While the Catholic church prepares to elect a new Pope in Rome, an interesting piece of papal history is on display in Tacoma.
In 1965 the Vatican asked Ford to provide a limousine for Pope Paul VI to use during his visit to New York City to speak before the United Nations and at Yankee Stadium.
The automaker contracted noted Chicago limousine builder Lehmann-Peterson to prepare a special version of the stretched Lincoln Continentals it was known for.
In just two weeks, the shop converted its original 1964 Continental prototype into a 21-foot long car suitable for the task, complete with running boards for his Swiss guards, a raised seat for the pontiff and a removable roof, fold down transparent landaulet-style rear window and bulletproof shield.
In 1968, the car, which had been damaged in storage, was called into Papal duty again for a trip to Bogota, Columbia, but only after undergoing a complete restoration and engine modifications to deal with the city’s extreme altitude, which required that it run on aviation fuel.
Later that year, the car became an indelible part of U.S. history, when it was used to parade the astronauts of Apollo 8 through the streets of Chicago, after their historic trip around the Moon. It would go on to do the same for the crews of Apollo 11, 13 and 15.
The car eventually found its way into private ownership and changed hands several times over the years, the last in 2011 when it was sold at auction to an anonymous collector in Washington for $220,000.
The car is currently on loan to America’s Car Museum in Tacoma, one of the largest collections of classic cars in the country, where it will be on display for the next three months.
It’s unlikely that the new Pope will request its use again, but if he ever visits the Pacific Northwest, he’ll know where to find it.