Many people assume that the Lincoln parade limousine known to the Secret Service as SS-100-X was retired from service after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, 50 years ago today on Nov. 22, 1963.
It was not.
In fact, the same car was used by President Gerald Ford when he visited Nogales on Oct. 21, 1974. However, few or none realized at the time that it was the same car in which JFK was murdered – the limo that had become known as the “Kennedy Death Car.”
In November 1963, there was no other vehicle equipped for presidential use, nor was there time to build one. Not until 1967 did Lehmann-Peterson coachbuilders of Chicago begin construction of a new Lincoln limousine for the next president.
Even then, the car dubbed the X-100 was kept in use in order to have at least two bulletproof vehicles available to the president, a practice that continues to this day.
Following the Kennedy assassination, X-100 had been redesigned as a bulletproof armored vehicle with a fixed roof and bulletproof tires. A few cosmetic exterior changes to the taillights, different hubcaps and a new top gave it a different appearance. Kennedy had requested the car be painted in midnight blue to suggest a less formal tone, but by the time it was returned to the White House in November 1964, it had been painted black at President Lyndon Johnson’s request, as he wanted the car to look as little as possible as it did in Dallas.
In 1972, another presidential Lincoln was constructed to add to the presidential fleet. And so, by the time of Gerald Ford’s presidency, there were three bulletproof presidential limousines. But it was X-100 that was chosen for Ford’s visit to Nogales in October of 1974.
The car was stored overnight in Nogales and then driven early the next day to Carondelet Holy Cross (then known as St. Joseph’s Hospital) along with the 1968 Lincoln convertible used by the Secret Service to await President Ford’s arrival.
Air Force One landed at Davis-Monthan in Tucson, where President Ford boarded the helicopter Army One (the helipad at Holy Cross was too small for Marine One) and headed for Nogales.
Once the presidential motorcade was assembled including Nogales police, Santa Cruz County sheriff’s deputies and Arizona Department of Public Safety vehicles, the X-100 with its passenger President Ford proceeded down Target Range Road to Interstate 19 on to Grand Avenue. Just short of the border, Ford stopped the motorcade, alighted from the car, greeted Nogalians with handshakes and crossed the border on foot where he was welcomed by Mexican President Luis Echeverria.
The 21-foot Lincoln was then driven into Nogales, Sonora and parked next to the Canada Shoe Store near the monument to Benito Juarez, where the two presidents made speeches. The vehicle was unattended save for one Secret Service agent who, local lore has it, was approached by a Nogales, Sonora boy who said, “Mister, I wash your car for five pesos?”
The agent took his eye off President Ford to thank the boy but refused the wash job. A moment later, the speeches were over and the agent drove X-100 behind the two presidents as they walked together down Obregon.
Once the two presidents were safely on board Army One for their visit to Magdalena, Sonora and subsequent travel back to Tubac for a conference, two Secret Service agents drove the limo to Tubac stopping at the Texaco station in Carmen to gas up the presidential car and continue to the Tubac Country Club.
After the presidential conference and once Ford was on Army One to return to Air Force One, the X-100 and the Secret Service car were driven to Tucson and loaded on a C-130 transport plane to return to Washington, D.C.
The X-100 remained in service for three more years and was used occasionally by President Carter. In 1977, the Secret Service and Ford Motor Company decided to retire the most famous presidential car in history and placed it on display at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich., where it remains today.
Every Nov. 22, an anonymous person places a single rose on X-100 to commemorate that tragic day.
And though little known, it is also part of Nogales history.
(Holm is a local historian and expert on Lincoln Continental luxury vehicles.)