series 75 Limousine during his 1946-1948 tenure. The car had a large grille in front that reached the fender, a 3-speed manual transmission, 5.6 L inlineV8 cylinder and 137 PS power.
President Ramon Magsaysay used a Cadillac Series 75-23 with a 4-speed automatic, 5.4 gasoline, V8 cylinder engine and 253 PS power. This car had the longest use until President Ferdinand Marcos’ term which he used as reserve car.
President Ferdinand Marcos used a 1980 Lincoln Continental Mark VI Signature Series. It has a keyless entry and a digital gauge cluster with a trip computer indicating “miles to empty” and “estimated time of arrival”. At the same time, Imelda Marcos used a 1960 Rolls Royce Phantom V, the same kind that Queen Elizabeth II, the Shah of Iran, Hong Kong’s British Governor, and Yugoslavian dictator Josip Bros Tito used.
President Corazon Aquino used a 1986 Mercedes Benz 500EL while President Fidel Ramos used a 1986 Mercedes Benz 500SEL Guard. President Ramos’s car comes with a thinner (than President Aquino’s 500EL) bulletproof glass and ballistic panels. A switchboard inside the car controls the lights and sirens, as well as “check” button for modules and fuse control. It is a 4-speed automatic car that runs on 5.0 L and V8 cylinder at 223PS power.
President Joseph Estrada used a 1993 Mercedes Benz S600. President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo rode in a 1993 Mercedes Benz S600 Limousine V140, one of the country’s largest and longest state vehicles. This model is 45 cm longer than the standard, has a higher roof, and taller rear window. The car was armored by O’Gara and Hess, a US-based firm, and features four layers of thick laminate glass featuring special films in between to catch small and large arms round to disperse the impact. In the left-hand rear door, an armrest hides a hidden gun compartment. She also used various cars—a 200BMW 750 iL (E38) High Security, and a Mercedes Benz S-Class W220 Guard.
There is no record of President Carlos Garcia’s official car. It is believed to have been lost among the mangroves of Talibon, Bohol.
Other vehicles of historic value inside the museum are the “kalesa” of Leon Apacible, one of the authors and signors of the 1899 Malolos Constitution; and the1943 Willys Jeep used by President Ramon Magsaysay, a gift from Gen. Douglas MacArthur, and which Magsaysay used while he was Secretary of National Defense during the Quirino administration.
The Presidential Car Museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm. There is no entrance fee, but each visitor is advised to observe silence or keep conversation in minimal tone. Food is not allowed inside the museum. And don’t touch the cars!
Photos by Diana B. Noche
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