A Guide for the 99%: What Is a Car Elevator and Why Does Mitt Need One?

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The GOP front-runner is reportedly planning to install one in his house in California. Here's everything you need to know about them.

KREelevator.jpg

A car in the elevator at the KRE House in Tokyo. Today and Tomorrow

Today's driest, and most entertaining, paragraph of political journalism came from Politico's Reid Epstein, who wrote this about the renovation of Mitt Romney's beach house in San Diego:

But it may not help Romney -- whose wealth has caused him trouble connecting with average folks -- to be seen building a split-level, four-vehicle garage that comes with a "car lift" to transport automobiles between floors, according to 2008 schematic plans for the renovation obtained by POLITICO that are on file with the city of San Diego.

Hold on, a what? A car elevator?

Yes, Virginia, there are car elevators. While they're typically part of enormous garages built to hold hundreds of cars in the smallest amount of space, some are built for private houses -- and not just the batcave under Wayne Manor. The Atlantic Wire's Ray Gustini has a great rundown on some of these larger and more opulent elevators.

As for the kind of car elevator a person might install in a house, there's some variation. Some of them allow you to pull a car up from a garage into the heart of the house, which could be useful for showing off a prized collector vehicle to company, or maybe just getting to the table faster if you're running late for dinner. This YouTube video, complete with an orange Aston Martin, demonstrates how one might work:

But maybe you're a city dweller and don't live in a standalone house. After all, it's been urban voters that have helped Romney overcome rival Rick Santorum. Nicole Kidman can't vote, as she's an Australian, but she does have a car elevator for her New York City apartment. This animated video shows how her ride would be lifted 16 stories:

If Romney were to become president, he wouldn't be the first commander in chief with one. A much more utilitarian lift was reportedly outfitted to carry Franklin Roosevelt's limousine from Grand Central Station to the Waldorf-Astoria -- although a historian says he can't find any evidence FDR actually used it.

Why Romney would need one is unclear, but it's likely to be more utilitarian than ostentatious. Although Politico acquired draft plans for the renovation of the home, the Secret Service and the Romney campaign both requested that they not be printed for security reasons. To hazard a guess, the Romney car elevator may actually be a stab at modesty. Here's the theory: Romney lives on the beach, where land is both pricey and hard to come by. The plans indicate that the renovation will include a massive excavation of the ground underneath the existing house. So perhaps the elevator system is intended to store several vehicles -- a couple of Cadillacs, for example -- underground. That would mesh well with the Romney campaign's defense to The New York Times that, in the Times's words, it's "simply a mechanism for storing cars in tight spaces." It's not as sexy as a secret entrance, but it would make sense.

Practicality aside, the revelation has been the cause of much mirth, playing as it does into perceptions about Romney's wealth and the distance between his experience and that of the average American. Here's a selection of the funniest reactions.

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David A. Graham

David Graham is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Politics Channel. He previously reported for Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, and The National.

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