What Happened to Jomo Kenyatta’s Convertible?

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Only seen in public twice, what happened to this sleek white 1961 Lincoln Continental?

On the first Madaraka Day, in 1963, Jomo Kenyatta rolled around town in a white Lincoln Continental. The sleek convertible was one of three gifts he got, the others were a Rolls Royce and a Mercedes 300SE. Of the three, the one that seems to have disappeared completely is the Lincoln, which had been donated by the American business community in Nairobi.

There are several photos and a video of him in a convertible on that day. In one of the photos, he is getting to the stadium. In the other, the clearest of them all, he is standing with Prince Phillip as they wave at crowds. The convertible in this image is a Pontiac Bonneville convertible whose ownership and story is still unclear.

Embed from Getty Images

In the first 16 seconds of the video below he is disembarking from the Lincoln outside what must be the current Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Harambee Avenue. It was there that he received the articles that made Kenya an independent sovereign state, albeit a monarchy under Queen Elizabeth. (From that day until December 12 1964, she was the “Queen of Kenya”). 

The other recorded use we have of the car is several days before when he went to Nairobi Airport to pick up his friend. In his book, From Kingston to Kenya [Link], Dudley Thompson writes that upon landing “I looked through the window and saw a grey Lincoln Continental drive up to the plane, and out of it came Jomo Kenyatta.” Thompson, a Jamaican lawyer and famous Pan-Africanist, had been one of the key lawyers at Kenyatta’s trial in 1952.

The opulence of the three cars was the subject of one of the earliest corruption stories in independent Kenya’s history. In the biography of famous Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuschinski [Link], Artur Domoslwaski writes about one of the articles that caused havoc in 1963. Titled “The Ruling Elite” and reprinted by The Standard, Kapuscinski wrote “Over a nine-month period in 1963, Kenya’s Prime Minister Kenyatta acquired three of the most expensive limousines in the world (a Lincoln Continental, a Mercedes 300 SE and a Rolls Royce-the price of these totals $55, 000).”

Jomo Kenyatta and his Rolls Royce.
(Image by Natwarlal Chudasama)

The article went to the top of the next cabinet meeting where most ministers wanted the journalist deported. His only salvation was Jaramogi Odinga who asked “Has this Polish journalist written anything that isn’t true?” He survived for three more months before leaving on his own volition. By the time he tried to reenter Kenya again, all socialist journalists were persona non grata.

The convertible itself seems to have disappeared. There are several possibilities. One is that it was sold. Or it could still be in the State House garage or in a basement somewhere. What’s clear is that although we see Jomo in the Rolls and the Benz in photos taken after, we never see the convertible again. Perhaps its because unlike the other cars in the growing fleet, it was a Left Hand Drive (LHD).

Grainy image from one of the newspaper reports of that day.

Or its because just five months after that Madaraka Day, John F Kennedy was killed in Dallas in a blue 1961 Lincoln Continental. It was the same car, albeit with extensive modifications. Interestingly, the car JFK was killed in wasn’t retired. It was refurbished instead, armored, a permanent roof added, and the color changed to black. Then it was sent right back into presidential service in the Johnson administration.

JFK’s1961 Lincoln, codenamed SS-100-X, parked in front of the White House in June 1963. Image by Cecil Stoughton.

The 1961 Lincoln Continental is a valuable car today, more than it was in 1963. It was the fourth generation Lincoln and was designed after a period of loss making decisions by Ford. But it was so successful that the company had to change the design later in the decade because people were keeping their cars for too long (which is not good for business, of course).

Only Jomo doesn’t seem to have kept or used his after 1963/4 (there might be some more photos on Uriithi [Link] but the site takes a lifetime to load). He got other cars, including a Mercedes Benz 600 limo that the government paid 10,000 pounds for in 1966.

Featured image from Getty Images [Source]

Owaahh, 2017

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till Another is told.

Last modified: March 19, 2023