- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 4, 2004

Since 1852 Virginia’s governors have served one four-year term.

As each chief executive takes office, a new limousine traditionally is presented for gubernatorial use during the next four years.

From 1976 to 1996 Elmo Cross was a Virginia senator serving with a half dozen governors including John Dalton, a Republican, who governed from 1978 to 1982.

The 1974 Cadillac Fleetwood limousine of the previous administration was allowed $8,800 as a trade on a $10,166 1978 Lincoln..

The purchase order for the car was placed at Courtesy Motors on West Broad Street in Richmond.

Any politician can tell you that a new governor could not be seen being chauffeured about the Commonwealth in any ordinary Lincoln.

To transform the already luxurious automobile into one worthy of a governor, it was shipped directly from the factory to a shop in Texas where it was cut in half preparatory to being stretched.

The already lengthy car emerged from surgery about a foot and a half longer with all the additional space devoted to the rear passenger compartment. From massive chrome bumper to massive chrome bumper the super size Lincoln is 20 feet, 9 inches long.

That additional length allows room for a pair of jump seats in the rear compartment.

When the custom work was complete, the car rolled out the door of the shop in Texas on a stretched 143.2-inch wheelbase with a window sticker identifying the car as a 1978 Lincoln automobile, four-door limousine with standard equipment in addition to the following extras:

• Transportation from Texas to Richmond.

• Transportation from factory to Texas.

• Rear compartment reading lamp.

• Barouche Bradford conversion.

• Rear air-conditioner control.

• Interval windshield wipers.

• Rear window defroster.

• Trunk release (inside).

• Right remote mirror.

• AM/FM stereo radio.

• Electric door locks.

• Tilt steering wheel.

• Citizen band radio.

• Town car option.

• Cruise control.

• Undercoating.

• Entry system.

• Visor mirror.

• Tinted glass.

The total bill for the car plus the conversion came to $22,198. Subtracting the trade-in allowance for the used Cadillac, the Commonwealth got off the hook for $13,398 and Gov. Dalton got a comfortable, stylish black Lincoln limousine that became a regular fixture around the Capitol.

While the car was in governmental service, dozens of dignitaries, including Great Britain’s Prince Charles and actress Elizabeth Taylor, became familiar with the grey fabric upholstery as they were being chauffeured during visits to Virginia.

“I was familiar with the car,” Mr. Cross says, “I saw it all the time.”

He recalls that Mr. Dalton once found himself in political hot water with his constituents when he flew to a governors’ conference in Atlanta and had his Lincoln driven down so he would have transportation at the conference.

Lincoln offered three V-8 engines in 1978. A 302-cubic-inch engine produced 133 horsepower. A larger 400-cubic-inch engine developed 166 horsepower.

Mr. Dalton’s 5,000-pound limousine came with a 460-cubic-inch engine that generates 210 horsepower.

In 1994 Mr. Cross was driving past a Richmond used car lot when, he says, “I recognized the governor’s car.”

The forlorn Lincoln was in sad shape. The big black car evidently had tangled with an immovable object because the right front fender had been replaced with an unpainted one. The orange primer was quite a contrast to the rest of the car. He had no doubt about its pedigree because, Mr. Cross says. “I had seen it so many times at the Capitol.”

Although he wasn’t in the market for a car at the time, he thought that he had better do something to keep Mr. Dalton’s car away from the junk yard.

The odometer indicated that the car had been driven 94,000 miles.

Mr. Cross negotiated a good deal on the Lincoln, assisted by the primered fender.

He then had it towed to a repair shop in the appropriately named Mechanicsville for a thorough physical examination and evaluation.

By early 1995 the repainted Lincoln was back on the road. Since then, Mr. Cross has added about 3,000 miles to the total. He reports that it still runs strong. “People look at you in this car,” he says.

Owning a former governor’s car can come in handy. When Mr. Cross’s wife, Anne, was hosting the state daffodil show for the Garden Club of Virginia, Mr. Cross squired about the four officers of the club in gubernatorial style.

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