Navy ambulance evokes memories of defining moment in U.S. history
The star of the show nearly ended up in someone else’s garage or auto museum.
Like many others, car collector Tammy Allen attended the Barrett-Jackson auction in Arizona in January to glimpse the 1963 Pontiac Bonneville Navy ambulance that purportedly carried President John F. Kennedy’s body following his assassination. But the auctioneer’s gavel struck, selling the vehicle for $120,000, before Allen spoke up. Undeterred, she tracked down the buyer and offered an additional $12,000.
Three months later and several hundred miles away, two men Friday night slipped a black sheet off the bluish-gray controversy on wheels. Roughly 350 people craned their necks and admired in brief silence before offering a round of applause for the centerpiece of Friday night’s grand opening of Allen Unique Autos, 2285 River Road.
“Whether this car is the JFK ambulance, a decoy or something else,” museum curator Preston Patterson said, “we simply do not know.” That’s because the theories about the ambulance’s history are seemingly as numerous as those swirling around Kennedy’s assassination.
In honor of her husband’s naval service, Patterson said Jacqueline Kennedy requested that the president’s body be transferred in a Navy ambulance from Air Force One to Bethesda Naval Hospital for autopsy and embalming. The ambulance was used by the Navy for several more years before it was retired from service. It was donated to the Kennedy Presidential Museum in 1980, but the Kennedy family wanted nothing to do with it and supposedly ordered it crushed in 1986. Yet, Patterson said, no serial numbers off the ambulance were recorded.
Barrett-Jackson car auctioneers and the ambulance’s previous owner provided documentation showing the vehicle identification numbers on the ambulance that carried Kennedy’s body match the ambulance Allen purchased.
Count Jason Confer, 40, among those who believe it’s authentic.
The Grand Junction man and U.S. Army veteran attended the grand opening. He said the display is professional and respectful.
In addition to the ambulance, Allen unveiled a 1950 Mercury Custom Coupe she purchased for $330,000 at the same auction in January.
The grand opening continues today with a car show.