In a Mass. garage, a limo once reserved for America’s elite

This modified 1965 Lincoln Continental has a unique history.
This modified 1965 Lincoln Continental has a unique history. –Olivia Spinale/Boston.com

The name may not ring a bell now, but in its heyday in the 1960s, the Lehmann-Peterson brand was among the most exclusive in the automotive world.

The company was known for cutting Lincoln Continentals in half, inserting nearly three feet of reinforced body between the front and doors, and adding all manner of high-end accessories to create its “Executive Limousines.’’

One such vehicle, which may have once been used by President Lyndon B. Johnson, now lives in a private collection in Massachusetts.

Lehmann-Peterson

The company was formed by the partnership of Robert “Pete’’ Peterson and George “Skip’’ Lehmann. The pair first collaborated when they cut a 1963 Lincoln in half and extended it by 34 inches.

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The duo entered into a partnership with Ford, which owns Lincoln, in 1964 and revealed their vehicle at the New York International Auto Show later that year. It became highly popular among American celebrities and high-level politicians.

The partners would produce about 600 units for wealthy clients over seven years. Some of Lehmann-Peterson’s more noteworthy clients included Jerry Lewis, Jackie Gleason, Sophia Loren, Spencer Tracy, Robert Vaughn and Elvis Presley.

In 1970, Ford ended its relationship with Lehmann and Peterson, who eventually sold their company.

Story continues after gallery.

Fast forward

But one of its models has found a home in Massachusetts. John Lawlor, an auto buff and collector in Middleboro, bought a Lehmann-Peterson limousine that he believes once belonged to the White House under Lyndon B. Johnson.

Lawlor, who was also a producer for the iconic radio show “Car Talk,’’ said when he first bought the car from a previous owner, he was just looking to get his hands on a mid-60s Lehmann-Peterson vehicle. But when it arrived, he started to think he had gotten something more.

“I didn’t know I had the president’s car, but apparently so,’’ said Lawlor.

The 22-foot long car came with additional materials, including an inauguration program, a presidential keychain embossed with the date of Johnson’s 1965 inauguration, and pens. Given the limo’s shape and accompanying materials, Lawlor believes he has one of roughly 40 Lehmann-Peterson limos commissioned for government officials during Johnson’s administration.

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Boston.com could not confirm the original owner of the limo. It comes with no official documentation indicating the limo once belonged to Johnson, and a spokesperson for the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum was not aware of its existence.

But there is plenty of physical evidence that gives the limo presidential appearance, aside from its size and deep black color.

A limousine similar to Lawlor’s – this one a modified 1968 Lincoln Continental – sits in the lobby of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum in Austin, Texas. —Wally Gobetz/Flickr/Creative Commons

In the back is a built-in phone that reads “White House Motor Pool’’ in the center of the rotary. A series of push buttons surround the phone (which is no longer working).

Behind the phone, tucked away in a hidden compartment, is a built-in bar that can fit four glasses and two spirit bottles.

On the dashboard is a Lehmann-Peterson plaque that reads, “Especially Built for President Lyndon B. Johnson.’’ It features suicide doors that open in reverse and are covered in layer upon layer of paint, which Lawlor thinks may have been necessary after pressing crowds left scratches on the car.

Lawlor said he has consulted with retired Secret Service agents over the years who believe the limousine is genuine. He feels strongly attached to it and has no plans to part ways with it.

“I’m not going to sell it in my lifetime,’’ he said. “I can’t think of any reason I would want to.’’

Lawlor keeps the car in his garage in Middleboro. Because of liability concerns, he does not allow the public to come by and sneak a peek at the limo. But he has previously loaned the car to the Larz Anderson Museum in Brookline for public display. He even drives it occasionally.

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“It’s history,’’ said Lawlor. “It’s something I love and it’s a joy to drive.’’

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