by That Car Guy
We all like to drive... that's why we're reading this post! But hey, what if we were to take the back seat for a while? Take some time off, let somebody else deal with the traffic. When that day comes for me, whether by choice or necessity, this is what I'd like to be driven around in.
Actually, this particular car was the "Nixon-mobile". This 1969 model is my favorite for one particular reason: It's the only 1960s Lincoln Continental that has a stand-up grille, rather than a horizontal one.
OK, keep the fender flags and decals, maybe tone down the sunroofs and opera windows a bit, but this car is about as close to passenger Nirvana as I can imagine. Sit back, kick your feet up, close the window separating you from "up there", and take it easy... you have left the driving to someone else.
The Lincoln Continental's body lines were stately in their own right, but the center addition only made them more pronounced. The car looks as if it was designed for the extension which, surprisingly, it was not.
Until these cars were built, most "factory" limousines got their extra length by adding space behind the rear doors. Cadillac (At least until 1986) and Packard secretly saved extensive stamping costs by simply using the rear quarter panels from their 2-door models, such as the Coupe deVille! Even Chrysler, in 1984, stretched its little K-Car into a limo, the Chrysler Executive, with this method. In 1959 and 1960, Lincoln offered a limousine, but it was not lengthened at all. Stretching the center of the car was a revolution that almost every limousine uses today.
In 1962, when wealthy George Lehmann was 23, he wanted a custom limousine made for his mother. By chance, he met auto craftsman Robert Peterson, who said, "No problem, 12 days". The result became a partnership that would last until 1970 and produce between 500 and 600 cars (The number varies by references). That's Mr. Lehmann on the left, Mr. Peterson on the right, on the South Lawn of The White House.
At first, Ford did not think the unibody structure of the Lincoln would survive the modification. But after 40,000 miles of harshly testing the prototypes, the limousine conversion turned out to be a much stronger car than what it was based on! The nod was given, and Lehmann-Peterson began building limousines to be sold and warranted by Ford. So, in 1963, Lehmann-Peterson, Inc. was born.
I recently saw a 1969 Lincoln Continental 4-door for sale, advertised at $7,500. But that's not good enough. These limousines evoke a feeling that not only are you physically at your destination, that you have arrived. In style.
The Lehmann-Peterson limousines are not to be confused with President John F. Kennedy's parade car, the X-100. This $200,000 "Midnight Blue" Lincoln was a 1961 model, owned by Ford Motor Company and leased to the government for $500 a year. It was built by Hess and Eisenhardt and had a clear plastic "bubble top" for bad weather. The car was built for comfort, not security.
The X-100 was damaged on November 22, 1963, in Dallas. Its windshield was cracked, some moldings were dented, and the interior was ruined.
So it was shipped back to Hess & Eisenhardt for repair and new modifications. A permanent roof was attached, metal armor and bullet-proof glass were installed, and the car was painted black. It was put back into service and used into the Nixon years. Presently, it is on display at The Henry Ford (museum) in Dearborn, Michigan.
Inside the Lehmann-Peterson limousines, space was plentiful. I would need a tape measure to prove this, but perhaps a Smart Car would fit inside these limos, between the dash and rear seat, if the roof was removed.
The builders faced two jump seats toward the rear seat and placed a cabinet between them, creating a "conversation" atmosphere. This would also allow the installation of a television, soda/drink fountain, stereo hi-fi entertainment system, maybe even an 8-Track tape player if you so desired (This was the 1960s after all).
Other luxury options included a telephone, footrests for all passengers, a manual or electric sliding glass divider behind the driver's seat, a two-inch roof height addition, blacked-out glass, and separate front and rear air conditioning systems. An umbrella for the passengers, located under the front seat within easy reach of the chauffeur, was standard equipment.
These were some of the advertised options. If a buyer wanted anything "custom" done, the sky was the limit. Literally.
In addition to American Presidents, notable Lehman-Peterson customers included the Pope, Jackie Gleason, Hugh Hefner, Spencer Tracy, The Supremes, The Rolling Stones, Sophia Loren, Jerry Lewis, actor Ronald Reagan, Aristotle Onassis, and this guy.
The Papal version was built in an unbelievably quick six days. It featured an elevated seat and lighting for the Pontiff, a cutaway roof with a "flying bridge" windshield, illuminated flag mounts for the fenders, a public address system, and oversized, retractable running boards on the sides and rear for security personnel. This car was made from an earlier limousine that had been used for testing, and would have never been offered for sale.
Elvis' manager, "Colonel" Tom Parker, gave The King this car. The story goes that he gave himself one as well.
These limos have been seen in many movies and TV shows, including "Thunderball", "Godfather III", "Green Acres", and "The Andy Griffith Show". There are also nice shots of the exclusive 1969 front-end in "The Jackson 5 Story", "Where The Buffalo Roam", and "Columbo". Watch the bloopers in "Thunderball" and "Green Acres" as the rear doors are opened with the windows up, then the windows disappear. Funny.
This 3-foot stretch is mild by present standards, but that's all right with me. Today's extremely long-stretch, dachshund-like limousines have more of a "Rent Me" or "Take Me To The Prom" look than the elegant, reserved, and tasteful proportions of these cars. "Top Gear" did a take on these superstretches, and their result was, as usual, "most proper and fitting".
When the Lincoln Continental was redesigned for 1970, it lost the trademark aft rear-hinged doors, and its conversion to a limousine was "ungainly", to be kind. Only one was made by Lehmann-Peterson. At the same time, the company stopped building cars for unspecified reasons, but the most likely one was that new federal safety standards were in place. Since the limousines weren't built under Ford Motor Company's roof, Ford became concerned about liabilities. Lehmann-Peterson dissolved in 1970, another company used their name for a while, and they were featured briefly on The History Channel.
Maybe some day I'll find one of these cars. I don't mind doing an interior refurbishing, if necessary. And the 1969 grille will adapt to some earlier cars; no law says a 1967 Lincoln has to look like a 1967 Lincoln. Make mine black, please. I won't be travelling as a head of state or as the leader of a religion, but I hope to be in at least better style than these fine folks.
--That Car Guy (Chuck)
The "Nixon-mobile" photo is from The Chicago Tribune, The White House and Elvis images are from "How Things Work", the two "X-100" limousines are from my collection, and the Lehmann-Peterson limousine interior photo is from ridedrive.com.