Few cars can quite literally be considered “Holy Rollers.” One in the lobby of LeMay – America’s Car Museum can certainly make that claim. A local collector has loaned LeMay the 1964 Lincoln Continental limousine custom-made to protect Pope Paul VI, the leader of the Catholic faith between 1963 and 1978.
The “Papal Continental” was specialty-ordered by the Vatican in 1965 and customized by Chicago-based Lehmann-Peterson coachbuilders specifically for Pope Paul’s historic visit to New York, where he held mass at Yankee Stadium and spoke to the United Nation’s Assembly. It was the first time a Pope had visited the Western Hemisphere.
Vatican officials had first asked Henry Ford II to craft a custom Ford LTD car for the tour. Ford, however, determined the Continental was “more appropriate.” The car was “stretched” to 21 feet and was fitted with a fully removable roof, while bulletproof shells replaced the standard glass to protect the Pontiff. A transparent bubble roof was also available, as well as a throne in the rear seat to allow the Pontiff to be better seen by his followers. The Continental included running boards for the Swiss Guards, who provided security. The Pope’s special ride was also given additional seating, special lighting and a public address system.
After the Pope’s visit, the car shuttled Apollo astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Jim Lovell along ticker-tape parades in Chicago following their moon mission. In 1968, the Vatican had the limo shipped to Columbia for the 39th International Eucharistic Congress. The “Pope-mobile” again underwent extensive modifications to allow for yet more seating, as well as better air circulation at higher elevations. It then was retired to a French Museum before it was sold at auction in 2006 for $319,000 and again in 2011. The “bargain basement” pricetag for the latter sale was reportedly $243,000 and then made its way to a local collector.