The notorious origin of the first presidential armored car

Manufactured by a man once named America’s “Public Enemy Number One,” this battle-ready sedan would become the Secret Service’s first bulletproof “Cadillac One.”

Immediately after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, fears of further attacks on federal targets spread across the United States. The Secret Service even warned President Roosevelt that they couldn’t guarantee his safety if more than fifty well-armed assassins launched a surprise raid on the White House. Undeterred, FDR wanted to project an image of strength to the American people and insisted on riding through the streets of D.C. for all of the world to see.

To protect Roosevelt, the Secret Service needed a new “Cadillac One” – as the presidential state car is nicknamed – that appeared perfectly ordinary but could also withstand heavy gunfire during an ambush by sleeper agents. The Secret Service had never used such a vehicle, but they knew someone who had – Al Capone. The notorious Chicago bootlegger had a custom-built 1928 Cadillac V-8 with steel plate armor, bulletproof glass an inch thick, and specially-crafted doors allowing Capone’s bodyguards to open fire at any would-be hitmen. The tank-like luxury car had been in the federal inventory for some time, confiscated from its original owner who was convicted of tax evasion in 1931.