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The history of the Lisa Marie - incl. some pics

Sat Jan 20, 2007 5:06 am

The history of the Lisa Marie 880 EP

Though Elvis wanted to purchase an American Airlines 707 first (Vesco deal), Elvis bought the Convair 880 instead - an aircraft which appeared to be the biggest commercial disaster in U.S airline history (only 65 were built). It's true that the CV880 was unequalled in speed, but because of it's inefficient seat configuration (5 abreast), high oil prices, high operating cost and steep competition from Boeing 707 and DC8, Delta began withrawing it's 880's fleet from service before 1974 - which was 3 years before the planned economic life cycle - and offered the redundant aircaft for sale at bargain prices. Other airlines would follow Delta's policy and before the end of 1974 - all commercial airlines had exchanged their 880's with mostly B707's and DC8's. Elvis bought the plane in April 1975, spent a fortune on customising the aircraft to his own specifications and made his first flight with the LM at November 27 1975 to Las Vegas.

After Elvis death, Vernon sold the plane in 1978 to Omni Int'l (Washington) - who made a quick 40 % profit in selling it for $2 million to Robert Philpot, a Dallas oilman (May 1978) - who could use Elvis' plane as a fund-raising tour for the church to pay off their debts (more info: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/artic ... 87,00.html). When both Robert Philpot and the church went banktrupt, Omni Int'l succesfully claimed the plane back. Not long after (1979), the plane was sold to LM Int'l (Nashville) - LM stands for Lisa Marie - who wet-leased the plane (i.e: incl crew) to celebrities and politicians who could afford to travel in luxury (most clients were from the Middle East). The picture at Geneve Airport (see below) is from this period (1980). However, given the high operational costs and it's rather restricted flying range (the 707 had a range of close to 5000 miles, 35 % more than the Convair) - it was difficult to keep on promoting the Lisa Marie as "the ultimate plane to travel the world in class". After the plane changed ownership again and was sold to an aviation company in Sillicon Valley- Ca, it was kept on the ground in Ft Lauderdale. Because of the increasing high maintenance cost to keep the Lisa Marie in the air (no other plane would convert kerosene to smoke and noise like the Convair), it eventually no longer complied with FAA's Airworthiness Directives and was prohibited from flying (1982). Sadly enough, before being moved to Graceland, the Lisa Marie was only used for spareparts (however, occasionally little 'tours' were given to fans who'd spotted the plane). The plane changed hands again and eventually EPE leased the Lisa Marie from Coker Aircarft Inc. in Memphis. Special permisson was requested and given by the FAA to fly the Lisa Marie from Ft. Lauderdale back to Memphis in 1984. Since some parts had been replaced (no owner could have known that the plane would serve as a museum), the plane was restored in it's original state.

Nevertheless, Elvis biggest investment was a disaster. Even if Elvis had lived - the increasing maintenance cost to keep the Lisa Marie from being grounded + the operational expenses (400.000$ in 1976)) - would have resulted in investments that were no longer justified and which Elvis probably could never have paid in the future (unless he'd changed his spending pattern dramatically).

Below - you will find some pictures of the Lisa Marie when it was in service with Delta Airlines - with Elvis On Tour and after Elvis died:


1967

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1972
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1973 - one of Delta's last commercial flights before this very airplane was being sold to Elvis in 1975

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Delta Airlines advertisement:

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A pic of a standard Convair 880 lounge - before it was reconfigured to Elvis' wishes.
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This is the Lisa Marie 880 EP (same as Delta 880 airplane above - but restyled)

1976 March - Cincinatti
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And...
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And the most precious of all..

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After Vernon sold the plane in 1978 - it was toured all over the world.

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1980 - Fort Lauderdale

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And back in Memphis:

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Last edited by E-Cat on Sat Jan 20, 2007 5:35 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Sat Jan 20, 2007 6:33 am

Nice work E-Cat. A lot of people do not realize that Convair's 880 and 990 commercial aircraft were economic disasters for the company and the airlines that flew them. Still, there are many aviation enthusiasts that view the plane as a classic and somewhat of a legend.

You are right that Elvis' plane would have had a much more limited lifespan than he probably envisioned. It isn't like he was using an aviation broker to land him the proper plane for long-term use. Wasn't Joe Esposito given the task of looking for Elvis' dream plane? Most likely it would have been one of Elvis' worst long-term investments due to the escilating costs of operating the plane and the inevitable grounding by the FAA in the early 80's. If he was still generating huge amounts of cash had he lived, he would have been forced to purchase a new large-scale jet (assuming he would have wanted one). It was a beautiful plane though.

Sat Jan 20, 2007 7:10 am

Very interesting story, thanks for taking the time to provide the history of Elvis' beloved jet.

The film footage that exists of the Lisa Marie on takeoff show the engines belching black smoke, in sharp contrast to modern aircraft.

Sat Jan 20, 2007 3:46 pm

Thanks for this E-Cat :wink:

It was a special moment for me when I walked down the aisles of the Lisa Marie.
Knowing Elvis loved his plane and often stayed there before going on stage (instead of a hotel room..)

A trip to Memphis is great because of Graceland... but to see the plane is worthwhile also!

Cheers, RJ

Sat Jan 20, 2007 9:08 pm

Glad you like it... :D

midnightx wrote:Wasn't Joe Esposito given the task of looking for Elvis' dream plane?


After Elvis leased the Black Bunny on his 4th tour in 1974 (*) he desperately wanted a plane for himself. Not only because he thought it would be more cost-efficient and more comfortable, but also because Led Zeppelin traveled the U.S. in a hired Boeing 707/720B (Starship). As Elvis wanted to travel safe, he insisted in buying a 4-engined jetplane, so he decided to buy a Boeing 707. When the Boeing 707 -Vesco- deal fell apart, he asked Joe to find an other 4-engined jetplane. Joe and Lamar located a Convair 880 in Tucson, AZ (stored at the Avra Valley Airport). Elvis bought the plane unseen and asked Joe to handle the paperwork.

(*) The Black Bunny was leased from Hugh Hefner and was equiped with a disco, large round waterbed, a lounge, and came with 4 'Jet Bunnies', which represented the elite rank of the Playboy Bunnies. According to Myrna Smith, Jerry had a crush on one of the Jet Bunnies. Travelling must have been tough and bumpy those days.......... :)

Below you will find a pic of the Black Bunny as leased by Elvis and a very rare pic of one of Elvis' favourite air-bunnies, Sharon Gwin (left).

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Sat Jan 20, 2007 9:35 pm

Thanks for posting the whole story about the N880EP, interesting and thanks for all the great pictures.
My favorite is for sure the one of Lisa Marie and Lisa Marie together :)

Sat Jan 20, 2007 10:50 pm

Fascinating, thanks E-Cat!

Sun Jan 21, 2007 12:15 am

As always E-Cat..

...e-x-c-e-l-l-e-n-t.....

Sun Jan 21, 2007 3:22 am

Great post, E-Cat.

Here's a little on the smaller Lockheed Jetstar (Hound Dog II).

Built in 1960, Elvis purchased this small business jet in September '75 for $889,000. (registration number changed to N777EP)

The Jetstar had a range of 2800 miles and a maximum speed of 575mph.

This was the aircraft at the center of an extortion bid by the "Fraternity" and subsequent investigation by the FBI (Operation Fountan Pen).

Co-owned by Ohara Grady (San Jose, Ca) (?)


At a Florida museum 1984:

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Graceland:

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Sun Jan 21, 2007 3:28 am

Here's a great idea for the new owners of EPE :wink:

An old Convair converted to a restaurant:

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Sun Jan 21, 2007 3:30 pm

thanks for the post and great pics. :D

Sun Jan 21, 2007 5:19 pm

Its nice to read it with the photo’s, I’ve never seen all the photo's.
There's a small thing which needs to be said.
Elvis didn't know must about planes and wanted the same plane as the president had at that time. They could only find a one size smaller model. That’s how the corsair came in view.
A few years ago I talked with Joe about this, due to a recent article about the airplane fraud case.
Joe didn't know anything about planes and treated it like buying another car for Elvis.
It was sure okay, he first talked with some friends (a pilot) in LA where to buy a plane.
He got tipped off about the corsair. (The only big “good “plane available at the time)
For the salesman it was easy selling this plane, especially when he discovered it was for Elvis and they didn’t know anything about it. (Or in Joe’s words” Jack’s ass” about a…)
Joe asked if Elvis agreed about it plane & price. (Vernon was against it, but he was always with anything expensive. I understand it now much better since he knew the financial state Elvis was in.)
Elvis overpaid the plane. Elvis as we know him didn't look at bills only the result.

It was logic that Vernon, sold the plane, no use anymore with Elvis gone and with the little cash flow necessary. That same year also Graceland was on sale for a few months.
(On behalf of Priscilla, she saved Graceland of being sold and preserved it.)
Don't forget that Elvis needed touring, the 2 New Years Eve gigs were essential to pay the bills.
And the records sales were less, the concerts were doing very well.
For the Elvis business it was a good thing he died, it saved a few companies for bankruptcies.
Personally I wished he would have retired and being still alive, so I could tell him, thank you Elvis for everything you made. I’m grateful.

Tue Jan 23, 2007 12:24 am

Thanks! :) KOOL!!!!!!!

Tue Jan 23, 2007 1:38 am

Fascinating Thanks E-Cat.