When it comes to car collecting, the history of a vehicle can play an enormous part in the value ascribed to it. Cars owned by movie stars, driven by celebrities – or used by a president – can increase the desirability of a particular automobile over others of the same make and model that do not have a famous history.
This was certainly the case for David Disiere with the very rare opportunity to acquire one of the most important presidential parade cars in American history: a 1962 Lincoln Continental “Bubbletop” limousine used by President John F. Kennedy, known in the White House Fleet as 297-X.
Although this was not the first White House Continental, it was because of the success of its predecessor, a 1961 Lincoln Continental Convertible designated 100-X by the Secret Service, that the 297-X was commissioned. Intended for more extensive use, the 297-X would become a popular car in the White House Fleet, used by President John F. Kennedy and even more often by the First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy – so much so, that it was affectionately nicknamed “Jackie’s Bubbletop”.
Ordered by the White House in 1961, the Kennedy Lincoln limousine was built with the Continental convertible’s body, but with a fixed plexiglas roof in a unique “Bubbletop” shape. Fitted with upholstered black leather and the finest amenities, the car also received a number of special modifications undertaken by Hess & Eisenhardt.
Many of these were safety features designed to help protect President Kennedy, his family and guests while traveling in the vehicle. These modifications included windows made of Herculite safety glass and warning lights and sirens built into the bumpers. It was also fitted with separate two-way radios in the front and rear, and a full partition to separate the driver compartment from the rest of the car. It also converted into a formal limousine with the installation of a black vinyl skin over the plexiglas roof.
The primary purpose of the Kennedy “Bubbletop” limousine was a parade car, as evidenced by the incorporation of fluorescent spotlights mounted into the divider that could be trained on the rear seats so that the important – and often glamorous – occupants could be seen by spectators.
During its years in service at the White House, the Bubbletop became one of the most important parade cars in American history, parading a host of famous dignitaries and important guests, including the Apollo astronauts, President Lyndon B. Johnson, Vice Presidents Hubert Humphrey and Spiro Agnew, and Pope Paul VI to name just a few.
The 297-X has been meticulously maintained, first by the Secret Service, and later by private owners. The vehicle has not required any major restoration, and has approximately 15,000 miles on the odometer.
Perhaps more than any other vehicle, presidential limousines hold a particular fascination, especially for car collectors. The Lincoln Continental Bubbletop limousine must be a vehicle at the top of the list, given the history, glamour and tragedy of the Kennedy era. As the backup vehicle for the ELwood Engel-designed 1961 Lincoln Continental presidential limousine 100-X, in which President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, one cannot help but wonder if events would have played out differently had President Kennedy been riding in the Lincoln Continental Bubbletop instead of the convertible.