BBC Autos

The Roundabout Blog

The cars of JFK

About the author

Deputy editor of BBC Autos, Jonathan was formerly the editor of The New York Times' Wheels blog. His automotive writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times Magazine, Details, Surface, Intersection and Design Observer. He has an affinity for the Citroën DS and Toyota pickup trucks of the early 1990s.

  • History in motion

    Events surrounding the death of John F Kennedy are inextricably tied to cars. The open-top limousine in which he travelled on that fateful day in Dallas, Texas. The hearse that transported his body from Parkland Memorial Hospital to Dallas Love Field. The getaway vehicle of his alleged assassin. Each is an engine propelling one of America’s most tragic narratives forward.

    Some of these vehicles have landed in private hands – at considerable expense to their purchasers – others are viewable in some of the US’s most respected museums, while others have found their very identities challenged. Regardless of where they sit, they occupy a sizable corner of the American imagination. (Photo: Courtesy of the Henry Ford Museum)

  • Lincoln Continental four-door convertible

    The most famous car associated with Kennedy is also the most recognisable. Codenamed X-100 by the US secret service, the limousine was put to work in June 1961 after extensive modifications by the Ohio-based armored coachbuilder Hess & Eisenhardt. Following the president’s assassination in Dallas, the limousine was impounded and examined for evidence before being sent for another significant upfitting in Ohio. It was last used in a presidential procession in 1977, during the Carter Administration, and now is on view at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. (Photo: Courtesy of the Henry Ford Museum)

  • Lincoln Continental hard-top convertible

    According to RR Auction, which sold the vehicle in October 2013, this Continental was used to transport President Kennedy, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy and Texas Governor John Connally from a breakfast in Fort Worth, Texas, to the airfield where the entourage would catch its flight to nearby Dallas. Though the car passed through a number of owners before landing in RR Auction’s catalogue of Kennedy-related memorabilia, its provenance and ownership history were well documented, facilitating October’s winning online bid of $318,000. (Photo: RR Auction)

  • 1962 Checker Marathon Taxicab

    Though the cars most closely associated with 22 November 1963 were boat-like conveyances built by Cadillac and Lincoln, one mid-size car has all but slipped from the public consciousness: a Checker cab purportedly used by Lee Harvey Oswald in the immediate aftermath of President Kennedy’s assassination. Once housed in the now-shuttered Pate Museum of Transportation in Fort Worth, Texas, the cab was sold by RM Auctions in 2010 for $35,750 to Wayne Lensing, an insatiable collector of Kennedy automotive ephemera, who installed the vehicle at his museum, Historic Auto Attractions, in northern Illinois. (Photo: Courtesy of RM Auctions)

  • 1962 Lincoln Continental Towne Limousine

    Under President Kennedy, the White House maintained a small fleet of Lincoln Continental limousines to shuttle dignitaries around the nation’s capital, among them car No 424232. RM Auctions notes that this limousine was also used by Kennedy on 15 November 1963 during a trip to New York, where he addressed the largest organised labour body in the country. It would be his last visit to the city. RM consigned the Continental in 2008 for its annual event in Arizona, but it failed to meet the seller’s reserve, stalling at a high bid of $400,000. (Photo: Courtesy of RM Auctions)

  • 1963 Pontiac Bonneville ambulance

    A grey ambulance met First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy and the president’s brother, Robert, at Andrews Air Force Base in Washington following the assassination. The ambulance transported the coffin bearing the president’s body, along with the grieving family members, to Bethesda, Maryland, where the body underwent an autopsy. When that very ambulance was announced among the consignments for Barrett-Jackson’s 2011 auction in Scottsdale, Arizona, pre-sale estimates rang in around $1m. But when documentation surfaced that challenged the authenticity of the vehicle – led by an organisation of enthusiasts and owners of professional-use cars, an effort publicised by the US automotive website Jalopnik – the ambulance fell out with would-be buyers. It ultimately sold for $132,000, a fraction of its initial estimate. (Photo: Barrett-Jackson)

  • 1964 Cadillac hearse

    Customised by Miller-Meteor – a now-defunct upfitter of civilian vehicles once based in the American Midwest – this Cadillac hearse transported the First Lady and the president’s body from Parkland Memorial Hospital to Dallas Love Field. With undisputed provenance, the hearse ignited a bidding war on eBay in 2011, but the $1.5m asking price was not satisfied, leading Barrett-Jackson to try its hand selling the artefact. At its 2012 Scottsdale event, the auctioneer offered the vehicle with no reserve price, and it sold for little more than the infamous Bonneville ambulance brought the previous year – $176,000 – to Colorado real estate magnate and avid collector Stephen Tebo. (Photo: Barrett-Jackson)