When she was First Lady of the United States (1963-69), Lady Bird Johnson felt that she was often in a moving vehicle. In her diary, she wrote:
LBJ Ranch [Stonewall, Texas]
Saturday, April 10, 1965
“We arrived at the Ranch last night around 10:45 on the Jetstar….
[This morning] Sarge and Eunice Shriver, Ann Brinkley, Lyndon, and I helicoptered to San Marcos to Camp Gary, to the dedication of the Job Corps Camp….”
Lady Bird Johnson (1)
After some emotional speechifying, the ceremony ended, and, around noon, the group was back in the chopper, flying to yet another of the Johnsons’ many Texas properties. This one – the Haywood Ranch – lay northwest of Austin near Kingsland on Lake Granite Shoals (which, by the end of the month, would be renamed Lake LBJ). Though the Haywood Ranch was 4,500 acres of mostly pasture land, undeveloped, it was a lakeside retreat where President Lyndon Baines Johnson kept his many boats. He loved his boats, maybe as much as he loved his Lincoln Continentals.
LBJ loved packing his boats with guests (especially pretty girls, according to Lady Bird), taking the wheel himself, and zigzagging at top speed across the lake, spray flying, bouncing hard across his wake, oftentimes pulling a skier or two and dropping off guests for a quick dip in the fresh water. Then, around noon, he would head over to Coca-Cola Ranch, slip into the peace of the cove, and – after cutting the throttle – spread out a picnic lunch to enjoy in the warm Texas sun.
At 1:17 p.m., the Presidential party – the Shrivers, the Johnsons, and others – landed at Haywood Ranch. The spring countryside was blanketed in fragrant Texas bluebonnets. LBJ made telephone calls inviting more friends to join the happy party – and to bring bar-b-q and swimsuits. Then the President and guests “went to the boats.” (2)
President Johnson couldn’t wait to show Eunice Shriver his new toy. It was a “lagoon blue” convertible. Built in Germany, this Amphicar – half-boat, half-car – was one of only 3,878 produced. The President took Mrs. Shriver and Sgt. Paul Glynn out for a spin in his very unusual car. They drove straight from the land out onto the water and the car didn’t sink. Granted, it only went 15 m.p.h. tops, but it managed to keep the water out. It was a hoot and the President loved a hoot.
Joe Califano Jr., then LBJ’s top domestic aide, remembered when the President took him out for a ride in the Amphicar – without LBJ telling him first that it was amphibious:
“The President, with Vicky McCammon in the seat alongside him and me in the back,was now driving around in a small blue car with the top down. We reached a steep incline at the edge of the lake and the car started rolling rapidly toward the water. The president shouted, ‘The brakes don’t work! The brakes won’t hold! We’re going in! We’re going under!’
The car splashed into the water. I started to get out. Just then the car leveled, and I realized we were in an Amphicar. The president laughed. As we putted along the lake then (and throughout the evening), he teased me. “Vicky, did you see what Joe did? He didn’t give a damn about his President. He just wanted to save his own skin and get out of the car.” Then he’d roar. (3)”
LBJ’s Amphicar is displayed at the LBJ Ranch.
(1) Johnson, Lady Bird. A White House Diary. Austin: The University of Texas Press, 1970. p. 259.
(2) Lyndon B. Johnson’s daily diary, April 10, 1965. LBJ Presidential Library.
(3) Califano, Joseph A. The Triumph & Tragedy of Lyndon Johnson: The White House Years. NY: Simon and Schuster, 2015.