The Beast: President Barack Obama's High-Tech Super-Limo

January 21, 2013

Last year the world snickered at the sight of the Presidential limousine high-centered on a Dublin driveway. But it pays to remember that we were laughing at the foreign stand-in to what may be the world's most high-tech mobile fortress.

The exact specifications of President Obama's limousine, also known as "The Beast," are a matter of national security, and therefore kept secret, but some of the car's key specs have been made public, and there are even more guessed at or postulated. Built by GM and nominally a Cadillac, the vehicle is actually based on the industrial-duty GMC TopKick truck platform. Thanks to its massive size and heft, The Beast drinks fuel at a rapid rate, scoring just 8 mpg.

Bullet-proof is just the beginning
It's known that the limo is heavily armored, with 8-inch thick doors, for example. The superstructure is made of titanium, ceramic, steel, and aluminum. It has its own oxygen supply, an advanced fire-fighting system, night-vision cameras, tear gas cannons, Kevlar-reinforced run-flat tires, and steel wheels that work even without a tire.

On top of all that, the limo also contains a supply of the President's blood for emergencies, an unspecified number of pump-action shotguns for defense, and the ability to lock down the cabin like a nearly-impenetrable panic room. The Beast is sealed to the environment, mitigating or eliminating the threat of biological attack.

Advanced communications
As you might imagine, all the armor-plating and environmental seclusion means almost no sound enters the cabin. To hear sounds outside the vehicle, it's equipped with microphones on the outside and speakers inside.

Further communications equipment enables The Beast's occupants to converse with several of the specialized vehicles that are part of the 45-vehicle motorcade that travels with the President in the U.S., or the handful of vehicles that accompany on trips outside the U.S. Full command and control communications are possible through relay to the White House Communications Agency Roadrunner vehicle, which transmits encrypted duplex radio and video through military satellites.

Speculated features
Unverified features of The Beast include the ability to fire infrared smoke grenades as a sort of chaff to screen the vehicle from attack by rocket propelled grenade or missile. Up front, the driver is thought to have a special video system to enable driving even in blackout or whiteout visibility conditions (smoke, complete darkness, weather, etc.). If you're having a hard time visualizing how all of this fits together, the U.K.'s Daily Mail has an excellent graphic representation here.

In all, it's a formidable vehicle--truly deserving of its nickname. And with all that we know about its defensive features, it seems unlikely it's not also equipped with rather significant offensive abilities as well--that is, beyond the complement of Secret Service agents inside, guarding it, and the vehicles following along.

Makes a person think twice about laughing at The Beast, or its similarly-able predecessor, when it gets stuck, doesn't it?

Some other fun facts about the history of Presidential Cadillac limos (via USA Today):

  • Woodrow Wilson chose a Cadillac limo for his 1919 victory drive through Boston because the car's engine, the first mass-produced V-8, was robust and reliable. 
  • After the Pearl Harbor bombing, legend says Franklin D. Roosevelt rode in an armored Cadillac limo formerly owned by Al Capone
  • Gearhead president Dwight D. Eisenhower rode in one of the first Cadillac Eldorados ever built during his 1953 inauguration
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