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President Truman’s 1949 Lincoln Cosmopolitan Convertible

by William J. McElroy, Tirrman, Ohio

Originally published in the March/April 1999 issue of Continental Comments (Issue # 227)

The Buck Stopped with Harry S. Truman, and so did the use of General Motors cars for Presidential service.

While campaigning for the Presidential election in 1948, President Truman’s staff asked a Cadillac dealership in Miami to provide automobiles for the President’s post election vacation in Key West, Florida.

The dealership, like most of the country, believed that President Truman was going to be defeated in the 1948 election. The dealership did not want the public to associate them with a public official who was thought to become a loser in the upcoming election. Remember that even the newspapers were so convinced that Truman had lost they carried headlines of Dewey’s victory, and, in fact, even Truman went to bed on election night thinking that Dewey had won. But earlier, Ford dealerships were asked to provide automobiles for the President’s campaign and vacation visits. The White House turned to Lincoln-Mercury and several Lincoln dealers in Florida. The Ford dealerships agreed to these requests.

The unwillingness of the General Motors family to provide cars during the campaign remained in President Truman’s memory. After Truman’s famous defeat of Governor Dewey, the President told his aide, John Steelman, to have all GM products removed from the White House garage. Ford was then asked to supply 35 Lincoln and Mercury convertibles for the inauguration ceremonies. President Truman thought the 1939 Lincoln Sunshine Special to be outdated in its looks and wanted a more modem look for the 1949 Inauguration. President Truman and Vice-President Alben Barkley rode in the 1949 Lincoln Cosmopolitan convertible which later became known as 4-X. But if you look at photographs of the Inaugural Parade you will see that in addition to Lincolns, there are two 1938 Cadillac seven passenger phaetons and a 1948 Dodge convertible. According to Cal Beauregard these two Cadillacs were in White House service until 1956 when they were replaced by two new Cadillacs. So evidently the White House did not get rid of all of its Cadillacs per Truman’s request.

After the Inauguration, 34 of the 35 open Ford products were returned to the Ford Motor Company, the Inaugural vehicle being retained by the Secret Service to be used as a backup parade car and follow up car. This vehicle was later modified with runningboards, red fog lights, dual antennas, dual mirrors, dual spotlights and inside grab handles for the Secret Service agents while standing on the running boards. The electrical system of the car was also modified to handle the added electrical radio equipment. It was the Secret Service who named the car 4-X.

Little is known about 4-X’s life in public service. It was retired in 1961 probably because President Kennedy did not want
to be associated with such an old car. The car did spend some time at a used car lot (Bill Shier Motors) in Cleveland, Ohio and eventually ended up at Wards Auto Sales on Venice Ave. in Sandusky, Ohio. There was an advertised auction to take place at Ward’s and 4-X was one of the cars to be auctioned. Ford Sterling of Fredericksburg, Ohio was at the auction.
4-X went through the auction unsuccessfully and was not sold. Mr. Sterling arranged for the purchase of 4-X after the
sale. The 1949 Cosmopolitan convertible was taken to its new home in Fredericksburg, Ohio where is was driven occasionally until 1966 when it was last licensed. After that, 4-X remained in Mr Sterling’s barn – covered up on the second
level of the barn. Ford Sterling was a good friend of my family and we visited Ford on many occasions. My first recollection of seeing the big black Lincoln in his barn was in the early 1970s. I was four or five years old at the time. The car remained
there until Mr. Sterling died suddenly in 1992.1 purchased 4-X from the estate.

After six months of repairs, 4-X was once again on the road. New tires, fuel lines, brake lines, brake shoes, brake cylinders, window and top cylinders, hydraulic lines, belts, hoses, battery and radiator repair, exhaust system and much hard work hand rubbing out the paint job.

In 1996, I rebuilt the engine and transmission due to oil leaks. I then had a new top installed on the car and had the front
seat reupholstered. All the lights in the running boards were broken and gone except one. From that one light, my father
and I made a set of lights like the originals and repaired the running boards. The rest of the car is as it was.

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