The Faust & The Furious

A brief history dissertation on the sweet rides of our even sweeter presidents

As president of Harvard, Drew G. Faust holds a celebrity status that few academics share. While her fame may be a tad subtler than the acclaim that, say, The Beatles once enjoyed—teenagers around the world haven’t adopted her hairstyle...yet—it nevertheless places her under a perpetual spotlight. Every aspect of her life is fair game for scrutiny, from fashion faux pas to comments about female scientists to the car she drives.

How a person chooses to travel can say a lot about her, but Harvard provides a default mode of transportation. Along with an official residence, the University offers its commander in chief a black Lincoln town car, which once sported a license plate reading “1636.”

“The Corporation provided in hiring me as president that the university car would drive me for all university functions and was also available for use in the Boston area more generally,” former University President Lawrence H. Summers writes in an e-mail. Summers occasionally employed his “modestly decrepit” ’92 Mazda, but it seems the chic town car was usually his vehicle of choice.

Although former President Derek C. Bok was also supplied the 1636-mobile during his 20-year tenure, he preferred to ride around in a crimson Volkswagen Beetle—a gift from his mother. Bok used the University car for long business trips, but the spirited VW was his trademark set of wheels. The Phillips Brooks House Association auctioned it off for charity in 1991.

So how does Faust cruise down Mass Ave? She doesn’t. Though she owns a Honda Accord, Faust favors the sidewalk. “Since 2001 I have had the privilege of walking to work at Radcliffe and I am now trying to continue to do that as much as possible,” Faust writes in an e-mail.

While Faust’s open-air commute has its perks and “going green” is all the rage, the Accord would make a legendary episode of Pimp My Ride. Rims and flames? FM votes yes.