Ken Lucci still gets a kick out of sitting in the same Cadillac stretch limousine where President Ronald Reagan used to sit.
"I wonder what he would have been doing, ... the conversations that went on," said Lucci, owner of the limo rental company Ambassador Limousine and Sedan Inc.
Lucci actually owns two presidential limos: the 1984 model Reagan traveled in and the 1975 Cadillac used by Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter.
Both vehicles are Series 75 stretch Fleetwoods, and both run well. Lucci keeps the shiny black rides at a warehouse but occasionally takes them out for friends and family or for parades.
The cars retain many of their original features: the plush blue velour interior, the flag holders on the front fenders, and two retractable seats that can be folded up if the president wants more leg room.
The 1975 limo has its original siren and red flashing lights tucked inside the front grille.
Eventually, Lucci wants to make the cars available for school field trips.
A bit of a presidential history buff, he owns several items from the Secret Service, including a copy of the title to one of the cars, a flag flown on John F. Kennedy's 1961 presidential limo and a helmet that would have been worn by uniformed Secret Service agents in the Nixon administration.
Lucci became interested in presidential history after taking a trip to Dallas in the mid-1990s to see the site of Kennedy's assassination. He later took a trip to the Reagan library in California, where he saw parade vehicles and became interested in the limos.
After the 1981 assassination attempt on Reagan, the presidential limo was decommissioned and two more heavily fortified models were introduced to the fleet.
From that point, the president's car began to resemble a wheeled fortress, with each version more armored than its predecessor. The cars travel in twos and threes to fool would-be assassins.
Lucci said his 1984 Cadillac would have carried about 8,000 pounds of steel and glass in its heyday. He said he bought the vehicle - he calls it simply the "Reagan limo" - on eBay in 2006 for $4,000.
A relative bargain.
"I don't think he knew what he had," he said of the seller.
It was advertised as a damaged, armored Cadillac out of Washington.
The limo's body was in poor shape. Its black vinyl top was ripped and faded, and the fenders were rusted through. Most of the bulletproof glass was shattered, although Lucci was able to retrieve a 1-1/2-inch-thick slab.
Lucci theorizes the Secret Service smashed the windows to test the strength of the glass. He had to spend about $40,000 to refurbish the car, replacing the thick glass with regular auto glass.
Lucci estimates about a dozen U.S. collectors own presidential limos. After a car has served its time as a presidential vehicle, it is used elsewhere in the White House fleet before becoming available for sale to the public.
Lucci bought the 1975 Ford-Carter limo a few years ago from a woman in Orlando who was storing it in her barn. Her husband, who had died, owned a gas station in Washington and bought the car from the Secret Service.
It still has its red lights and siren under the hood, and Lucci isn't shy about giving demonstrations by flicking a couple of switches under the steering wheel.
Lucci likes the classic Cadillac look with long fenders.
The addition of armor after the assassination attempt on Reagan tended to give the limos a boxy shape. The new limo being readied for President-elect Barack Obama, which Lucci viewed online, doesn't look much like a Cadillac, but then the world is more dangerous today than in the 1970s and '80s.
"Back in the day they had to worry about a hand grenade, a rifle shot or a handgun," he said. "Well, today they have to worry about rockets - everything from biological to chemical attacks.
"The vehicles I have, there is no way a president could ever travel in them today."
Source: Tampa Tribune