E3 Spark Plugs Digs Hyde Park on Hudson – and Fab FDR Cars

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in his Plymouth PA Phaeton.

“The President. The First Lady. The King. The Queen. The Mother. The Mistress…One weekend would unite two great nations…After cocktails of course.”

That’s the tagline for the ever so slightly tawdry biopic that chronicles President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s not-so-secret romantic dalliance with sixth cousin Margaret “Daisy” Stuckley, focusing on the historic 1939 weekend visit by the King and Queen of the United Kingdom – the first ever British royal visit to the U.S.

Based on accounts penned in Stuckley’s personal diary, discovered after her death, Hyde Park on Hudson stars Bill Murray as FDR and Laura Linney as Stuckley. Samuel West as King George VI stresses about impending war while Olivia Colman as Queen Elizabeth clutches her pears over the thought of eating – gasp! – hotdogs at the history-making countryside picnic in upstate New York. But for us here at E3 Spark Plugs, the real star is the car – the specially designed, hand-operated (FDR’s polio robbed him of any use of his legs) 1930s convertible sedan.

Turns out, the New Dealer drove some very nice rides, including a 1931 Plymouth PA Phaeton and a 1932 DeSoto. FDR preferred open cars and loved to drive at break neck speeds through the country side, often purposely eluding the Secret Service guards that constantly surrounded him.

But unlike today’s standard presidential ride, FDR’s cars lacked armored protection. So, when the attack on Pearl Harbor propelled America into World War II in December 1941, the President’s men were scrambling. Back in the day, the government was prohibited from spending more than $750 (about $10,800 in today’s dollars) on any automobile. Imagine that. Ergo, armored cars would have busted the budget.

Fortunately, the agent in charge of the Secret Service’s White House detail had an idea. The Treasury Department had seized Chicago ganglord Al Capone’s 1928 bulletproof Cadillac in a 1931 tax evasion bust. It was green with black fenders – identical to the Caddies supplied to Chi-Town police and city officials. But it also had 3,000 pounds of bulletproof armor beneath the standard body, a windshield and windows made of recently developed, inch-thick bulletproof glass, flashing red lights behind the grille, a police siren and a police band receiver – all meant to throw off the G-men and other Prohibition enforcers. It was Capone’s confiscated Cadillac that FDR rode to deliver his famous “infamy speech” to Congress, asking for a declaration of war against the Axis Powers.

Hyde Park on Hudson is in theaters on a limited release now, wide release in January. Got another favorite presidential ride? Post your thoughts on the E3 Spark Plugs’ Facebook fan page.


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