Last month, the President and Vice-President visited the Toledo area. I was part of a detail of law enforcement officers that helped with the motorcades. As a way of saying “thanks” the Secret Service invited all officers involved to come out the night before the visit to see The Beast! For those of you not familiar, “The Beast” is the name affectionately given to the armored limousine that the President rides in. So this month I thought it would be fun to write about this monster of a vehicle.
Decades ago designers were reportedly inspired by the James Bonds’1966 Aston Martin from the movie Goldfinger, they decided to add countermeasures to increase its’ protective ability. Although The Beast doesn’t have machine-gun mounted headlights (that we know of), apparently this creative thinking has continued through todays models.
The original presidential limousines were bought and then had heavy armor and countermeasures of various kinds added to them. However, the extra weight was causing mechanical reliability issues for the limousines that weren’t built to handle it. Years ago, I did a Krav Maga course with a secret service agent and they said the transmissions often failed and they had to change the brakes every other trip! So from President G.W. Bush on, these vehicles were designed and built from the ground up to be everything they needed. President Bush had the first generation of such a vehicle, and although there has been some overlap, President Obama mostly travelled in the second generation vehicles, and President Trump travels in the third generation.
It has a lot of babysitters. Since the vehicle is purpose built from day one, it has a secret service agent watching it at all times, even from the moment they first start the build!
People always ask “How heavy is it?” “What’s the top speed?” “What can the armor stop?” The agent in charge told me “Most of its specifications are classified. So all I can say is, it’s really heavy, it goes really fast, and it can stop very heavy bullets and bombs.”
The tires however, are a dead give-away. Based on the tires, which are custom made for the Beast, the vehicle is 15,000-20,000lbs. At one point they considered putting electrified weather stripping on the sides to prevent a riotous crowd from overturning it. It was then pointed out that it’s too heavy for humans to overturn it by hand. The Beast is really a truck that looks like a Limo. Everything on it is Super-sized. Even the Cadillac logo is custom made and larger than usual. And by the way, although it is made by General Motors, it's not really a Cadillac.
How much does it cost? I’ve heard/read the 2nd Generation was in the neighborhood of 1.2 million dollars.
What happens to the older ones? Older generations of The Beast are used for the Vice-President and various other dignitaries and high ranking politicians. Some are used to train Secret Service agents as drivers. And when it’s time to retire one, because of it’s classified nature, it is usually stuffed with mannequins and fired upon with various weapons, ultimately being blown up. This allows designers to see just how much damage it can withstand, while simultaneously making sure no one is able to discover its secrets.
On 9/11, one of these vehicles was parked under the world trade center. Reportedly, the tires were blown and the axles broken, but the cab was not crushed! I’m sure air quality would have been an issue (although it does have its own Oxygen source and is sealed against chemical weapon attacks). The only structural threat to someone inside would have been the fact that the side windows fell inward. This would have been a serious problem though because those windows weigh about 300lbs. So with later generations they made the inner window area smaller than the outer, so under extreme force, the windows cannot be forced inward.
Flags: As you may know, there are guidelines for how an American flag is to be displayed. Specifically, if a flag is flying at night, it is supposed to be illuminated. So The Beast actually has lights built into the top of the fenders to light up the flags on display at the front of the vehicle.
The Presidential Seal: The Presidential seal that is displayed on the sides of the vehicle are technically only supposed to be displayed when the President is being transported for Government business. If he happens to be going somewhere NOT for Government business, say going out to dinner with family, the seal is not displayed on the doors.
The Doors are heavy and Thick! If you ever see the President getting out of The Beast, take notice. The doors are massive, thick, and heavy. You will usually see Secret Service agents holding the door open with two hands. This is because if the door swings closed on a limb (say a leg) it’s weight will very likely break bones or worse.