Hours after Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the Secret Service found themselves in a bind. President Franklin D Roosevelt was to give his infamy speech to Congress the next day, and although the trip from the White House to Capitol Hill was short, agents weren’t sure how to transport him safely.
The White House did already have a specially built limousine for the president that he regularly used, it wasn’t bulletproof, and the Secret Service realized this could be a major problem now that the country was at war. FDR’s speech was to take place at noon December 8th, and time was running out. They had to procure an armored car, and fast.
Above: Al Capone’s armored Cadillac
There was one slight problem. US government rules at the time restricted the purchase of any vehicle that cost more than $750 ($10,455 in today’s dollars). It was pretty obvious that they weren’t going to get an armored car that cheap, and certainly not in less than a day.
One Secret Service agent was a quick thinker. The federal government did already have in its possession a car that just might fit the bill: Al Capone’s, which had been sitting in a Treasury Department parking lot ever since it had been seized from the infamous mobster during the IRS’ tax evasion suit years earlier.
Capone’s car was a sight to behold. It had been painted black and green so as to look identical to Chicago’s police cars at the time. It also had a specially installed siren and flashing lights hidden behind the grille, along with a police scanner radio. To top it off, the gangster’s 1928 Cadillac 341A Town Sedan had 3,000 pounds of armor and inch-thick bulletproof windows. Mechanics are said to have cleaned and checked each feature of the Caddy well into the night of December 7th, to make sure that it would run properly the next day for the Commander in Chief.
And run properly it did. The car apparently preformed perfectly– so perfectly that Roosevelt kept using it– at least until his old car could be fitted with identical features (and to this day, Presidential limousines have flashing police lights hidden behind their grilles).
Above: FDR in his limousine convertible, before and after bulletproof glass and armor was installed.
The old car was a 1939 Lincoln V12 Convertible built by Ford (and affectionately nicknamed the “Sunshine Special,” supposedly because FDR liked to enjoy the sun while riding around with the top down… hardly safe, although the use of presidential convertibles was not eliminated until after JFK’s assassination). Roosevelt was apparently so enamored with his convertible however that he had it bullet-proofed. The Lincoln was now undoubtedly worth more than $750, so the White House got around the spending cap regulation by making a special arrangement to lease it from Ford at the rate of $500 per year.
When he was told his car’s origin (probably on December 8th as he rode to Capitol Hill), Roosevelt reportedly quipped, “I hope Mr Capone won’t mind.”