FDR Was A Car Guy: 1936 Ford Phaeton

Regardless of how you feel about Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s politics, there is no denying he was a car guy.  From his 1931 Plymouth phaeton to the famous “Sunshine Special,” FDR had a number of interesting rides.   If you are a fan of FDR the car guy, then this 1936 Ford phaeton for sale on eBay in Sandy Spring, Maryland may be just the ticket for you.  While it was not one of FDR’s original cars, its time as a rolling ambassador for an FDR museum allowed it to cart around a number of historical figures from the era.  Is the current buy it now price of $65,000 reflect its somewhat celebrity status, or is it a fair price for a heavily optioned open Ford of the era?

Franklin Delano Roosevelt came from a family of means and resources.  These resources and family connections helped tremendously with his rise in New York state politics.  Sadly, he contracted polio in 1921 when he was just 39 years old.  The progressive nature of the disease soon robbed him of his ability to walk and he feared it would destroy his political aspirations in an era where having a physical disability was seen as a sign of weakness.  He managed to overcome those obstacles and became a star in New York politics.  Soon thereafter, he became a player on the national political stage.

Roosevelt also had a passion for mechanical things as well.  A look back at his life reveals pictures, newsreels, and anecdotes of his love of boats and fishing, trains and travel, and automobiles.  He was able to have some of the cars in his stable outfitted with crude hand controls to allow him to drive without the use of his legs.  This was no small feat in the era of manual transmissions and non-synchronized gears.  The rare 1931 Plymouth PA phaeton described in this article was driven by Roosevelt early in his presidency while receiving therapy to deal with his polio symptoms in Warm Springs, Georgia.  By that time he had built a little cottage there to escape the stresses of politics.  It became known as The Little White House.

For reasons likely due to access, Roosevelt preferred phaetons and convertible sedans in general and, for personal use, Fords in particular.  These personal cars were also equipped with hand controls to allow Roosevelt to drive them around both his home in Hyde Park, New York and his cottage in Warm Springs, Georgia.  The video seen here gives us a rare glimpse of Roosevelt behind the wheel of his 1936 Ford phaeton in what is believed to be Hyde Park.  Having an open car gave him a taste of the freedom and mobility that his disease robbed from him and allowed him to communicate freely with the folks he met on his travels.  Roosevelt was also known to drive fast in somewhat humorous attempts to lose his Secret Service detail.

Roosevelt had many cars over his career and quite a few survived to be displayed in various museums today.  First and foremost, the “Sunshine Special” was the most famous of Roosevelt’s rides.  This 1939 Lincoln Model K custom limosine can be seen at the incredible Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.  The 1932 Packard he used as governor of New York can be found at the New York State Museum in Albany, New York.  This beautiful Packard has been restored to operation and is still used for ceremonial purposes.  The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Library and Museum in Hyde Park, New York has a 1936 Ford phaeton on display.  Finally, Georgia State Parks has both a 1938 Ford convertible sedan and a 1940 Willys roadster custom built by the factory in their Little White House State Historic Site Museum in Warm Springs, Georgia.

The beautiful phaeton you see here has a Roosevelt connection, but it is not one of Roosevelt’s original cars.  It is being offered by the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Living History Museum in Sandy Spring, Maryland.  The museum built the car up 32 years ago to match the example in Franklin Delano Roosevelt Library and Museum in Hyde Park, New York.  It is an almost exact copy of the museum car, except for the hand controls.  During its time at the museum, the car has racked up over 16,000 miles in mainly ceremonial use.  It has hauled such notable dignitaries as Paul Tibbets (pilot of the Enola Gay), several Tuskegee Airmen, and Roosevelt’s granddaughter.

The restoration of the car featured many original parts, such as an open car radio, a “banjo” type steering wheel, a greyhound hood ornament, and a late 1936 LB type engine block.  Displacing 221 cubic inches, these late 1936  blocks marked the switch from babbitt to removeable insert bearings.  The engine also boasts a set of fairly hard to find aluminum cylinder heads.  Aluminum heads were produced to help cool these warm running flatheads, but they still gave trouble in some cars and the replacements you got from Ford were cast iron.  A good set of aluminum heads properly dated to your flathead cost a pretty penny today.  Also notable is the second windshield behind the driver’s seat.  This rare accessory is seldom seen today.

In the ad it states that the car was an AACA “champion” in the mid to late 1990s.  This likely means that the Antique Automobile Club of America conferred upon the car an an AACA Senior award during that period.  This is a difficult award to attain (especially at that time), and it basically means that the restoration was done to a high standard with correct parts and materials.

Overall, the car is a nice car with an older restoration that is in running and driving condition.  The asking price seems to be a bit higher than the market average for 1935-1936 Ford phaetons in comparable condition.  Will the somewhat tenuous connection to the former president make up the difference?  When the auction ends this Wednesday at 6:05 PM, I guess we will see.

Did you know FDR was a car guy?  Does the love of cars transcend politics?  Let us know your thoughts in the comments.


  1. bobhess bobhess Member

    FDR or not this is one beautiful car.

    Like 14
    • Grant

      As a Brit, I can tell you the man was revered there. His politics aside (which I mostly agreed with) he saved Europe. That alone should make him a semi god in the Western world. Add in the fact he was a car guy, what’s not to like?

      Like 26
      • Richard Kirschenbaum

        The Brits saved the western world in that dark critical year of mid 1940 to mid ’41 by rejecting Hitler’s peace offer and forcing him to expend enough energy opposing them to make his invasion of the Soviet Union fail and ultimately doom the Nazi juggernaut and its’ mad leader. While I (foolishly) would not have voted for Roosevelt at the time, there’s no denying his genius and place along with Churchill’s as saviors of civilization. Nice car by the way.

        Like 10
      • Arfeeto

        Indeed. If only we could resurrect him.

        Absolutely Gorgeous Ford, BTW. I’d love to have it, and I’ve never been a Ford guy.

        Like 5
  2. Taco

    Make it a low rider

    Like 1
  3. Ike Onick

    If you are in the Hudson Valley region you should make a point of visiting Hyde Park. Best time is late October when the colors are amazing. New York state takes a lot of shots due to the high taxes, but there are some really nice areas. If you do, tell ’em Ike sent you. At last count I believe there are warrants out for me in 13 counties.

    Like 5
  4. Ken

    This has got to be the car used in, “Hyde Park on the Hudson,” starring Bill Murray as FDR. Check out this rated R scene featuring the car here:


    Like 5
  5. TheOldRanger

    I’ve never been much of a Ford fan, but I do like this one.
    I’d have this in my driveway and be proud !!!

    Like 6
    • Duane Foster FTGC(SS) USN

      My Dad bought a 1936 Ford cabriolet (convertible with back seat and no rumble seat) with dual stromberg 97’s. We loved that car with loud dual exhaust.
      .Dad payed $ 350 for it

      Like 0
  6. Poseidon Member

    I used to drive a 36 Phaeton to car shows for a friend, and he deove his 35 Roadster. At one show a woman walked up and plopped her huge purse on the right front fender and stated that her brother had a car just like te Phaeton. My friend countered with, “then he can probably tell you how much it will cost to have the fender repainted.”

    Like 0
  7. charlie Member

    What else has changed in almost 100 years is the press. FDR was piggybacked on the back of big Secret Service agents up and down stairs open to public view, and the view of the press, and there are NO known pictures of this. Keep in mind that handicapped access ramps are in invention of the 1960’s. He had wicker, high backed, wheel chairs, and there are very few pictures of him in those either. He could walk about three steps with braces on his legs, and that was it. And, although television was shown at the 1939 World’s Fair by GE, it did not really appear to the general public until after FDR’s death in 1945. This would be a great car for The Great Race, if you can afford the car, you can afford the Race.

    Like 3
  8. ChingaTrailer

    You forget that FDR’s son was the postwar original importer of Fiats.

    Like 0
  9. John Traylor

    Since when Barn Finds become a political platform?

    Like 0

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