The Sunshine Special was the official state car used by Franklin D. Roosevelt, the 32nd president of the United States. It is said to have been the "First Presidential car to acquire its own personality". It was a 1939 twelve-cylinder engine, four-door convertible originally built by Lincoln and was specifically modified for the president by a speciality coach builder, Brunn & Company, Inc., in Buffalo, New York, at a cost of $4,950 ($96,430 in 2021 dollars ) (the original cost of the car was $8,348.74 ($162,646 in 2021 dollars )). Initially called "Old 99," in reference to a number on its first license plate, it was later nicknamed the "Sunshine Special" (the exact origin of the nickname is unknown, but it was most likely first used in a photo caption) as a reference to its retractable roof, and was famously enjoyed by the president, who had its roof brought down during public gatherings. At other times, the car was used as traditional presidential transportation. This was in spite of a previous assassination attempt on Roosevelt as he was riding in a Buick convertible, prior to the creation of the Sunshine Special.
The Sunshine Special was originally a Lincoln K-series built by the Lincoln division of Ford, and modified by Brunn & Company to U.S. government specifications. It was powered by a 150hp, 414 cubic inch V12 L-head engine. The limousine was originally equipped with a siren, running lights, and a 2-way radio, as well as extra-wide running boards and grab handles for Secret Service agents. The vehicle had a convertible roof, hence the reasoning for the car's nickname. The car quickly became known as a favorite of the president, who was a polio survivor and used a wheelchair. With the convertible top down Roosevelt sometimes appeared before crowds without actually leaving the vehicle. There are newsreels of the time showing the car being driven on stage, such as at the podium constructed for a campaign appearance at Ebbets Field in New York in 1944.
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the Secret Service began to express concern in relation to potential assassination attempts on the president, as his limousine at that time was not armored and had no protective features. The Secret Service did not use Al Capone's car on 8 December, as some think. (This story was featured in the History Channel documentary Pearl Harbor: 24 Hours After.) Images of the president between the White House and Capitol show him in a car that does not match any of Capone's known automobiles. The Sunshine Special was modified to be capable of protecting him, with armor plating for the doors, bullet-proof tires, inch-thick windows and storage compartments for pistols and sub-machine guns. All of the safety modifications increased the car's weight to 9,300 pounds (4,218 kg). Despite these precautions, Roosevelt preferred to ride with the top down during parades and at most public gatherings. The car was also fitted with the then-current 1942 Lincoln front end in 1942 from the Lincoln H-series.
When the president traveled, the Sunshine Special, along with other Secret Service vehicles, was either driven to the president's destination (if the distance was short) or was transported on a special rail car. One special rail car was equipped with equipment and supplies for the maintenance of the vehicles.
Although some sources allege the Sunshine Special was transported to Tehran, Casablanca, Malta, and Yalta, there appears to be no evidence to confirm this. Wartime censorship makes these claims difficult to disprove; but while there are many photographs and newsreels of President Roosevelt riding in standard military-issue Jeeps during the aforementioned overseas trips, there are no photographs of the Sunshine Special taken on these occasions. The need to maintain secrecy about the president's travel during wartime makes it highly unlikely his special limousine would have been used overseas. The practice of transporting presidential limousines overseas did not start until after the Roosevelt administration. In March 1947 Life featured a photograph of President Truman visiting the pyramids at Teotihuacan near Mexico City, riding in the Sunshine Special or another nearly identical Lincoln.
After Roosevelt’s death in 1945, the Sunshine Special remained in the White House fleet and was used by President Truman until a new fleet of Lincoln limousines was acquired after the 1948 election. The limousine is now on permanent display at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. The Sunshine Special did travel to the Potsdam Conference in July 1945, for use by President Truman, including tours of the Potsdam area accompanied by Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Admiral Ernest King, and Secretary of State James F. Byrnes, among others.