Published May 15, 2013
When it comes to transportation for the President of the United States, few details are left to chance and compromise. For long-haul travel by air, the President has Air Force One, supported by the Marine One helicopter for shorter trips.
On the ground, the preferred method for transporting the president is The Beast: a bespoke Cadillac limousine designed to securely transport the leader of the free world and his entourage in comfort and extreme safety.
To experience what it might be like to chauffeur the president, Fox News was invited to take the wheel of The Beast.
No, not the real one, but a custom-built replica created for the upcoming summer blockbuster "White House Down," an action-packed thriller starring Jamie Foxx, Channing Tatum and Maggie Gyllenhaal.
The project to build The Beast was headed by Cyril O’Neil of Ghostlight Industries, a company that produces stunt cars for Hollywood, and the film’s action sequence supervisor Graham Kelly. Even for this experienced team, trying to recreate the most top secret Cadillac in the world presented its challenges.
“No one knew what it looked like inside,” Kelly said. “We had one photograph of the door open with the president getting out.”
According to O’Neil, “a good friend of mine, relatively high up the food chain at the FBI, called a good friend of his at the Secret Service.” After repeated pleading for information, however, the Feds remained circumspect on details of the president’s limousine, which debuted in 2009. So they winged it as best they could.
“We made the assumption that the headlight was the same as in a 2007 Cadillac Escalade,” O’Neil said. “From that, we measured its headlight, and were able to extrapolate just how big the rest of the car would be.”
Starting with the underpinnings of a Chevrolet Suburban, the crew designed a fiberglass body reminiscent of the presidential limousine. Although the real Beast is believed to ride on the chassis of the larger Chevrolet Topkick medium-duty truck, the result of their efforts looks convincingly real.
Its true size reveals itself only as you approach it, when it becomes clear that The Beast is far larger than its sedan-like shape implies from a distance.
“It’s been so well designed proportionally that, when you see it without any reference to anything beside it, it looks like a Cadillac,” Kelly said.
From the outside, The Beast replica looks every bit the real thing, from its dwarfing length and height to its shockingly large 35-inch wheels. While the stunt car does not feature true armor-plating or bulletproof glass, its doors and window panes are appropriately thick. A fuel tank specifically designed for the rigors of stunt work is mounted in the trunk.
The sparsely equipped interior features rear-facing jump seats, as The Beast is presumed to have, along with a mock-up of the backseat telephone fitted with direct lines to key political figures. The non-working instrument panel and secondary controls and nicked blue vinyl upholstery are the most telling indicators that this is not, in fact, the president’s real ride.
Unlike President Obama’s reportedly diesel-fueled monster, the movie car is powered by a Chevrolet-sourced LS3 V-8 engine tasked with hauling around its 9,500-pound weight.
During a brief stint behind the wheel, on the back lot of Sony Picture Studios in Culver City, The Beast lived up to its nickname and felt positively ponderous to drive. At startup, the protester-quieting roar from the engine was loud enough to be heard on the next soundstage. Steering and braking feel was remarkably light for such a heavy vehicle, but taking a corner was similar to maneuvering a slipping Zamboni, requiring advanced planning and a fair amount of courage.
While the nearly 5-ton Beast seemed to take forever to accelerate on the short course provided, it had enough oomph to convince that it could reach and cruise at highway speeds, which Kelly was happy to confirm.
“Once you get it going, it will do 100 mph comfortably,” Kelly said. “It’s just about getting it there.”
Kelly and O’Neil were mum on specific stunts performed by the Beast and three identical vehicles constructed for the yet-to-be released film, but alluded to high-speed drifting and jump sequences.
“It was used in anger in the film,” Kelly said. “We did some pretty fast drifting on mud. We turned it into a rally car.”
While boisterous driving is far from the modus operandi of the president’s driver, a rally car as presidential transportation is an idea enthusiasts from both the left and right side of the road could get behind.
"White House Down" premieres nationwide on June 28.