What We Just Learned About The “Beast” Presidential Limousine From Jay Leno’s Garage

Regular readers of The War Zone know that we always have an interest in the specialized custom-built limousines, nicknamed “Beasts,” that the U.S. Secret Service drives the President of the United States around in. Former Tonight Show host, comedian, and massive car enthusiast Jay Leno recently shared an up-close look at the latest iteration of the Beast and interesting details about the limos in the newest episode of his web series Jay Leno’s Garage on YouTube.

The Beast in Jay Leno’s titular garage. Jay Leno’s Garage/YouTube capture

“Today we’re featuring the most important and probably most valuable car we have ever done in the whole 14 years of doing this program,” Leno said in introducing the Beast and its ‘handlers,’ Protective Armored Specialist Steve Abel and Assistant Special Agent in Charge Jay Nasworthy. Abel and Nasworthy are both currently with the Secret Service‘s Presidential Protective Division. The Beasts, the latest version of which made its public debut in 2018, are loaded with armor and other defensive countermeasures, as well as an extensive communications suite and other features.

Jay Leno, at left, talks about the Beast with Protective Armored Specialist Steve Abel, at center, and Assistant Special Agent in Charge Jay Nasworthy, at right. Jay Leno’s Garage/YouTube capture

You can watch the full Jay Leno’s Garage episode on the Beast below.

From the ensuing conversion between Leno and Abel and Nasworthy next to the Beast – which Leno and his viewers were not allowed to see the inside of – here’s what we’ve learned:

  • “It has robust capabilities” was how Agent Nasworthy described the Beast’s protective and other features, including a “run flat device” in each one of the Beast’s wheels to help keep the car going even if the tires are destroyed or damaged for any reason.
  • The Beast also has a redundant auxiliary fuel pump to help ensure the engine stays running if something happens to its primary fuel delivery system.
  • The presidential limos also have creature comforts including seats with built-in heating, cooling, and massage functions.
An official look at President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden inside one of the newest Beasts. White House Adam Schultz
  • The Secret Service officially refers to the Beast as a “parade limousine” specifically because the windows – which cannot be opened – have an extended design so that onlookers can see the President inside clearly.
  • Nasworthy highlighted, as is known, that the newest version of the Beast, like its predecessors, is “built to resemble a Cadillac” externally, though that’s where any similarities end. At the very core of the presidential limos is a modified truck chassis.
A good look at the Beast’s Cadillac branding and other aesthetics. Jay Leno’s Garage/YouTube capture
  • “GM… put a lot of their components into it, so, the dash is much like a Cadillac Escalade [from a] couple of years ago.”
  • Use of stock pieces, including headlights and side mirrors, from commercially available designs like VIP-configured Chevy Suburbans, wherever possible helps keep the cost of replacing parts low.
  • The supply chains for the limos are still extremely tightly controlled for security reasons.
  • Special LED light arrays illuminate the two flags mounted at the front at night.
  • The three presidential seals inside the latest Beasts are inlaid in wood harvested in 2004 from the last of 13 trees that America’s first President George Washington had planted in Fredricksburg, Virginia between the houses of his mother and his sister. The horse-chestnut trees represented each of the original 13 states, with the last one to survive having been planted in honor of Georgia.
  • The seals themselves used in presidential limos used to be hand-stitched by a single woman. That person, who is not named, died before the introduction of the new Beasts six years ago and the seals are now laser-etched in titanium using a digital copy of the original design.
A close-up view of the inside of one of the doors on one of the latest generation of Beasts showing the wood inlaid titanium seal. ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS
  • In terms of actually driving the new Beasts, Nasworthy said the current generation is a major improvement over earlier types, especially when it comes to blind spots. “The A-pillar [framing around the front windshield] on that thing [the first generation Beast] was so wide that you would lose a police cruiser as you’re making turns… a lot of leaning forward to look out the windshield, leaning back to look out the side glass.”
  • In general, presidential limos are overbuilt for protection and other reasons and can be a nightmare to operate and maintain due to their weight and other bespoke design features.
  • The Secret Service tries to introduce new versions of the Beast during presidential inaugurations, though, as already noted, the most recent type emerged in 2018 in New York City in the middle of former President Donald Trump’s term.
  • Nasworthy said each one of the limos has “probably an eight-year shelf life,” though it is unclear whether he was referring to individual vehicle service life or the time between the introduction of new iterations of the presidential limo.
  • Beasts are physically destroyed when they are retired as a security precaution, which is a common U.S. government practice for disposing of sensitive up-armored commercial vehicles used to transport VIPs.
  • There are also silver-colored limos in the Secret Service’s broader vehicle inventory, which are called “Camp Davids” in reference to the presidential retreat in rural Maryland.
  • The Camp Davids are typically used for lower-profile “suburban” trips, including “off-the-record” excursions.
  • As a matter of general practice, the Secret Service also does not use the Beasts to cart the President around for protracted periods of time.
  • A pair of larger armored buses nicknamed “Ground Force Ones” are available for longer road trips, but are used so infrequently that drivers often have to be specially trained or retrained ahead of their employment.

The Secret Service also shared the pictures below, via GM, showing concept art, clay models, and other scenes from the development of the current iteration of the Beast with Leno.

GM via Secret Service via Jay Leno’s Garage/YouTube capture
GM via Secret Service via Jay Leno’s Garage/YouTube capture
GM via Secret Service via Jay Leno’s Garage/YouTube capture

If what Assistant Special Agent Nasworthy said about the Beast’s eight-year life-span does indeed apply to the typical time it takes to develop the next generation of presidential limo, and the vehicles are generally rolled out during presidential inaugurations, we may see another new type in the next few years.

Contact the author: joe@twz.com

Joseph Trevithick Avatar

Joseph Trevithick

Deputy Editor

Joseph has been a member of The War Zone team since early 2017. Prior to that, he was an Associate Editor at War Is Boring, and his byline has appeared in other publications, including Small Arms Review, Small Arms Defense Journal, Reuters, We Are the Mighty, and Task & Purpose.