It’s called “The Beast,” but it might surprise you to learn that President’s massive Cadillac isn’t really a Cadillac. And there’s not one, but a dozen, in the highly classified motor pool. The cars travel with their own mechanic, an armed federal agent who carries a vast arsenal of electronic diagnostic devices and tools.
We’ve come a long way since JFK’s opentop Lincoln. Until only recently, the Secret Service bought the presidential limousines off the lot, then modified them with super-secret aftermarket products and systems. All that changed when George W. Bush became president. The reason? The stock presidential limos kept breaking down. All the extras the agency added to each vehicle created excess stress and weight beyond the real operational limits of the original cars. As a result, the transmissions often failed, “and the brakes would last about two trips,” said one veteran agent. “The cars were just too heavy, and they were a terror to drive, and even harder to stop.”
So the Secret Service decided to design and then build the car from the ground up. “The car may say Cadillac,” explained one agent, “but very little in that car is Cadillac.” Indeed, it is built by an R&D arm of General Motors in Detroit. But “even the Cadillac emblems on the hood and trunk are supersized. The car is really a truck that looks like a limo. And it drives like one, too.”
— The fuel tank is armor-plated and encased in special foam to protect it from rupture in case of collision-or small-arms fire. And, perhaps not surprisingly, there’s an onboard Halon fire-suppression system.
— What’s in the trunk? Extra weapons, a separate oxygen supply under the president’s seat and emergency medical equipment, including bottles of the president’s blood type in case the ambulance (one always travels in the motorcade) gets cut off.
— The Beast is heavy: The armor plating (on five newer models) is so thick and the doors so heavy that it’s nearly physically impossible for the president to open them from inside.
— The interior is cut off from the outside world and sealed (in case of chemical attack). There’s an encrypted satellite phone inside and a special interactive video system so the president can conduct secure video conferencing with officials in the Situation Room, embassies abroad or the Pentagon.
— The car features military-grade armor (steel, aluminum, titanium and ceramic), surrounded by removable fiberglass sheets on the doors and fenders.
— The Beast has special locking mechanisms, and communications and fire-suppression systems. It rides on special Kevlar-reinforced Goodyear run-flats.
— The Secret Service has been experimenting with special night-vision cameras and monitors (the camera is mounted inside the grille) to be used in a doomsday scenario if, say, the windshield was somehow compromised or views were obstructed.
Any Secret Service agent assigned to drive the president has to take an intense weeklong defensive-driving course on a special track at the Secret Service academy in Beltsville, Md. They practice evasive maneuvers, high-speed cornering and precision driving. “It actually handles quite well, considering how much it weighs,” one agent said. For additional training, the agency uses Chargers, Camaro and Mustangs.
What doesn’t it have? Sorry, 007 fans, but there are no rocket launchers, grenades or built-in weapons of any kind. No escape pod or ejection seat. Oh, and here’s a mythbuster: The Beast is not diesel, but a gasoline V8. “Surprisingly,” said one agent, “it has pretty good 0-60 pickup.”
3.7: Average miles to the gallon
12: Number of actual Beasts in service
$1.5 million: How much each Beast costs
18: How long the Beast is, in feet
8: Thickness, in inches, of the doors’ armor plating
5: Thickness, in inches, of the windows–bulletproof, of course
15,000: Best guess on how much the Beast weighs, in pounds (the exact number is classified)