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Obama tanks up

30th Mar 2009 7:00 am

The official car of the president of the United States of America is virtually a tank on four wheels.


Among the many perks of being a president of the United States of America, Barack Hussein Obama gets himself a brand new Cadillac every four years. And it’s one car that must be making him squirm. The reason is not too hard to see. Having been down the winding roads of politics, Obama knows the power of symbolism, and while running for presidency he traded in his Chrysler 300C for an environmentally-friendly Ford Escape Hybrid.

Symbolism is the reason that President Franklin D Roosevelt who, even at the height of World War II, travelled in his 1939 Lincoln V12 open touring car nicknamed the ‘Sunshine Special’. The President could have chosen an armoured carrier, yet Roosevelt chose to ride on the open top. He felt it important to see the people, and be seen. It’s a demonstration of a free and stable country that its leader can move with relative ease and visibility among its people. It was a case of symbolism overcoming security.

Though times have changed since then, the power of symbolism hasn’t. What does the limo say about America when its president has to ride around in an armoured vehicle that guzzles half of the world’s oil supply? It’s an ugly brute of a car that the secret service has nicknamed the ‘beast’, an unsightly box of metal and glass that rather than conveying the head of presidential office reflects the paranoia that has turned US embassies and consulates around the world into solid fortresses. 

Obama must be squirming at the guzzler he has to travel in, after declaring in his inaugural address, “We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories since each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.”
Within a week of taking office, the man signed an order allowing certain US States to target greenhouse gases through more stringent auto emission standards. Moreover, he ordered new Federal rules directing automakers to start making more fuel-efficient cars as required by law.

Even after proclaiming, “America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace,” the president gets into a tank that masquerades as a car strapped with armour and firearms. Obama Barack must be one very embarrassed man every time he has to travel in his car. But there’s nothing the world’s most powerful man can do about it. Since John Kennedy was assassinated in an open-top Lincoln Continental in Dallas, American presidents have had to trade in symbolism for security.
Everything about the presidential limo is top secret, classified. It is a vessel of secrets, but here’s what’s available in the public domain. First of all, the president’s car is not actually a car. It’s a vehicle built on a modified medium-truck GM chassis. The limo is based on a number of GM platforms and shares components with several different vehicles. Its exterior includes parts from several Cadillac models, such as headlights from an Escalade, and the grille and taillights from an STS. Secondly, the president’s car is not one car. Obama’s car is actually one of a fleet of identical and interchangeable vehicles built by General Motors.

The presidential limo is covered in military-grade, possibly ‘reactive’ armour, to repulse armour-piercing ordnance which may be as thick as eight inches on the doors. It is said that each door weighs as much as the cabin door of a Boeing! The windows are ballistic glass, supposedly five inches thick. The driver’s window is the only one that opens (to about three inches), so that he can talk to secret service agents. There’s probably a woven Kevlar mat covering the floorboard to protect the car from blasts. The tyres are Kevlar reinforced, shred and puncture-resistant with steel rims underneath so that the car can be piloted at high speeds even if the tyres are blasted away.
The cabin is believed to feature a sealed air recirculation system to protect occupants from chemical attacks -carrying its own oxygen supply, fire-fighting equipment, even bottles of the president’s blood in case he needs an emergency transfusion.

Though all this sounds impressive, if a terrorist were to score a direct hit on the limo with an anti-vehicle weapon, no amount of armour would save the occupants. What the armour does is make the car tip the scales at about seven to eight tonnes. Obviously, fuel economy and performance have been sacrificed. The limo reportedly just about makes it to the 100kph mark, returns about three to four kilometres to every litre of diesel. Yes! It’s a diesel

The limo is equipped with communication facilities such as phone, satellite, Internet, which gives Obama the capability of getting in touch with people across oceans, but restricts him from talking to the man across the street.

Whether he likes it or not, Barack Obama is stuck with the Cadillac for the next four years. After doing presidential time, the limos will be put into service of the Vice-President and visiting world leaders. The cars are ultimately destroyed after 10 years of their existence, after the Secret Service adopted a policy to protect their secrets, post September 11, 2001.

Barack Obama entered office with the promise of a more peaceful and bountiful world. If he can live up to his promises, he will not only win himself a second term but also free himself from the embarrassment of his presidential limo. And the president of the United States can move around freely a car, not a tank that can run on a more eco-friendly alternate source of energy. That will be a real symbol of change.

William Taft, the first American president to own and drive a Baker Electric. Yes, an electric car. At the turn of the century nearly 40 percent of the cars in America were powered by batteries. Unlike other early cars, the Baker needed no cranking, had no smell of petrol and was essentially maintenance-free. But after Henry Ford began mass production of the Model T, at half the cost of electric cars, battery-powered cars faded away. In fact, Jay Leno has a 1909 model Baker Electric in his collection and claims that it still uses the car’s original Edison batteries.
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