Whatever happened to President Kennedy's limousine?

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November 22, 1963 was a perfect convertible-top-down day in Dallas as President Kennedy's limousine (code-named the X-100 by the Secret Service) made its way past adoring crowds lining the streets.

It would be JFK's final ride in the dark blue 1961 Lincoln Continental, which left him so clearly exposed to a gunman's rage in Dealey Plaza.

The public's final glimpse of the sedan that day was blurred by chaos and speed as it raced the mortally wounded president to Parkland Hospital.

The car quietly returned to The White House after that, where it was examined by investigators, and then turned over to the cleaning crew.

According to government documents, they "began to remove blood stains and debris ... to do whatever was necessary to place the car in operating condition."

To find out more about that, we traveled to Detroit, the birthplace — and now the retirement home — of President Kennedy's limousine.

"I think it's amazing to see this is really the car he was in," Ben Murdock told us as he looked at car now permanently parked at The Henry Ford Museum.

Visitors like Bill Burgin recount where JFK was: "Sitting in the back on the far side," he said. He also remembered where he was on 11/22/1963. "I was working on a school. I was in a plumbing crew. They just shut the job down."

Those who come to see this historic vehicle notice the limo looks a lot different now.

"On first glance, you might not think this is the car because of all the changes," said Matt Anderson, Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford Museum.

It's more than the new upholstery and black paint job, Anderson explained.

"First thing they did after the assassination was add a permanent roof with bulletproof glass all through it," he said, adding that armor plates were installed in the doors, and that flat-proof tires were added.

Something that surprises a lot of people about the history of this presidential limousine is that its service didn't end with the assassination of JFK. It remained the primary presidential car for several White House occupants who followed.

The vehicle wasn't taken out of service until 1977.

"A lot of people assume the car was destroyed immediately after the assassination, or that it was locked away somewhere," Anderson said. "But the bottom line is, the president needs a car."

The Kennedy limo continued to meet that need for presidents Johnson, Nixon, Ford, and Carter.

"I've read that Johnson was particularly uneasy about riding in this car, for obvious reasons," Anderson said. "Johnson himself ordered the car to be painted black because he thought the blue would be too associated with Kennedy and the assassination."

But after all the alterations, this car still takes Americans on a very special journey — back to that terrible day in Dallas that had started so perfectly.

E-mail jwheeler@wfaa.com