SOUTHPORT, CONN. — It’s not every day that you get to park your butt in the exact same seat that once accommodated John F. Kennedy. Shining in the early spring sun at the Classic Car Gallery here was the four-door 1963 Lincoln Continental that both JFK and Jackie Kennedy used for a parade in Fort Worth, Texas, the day before he was assassinated in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963.
That car complements a 1960 Lincoln Mark V limousine that was reportedly in the Kennedy White House motor pool, and both are owned by Connecticut resident and Kennedy memorabilia collector and dealer John Reznikoff (who bought them at auction from the aptly named Museum of American Tragedy).
Reznikoff has had them for more than a decade, but plans to sell them next year — the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination. To that end, he and Alan Goodman of the Classic Car Gallery have gotten them running again — though the interiors are preserved as they were. The red leather (see photo) is cracked a bit, but that’s the actual Kennedy seat, isn’t it? (Note: In November 2013, Reznikoff sold the white Lincoln Continental at auction for $360,000. "I'm sad that it's gone," he says, "and you'll see it at a museum in the near future.")
I drove both cars, which displayed the characteristics people wanted in those days — ultra-light power steering and brakes, floaty rides and whisper-quiet engines. The limo (with a divider window, passenger air conditioning and radio controls, and an ultra-cool two-way telephone that must have been nearly unique at the time) had acres of black hood. That diminished the view forward somewhat, but it was fine in a straight line with substantial V-8 power despite the weight. Backing it up, though, reminded me of my old school-bus-driving days — zero visibility.
The convertible reminded me of what innovative cars these Lincolns were — with subdued styling that went against the fins and chrome of the era and a unique-at-the-time four-door convertible body style. The car’s provenance is fairly well established, since Reznikoff has photos of the car with the Kennedys aboard in that Fort Worth parade.
The limo, well, that one is harder to document. It certainly looks presidential! There’s no question that the museum advertised it as a Kennedy parade car, and it was described as such by an owner who bought it off a used-car lot in the early 1970s. He later attempted to donate the car to the Kennedy Library in Boston, but they declined in a polite letter saying there was no room for vehicles.
The eccentric Museum of American Tragedy — it must have been a great destination for school groups — also advertised the highly mangled Buick Electra Jayne Mansfield death car, and the getaway Ford from the movie "Bonnie and Clyde." The museum (at right) had Kennedy memorabilia aplenty, including both cars and miscellaneous stuff found in Lee Harvey Oswald’s room after he died. Owner L.H. “Buddy” Hough died in 1996 and the museum closed two years later, hence the auction. For some odd reason, there is an American Tragedy Museum band with a page on Facebook.
I called Michael Bromley, author of both "Stretching It: The Story of the Limousine" (written with Tom Mazza) and "William Howard Taft and the First Motoring Presidency, 1909-1913."
“Hmm,” he said, “a 1960 Lincoln? It may have been introduced to the fleet prior to Kennedy’s time in office, and it could have been one of the cars that were doled out to the White House in a $500-a-year lease arrangement with Ford. In those days, they went through a lot of cars and would then dump them back into the used-car market. That’s why some ended up in the arms of petty dictators around the world. Did you see the ‘70s Lincoln limousine that was used for Kim Jong-Il’s funeral in North Korea?"
Establishing a car's history can be difficult. I searched the rear cushions for stray copies of "Profiles in Courage," but didn't find one. Divider-window Lincolns definitely had VIP owners, though not necessarily presidential ones.
The White House fleet of the time definitely included a 1960 Chrysler Crown Imperial limo with body by Ghia that Jackie Kennedy used on formal occasions, and a Lincoln convertible lent by Ford that she drove around herself. And, of course, there was the four-door 1961 convertible limousine, VIN #1Y86H405950, known as the X-100, which was custom-made by Hess & Eisenhardt. It was the JFK death car, and is one of the most famous vehicles in the world. If you want to see it, go to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, but you may be disappointed — after the assassination, the car was much modified for security reasons. As an enclosed limo, it went on to serve Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, too.
Here's John Reznikoff telling you all about his pride and joy Lincolns: