THE WEIZMANN LINCOLN: FROM ISRAEL, A PIECE OF LINCOLN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORY
THE 50 YEAR-OLD WEIZMANN LINCOLN IS BACK - LOOKING YOUNGER THAN EVER
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif., August 18, 2001 -- In 1950, two presidents received Lincoln Cosmopolitan limousines for their use as heads of state -- U.S. President Harry S. Truman and Dr. Chaim Weizmann, the first president of Israel. Today, the Weizmann Lincoln has been completely restored to its original condition, befitting its important place in history as the first presidential limousine of Israel.
Lincoln was a presidential marque from its inception. Founded in 1917, Henry Leland named his luxury automotive company after his boyhood hero, President Abraham Lincoln. In 1922, Ford Motor Company bought the floundering firm, which already had a reputation for producing “the best of the best.”
Presidential orders soon followed. In 1924, Calvin Coolidge received the first presidential Lincoln, a seven-passenger phaeton. Franklin Roosevelt followed with his 1939 “Sunshine Special” Lincoln convertible, the first to be customized for presidential needs: it was armored, lengthened by six feet, and equipped with bullet-proof tires, a two-way radio, sirens and warning lights, and compartments for firearms.
In 1950, President Harry S. Truman retired the Sunshine Special and made a request for a fleet of custom-built Presidential Lincoln Cosmopolitan limousines. Only 18 were produced by Ford Motor Company. Of those, nine were leased directly to the White House, while another eight were scattered throughout the United States, in cities likely to be visited officially by the president. The 18th car went to Israel, where it was used by Dr. Weizmann until his death in 1952.
Refinements to the presidential model began at the ground level: the wheelbase was a roomy 145 inches long, compared with the production model’s 132. The body of the presidential model, constructed by the well-respected Henney Motor Company of Freeport, Illinois, was almost two feet longer than the production Cosmopolitan as well: twenty feet of imposing black body stretched between the elegant front grille to the gleaming back bumper.
A 152 horsepower, V-8 Lincoln engine and heavy-duty four-speed Hydramatic transmission pulled it smoothly. Extra-wide, white-walled tires -- half-concealed behind skirted fenders in the rear -- added a note of strength and elegance.
Presidential Lincoln Cosmopolitan chauffeurs piloted the car from a rich leather front seat, behind a big steering wheel graced by an imposing Lincoln insignia. In contrast, the passenger compartment seats were trimmed in a smoothly textured, ribbed brown cloth. An extra-large umbrella was stored in a special tube-like compartment built under the driver's seat, to protect the president or other distinguished riders from inclement weather.
In the rear passenger cabin, up to five people could ride in dignified luxury. The roofline was 7” higher than in a standard Cosmopolitan, to permit comfortable wearing of top hats, which were still a necessary part of the formal wear appropriate for state business at the time.
Besides the three seats available in the rear bench (two with the wide middle armrest lowered), extra riders could be accommodated by two additional folding seats. Opulent gold and chrome trim set off rich brown upholstery. Fitted cases of brown lizard skin recessed into the rear compartment armrests could accommodate a thermos bottle and writing case with gold pen, next to cigarette cases with electric lighters, under gold-plated sliding lids.
The president’s own seat included a small retractable letter-desk. A fine broadcloth lap robe with a lining that matched the rich beige and brown-striped upholstery completed the package.
The limousine delivered to Weizmann boasted an addition to these accoutrements, a disappearing cigar case built into the lower half of the divider between the driver's and passengers' cabins. The hidden case was located just below an aeronautical-style manual-winding clock and lighter. (The dashboard clock in the driver's cabin, however, was electrical.)
Climate control was accomplished by an unusual two-heater system, specially designed to provide fresh air to both compartments at all times. One heater warmed the driver’s compartment from its position under the hood. The rear heater, fitted into the trunk, was connected by tubes with the radiator, and ensured the comfort of passengers.
The car’s electrical system was extremely advanced for the time, boasting some luxuries not generally available on luxury vehicles of its time. From the president's seat the driver could receive instructions through a state-of-the-art intercom system. Two radios were placed in the vehicle, one in the driver’s compartment and one in the rear, so that all occupants could hear clearly.
The electrically-controlled, hydraulically-powered window controls – including the dividing glass between the driver's and passengers' cabins -- were the piece de resistance. The front side windows could be raised and lowered from the driver’s keypad, while both rear windows could be operated by either passenger, since the stretch to the door controls in the wide limousine could be a long one. Outside, the electrical system alerted parade crowds to the presidential Cosmopolitan’s approach by front flashing lights, as well as a siren.
For Dr. Weizmann’s official state car, no license plates were necessary. Instead, bronze state insignia were placed on the front and rear bumpers. His presidential Lincoln Cosmopolitan also bore another insignia, on the left front corner of the front bumper: a gold-plated steel shield attesting to the honorary lifetime membership which the Automobile Club and Touring Association of Israel granted him. A state flag of Israel also flew from a right front fender staff.
In essence, the presidential 1950 Lincoln Cosmopolitan brought together a top-of-the-line engine and transmission with classic exterior styling and luxurious interior refinements. It was truly a vehicle fit for a president.
In the United States, Truman’s Cosmopolitan fleet wasn’t replaced until 1961, when President John F. Kennedy received special delivery of a new Lincoln Cosmopolitan limousine. The White House continued to request Lincolns for its transportation needs throughout this century, receiving new Presidential Lincoln Continental limousines in 1968 and 1972, and a Presidential Lincoln Town Car limousine in 1989.
Dr. Weizmann used his 1950 Lincoln Cosmopolitan until his death in 1952. It was subsequently used by his wife Vera, and in later years, it was put on display at the Weizmann House in Rehovot, near Tel Aviv, which had been turned into a museum to memorialize Dr. Weizmann’s life and work. The Weizmann House is part of the Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel’s leading center for scientific research and graduate study. Its 2,500 scientists, students and support staff are engaged in more than 1,000 research projects across the spectrum of contemporary science.
Souvenir-seekers and harsh weather eventually took a heavy toll on the historic vehicle -- paint cracked and peeled, panels rusted and the rich upholstery suffered. It was eventually removed from display at the Weizmann House, but was asked about frequently.
The Weizmann House itself underwent complete renovation in the mid 1990s. With the home and gardens restored to their original luster, the presidential car’s absence was even more deeply felt. Daniel Tamari, head of the Research Services Division for the Weizmann Institute, turned to Israel’s Council for the Commemoration of Presidents and Prime Ministers of the State of Israel for help in restoring the vehicle.
In turn, the Council contacted Gil Agmon, president of Delek Motors, the Ford and Lincoln importer-distributor in Israel since June 1999 and recently named “Importer of the Year” by the Israeli American Chamber of Commerce. Enthusiastic, Agmon brought the project to Ford Motor Company’s Worldwide Direct Market Operations (WDMO).
In April 2000, a three-way partnership of the Weizmann Institute, Delek Motors and Ford Motor Company was formed to restore the Weizmann Presidential Lincoln Cosmopolitan limousine to its original condition. Restoration is now complete and the Weizmann Lincoln will be returned to the Weizmann Institute in the fall of 2001.