And few road-going conveyances project the plushness, power or privilege of a limousine. With the White House’s fleet of limos scheduled for a refresh, it seemed time to take inventory of some of history’s most remarkable stretches.

Gangland getaway

Al Capone’s green 1928 Cadillac was adorned with bulletproof glass and a tonne and a half of armour plating, as well as handling that could evade both pursuing police and the taxman. Capone’s Caddy was impounded when he was, and sat in storage until 7 December 1941 – a date that would live in infamy – when President Franklin D Roosevelt suddenly felt he might need a good armoured car. The Secret Service pulled the infamous car from storage, and Roosevelt used it until a car with a more presidential pedigree could be outfitted.

King of the road

Make enough gold records, get a gold car. Elvis Presley’s 1960 Cadillac Fleetwood 75 was customised by Batmobile creator George Barris with all the understated charm one would expect. The paint was 40 coats deep, and contained pearl, diamond dust and exotic fish scales. Every metallic exterior component – down to the hubcaps – was gold-plated. Alongside the record player, phone, refrigerator, television (only one) and tape player, there was a built-in shoe buffer, all of them accented in 24k.

Tin Lizzy

Upon Queen Elizabeth II’s 2002 Golden Jubilee, Bentley Motors presented her with the State Limousine. It is a muscled-up version of the Arnage – nearly three feet longer and 10in taller – and with a 400-horsepower twin-turbo V8 engine under the bonnet (which bears the Queen’s personal mascot – St George slaying the dragon – rather than Bentley’s “Flying B”). It is used on official engagements in Britain, and to drive the Queen to church.

Extra headroom

In 1978 it was decided that having the pope travel in a litter-like chair carried on the shoulders of attendants might not be the most PR-savvy practice, giving rise to the Popemobile. There have been a string of them, mostly built on the chassis of small SUVs, with the area behind the driver’s compartment converted to a standing platform sheathed (since 1981) in bulletproof glass. Mercedes-Benzes are the most frequent choice, but Pope Francis rides in a Ford Focus – when he is not, presumably, tooling around the Vatican in his Renault 4L.

Putin’s prize

Russia’s Zavod imeni Likhachova, or ZiL, is best known as a maker of trucks, buses, military vehicles and propeller-driven snowmobiles. It has also designed limousines for the political class, most recently for President Vladimir Putin, after he insisted on being shuttled in a Russian-built ride. The final product has all the delicacy of a Russian gangster, and – ironically – consists primarily of American parts.

Meet the Beatles

In 1965, the Rolls-Royce Phantom V was the pinnacle of British road-going luxury. John Lennon, to some Britons, represented the nadir of British culture. Luckily, he was rich enough to not only buy a Phantom V, but to have it painted yellow and decorated like a Romany wagon (though the car is often referred to as “psychedelic”). The Phantom was once attacked by an umbrella-wielding elderly woman, who called Lennon “a swine” for daring to do such a thing to a Rolls.

A classic in a classic

Norma Desmond had a car. “Not one of those cheap new things made of chromium and spit, an Isotta Fraschini.” In Sunset Boulevard, the former silent film star is driven to meet with director Cecil B DeMille in her leopard-and-gold 1929 touring car, after receiving phone calls from Paramount Studios. Heartbreakingly, it turns out that the car – not the star – was the object of the studio’s desire all along.

Road Force One

It is known as the Beast by those who protect it and its cargo, and for good reason. While it may look like a Cadillac, the US presidential limo is a custom-built modification of a General Motors truck, most likely the Chevrolet Kodiak (The White House has not disclosed most details about the vehicle.). The doors are armoured so heavily that they are all but impossible to open from the inside, the interior is airtight (with its own oxygen supply) and it’s got a massively redundant communications system, fire suppression, Kevlar run-flat tires and a fridge full of blood in the president’s type. Which really takes defensive driving to a new level.

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