Govern Tastefully: These Are The Most Stylish Rides For Heads Of States
So you kissed enough babies to win over the electorate and you’ve topped the polls. You are now the leader of your country and are now faced with the most important decision of your career: choosing your limousine.
The specter of terrorism now looms over every public appearance by a world leader, so many now travel only by armored Audi A8 or bulletproof Cadillac. When security was less of an issue though, there was a little more room for individual expression. So whether you were a Democrat or a dictator, you needed to be chauffeured in style.
Here is a selection of leader’s limousines that were a little bit different:
The French are known for being tasteful in pretty much all of their endeavors, and governmental transport was no different. The versatile and stylish Citroën DS was employed by the French government for transporting officials and dignitaries. Not only was it an elegant machine, it may also have saved a president’s life.
General Charles de Gaulle was divisive as President of France. Following his decision to grant independence to Algeria, the paramilitary group OAS attempted to assassinate him. De Gaulle and his wife were traveling in a Citroën DS when their convoy came under attack and the machine gun fire blew out the DS’s tires, sending it into a dramatic skid. The Citroën’s ingenious hydropneumatique suspension quickly adapted to the loss of tire pressure though, and the driver was able to regain control of the car and speed to the safety of Orly airport—it’s thought that the DS was struck by no less than 140 bullets during the course of the attack. De Gaulle credited the DS with saving his life and refused to ride in anything else for the remainder of his career. This scene is depicted in the classic film Day of the Jackal which you can see at the end of this clip here.
De Gaulle wasn’t the only president with a taste for Citroëns though. George Pompidou commissioned coach builder Henri Chapron to build a four door version of the SM as well. Aptly named the Opera, eight were built and used exclusively by the French government. An elegant example was the star of a recent Jean Paul Gaultier TV commercial. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wcmw–JHg2E
While traditionally the state car of choice on the Emerald Isle has been a Mercedes Benz, there have been a few notable exceptions. In the 1940s the recently founded Irish state required new transportation for its president to replace the horse drawn carriage he had been riding in, so they made the logical upgrade and the government purchased a 1947 Rolls Royce Silver Wraith. While the Wraith was not uncommon amongst the world elite, what was unique about this car was that it remained in service from 1947 until 1973, retiring only when Éamon DeValera retired. “Dev” kept the car for his own personal use, traveling in it right up until his death in 1975. The car is now defined as “an archaeological object” by the Irish government.
In 1990 Mary Robinson made history in becoming Ireland’s first female president, changing the status quo that had stood for decades. Her individuality didn’t stop there of course, as upon assuming the presidency she declined the standard-issue Mercedes, opting instead for an Alfa Romeo 164, a car rarely seen in Ireland in those days. We envy the Garda driver who got to exploit the Busso V6 to its full potential, hopefully under police escort.
Japan prides itself on its many industries, in particular its automotive production. Thus the state car must be the pinnacle of automotive luxury and technology, right? The V12 Toyota Century fits the bill nicely, and had been in use by the government since 1967, receiving only minor updates until 1997 when the model was completely redesigned. While the government ministers make do with the standard Century, the Japanese Imperial family enjoy the bespoke Century Royal. The latest version in service to Emperor Akihito and his wife features granite entry steps and a headliner made from Japanese Rice paper, echoing principles of traditional Japanese architecture.
The former communist GDR leader Erich Honecker, despite his socialist roots, demanded some opulent French luxury. He ordered two custom-built Citroën CX Turbo Prestige limousines from coach builder Tissier. However with the fall of the Berlin Wall, Honecker and many of his contemporaries fled to Argentina. As a result, he never actually got the chance to ride either. One of the cars made it into public hands sometime later on, and was actually auctioned a few years ago to an ironic life of private property.
The Lincoln division of Ford of course is named after a president, so it’s only fitting that their cars were employed in service of the nation. The Lincoln Continental was a cut down “Laundaulet” limousine, allowing the president to stand and wave to the masses lining the streets. With its slab-sided monolithic design, the car was symbolic of the highest office in the land.
Sadly John F. Kennedy met an untimely demise while traveling in an open-top Continental, and since that day, US presidents no longer travel with such vulnerability, and are instead confined to bulletproof “Beasts” that trade off style for safety.
While governing a nation infamous for producing tasteful cars, the Italian president can’t roll around in any old S-Class. While any Italian leader down through the years would have had been spoilt for choice when it came to fashionable transport, President Giovanni Gronchi provided the state with a limousine for life. In 1960, spurred by an imminent state visit of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth, President Gronchi commissioned four stretched, open-top versions of the Lancia Flaminia, now known as the Flaminia 335 Presidenziale. All four elegant examples survived and are used to this day in state ceremonies.
While the Pope Francis is not strictly a world leader in the same sense as those above, his taste in cars earns him a mention here. The Pontiff traditionally travels in an armored “Popemobile,” the most recent of which is a modified Mercedes M-Class. However, Pope Francis, famed for his modest and spartan lifestyle and rejecting much of the luxury afforded to him by the Catholic Church, prefers his quaint Renault 4. The white Quatrelle was a gift from Father Renzo Zocca in 2013, sporting 170,000 miles on the odometer at the time of the handover. The Pope is said to be very fond of it and enjoys getting behind the wheel as often as he can.