Tablet Opinion

The story behind the car used by JFK in Fort Worth motorcade

The mystery of the 1963 white Lincoln Continental convertible, recently described as the last car President John F. Kennedy safely rode in before his assassination, has been solved — mostly.

The “presidential limousine” used by Kennedy in Fort Worth was a borrowed vehicle which, on the last day of the president’s life, took him and the first lady from the Hotel Texas, through downtown and along neighborhood streets to the waiting Air Force One at Carswell Air Force Base for the brief trip to Dallas.

For years there has been a story that the Lincoln had been loaned by legendary Fort Worth golfer Ben Hogan.

It was an account that had been printed in at least one book, and that “fact” is included in an exhibit about the president’s Cowtown visit at the University of Texas at Arlington Library.

It was on that basis that I supplied the answer in a short quiz published in my column Oct. 27, although I had heard that there was an alternate story about ownership of the car.

With the help of historian Scott Barker and longtime area resident Don Bressman of Benbrook, the “alternate” account is no doubt the accurate one.

Barker, perhaps the foremost expert on Kennedy’s Fort Worth visit, is really a history detective who never stops digging for details. A young Bressman worked for the Trinity Lincoln-Mercury dealership on West Seventh Street where the presidential limousine was serviced before it was delivered to the Secret Service.

Bressman told Barker, and later recounted to me, that he was head of the make-ready department and responsible for pre-delivery inspection (PDI). The Lincoln in question had been loaned to the Secret Service by used car dealer Bill Golightly of Golightly Auto Sales on Texas Street.

The vehicle was detailed and delivered to the Secret Service on that Thursday afternoon, but was returned by the agency later that day and agents requested the tires be changed because a small cut had been found on the inside wall of one of the tires.

Bressman, 23 at the time, said he pulled a new Lincoln from the dealership’s stock, placed that car and the loaner vehicle on adjacent lifts and swapped the tires. When the agents returned they swarmed the car, using wands and probes to search underneath and inside to make sure it was safe before taking it away.

That was the last time Bressman saw it, he said. But he remembers hearing that when the vehicle was returned to Golightly, the sheet metal above the two front wheel wells had marks from the thumbscrews that had been used to fasten an American flag and one bearing the presidential seal.

Because of the president’s death, he said, Golightly never had the marks removed. He sold the car, which stayed in private hands for years.

The question I had was, why was a new 1963 Lincoln Continental on a used car lot? Barker, with the help of a friend, reminded me that the new Lincolns came out in September of the preceding year. And Bressman says his dealership every year gave a brand-new loaner car to Ben Hogan for his use.

Could this be the Hogan connection? And did the new car dealership divest of the car so quickly because it already had been driven for a year?

That mystery remains.

What we do know is that last month, at the “Camelot: Fifty Years after Dallas” auction, the Lincoln got the highest bid of all the items listed — more than the 18-karat gold presidential ring, Lee Harvey Oswald’s wedding band, a window from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository and the president’s rosary.

The Lincoln sold for $318,000.

Now a new mystery: Does anyone know the make and model of the car Sen. Kennedy used in his Fort Worth motorcade in 1960 after making a campaign speech at Burnett Park? If so, let me know.