Bulletproof, Baby

The art of protection.

Looks can be deceiving. Image: Motor1.com.

Well, you’ve made it. King of the hill, head honcho. Now to get the country sorted, getting to grips with the nitty gritty. But, you’ve made more enemies than friends getting here. Some of those policies have disgruntled the populace. Changing the whole economy didn’t help, nor banning Sunday morning lie-ins. And as for pulling out of the Tufty Club.

Fortunately, some bright spark in procurement realised you might just be a target and ordered a nice, shiny new Sentinel – thank goodness – for the flashes and noises outside are upsetting my afternoon’s listening to La Roux… The Range Rover Sentinel, along with a surprisingly large number of rival manufacturers offer the head of state, underworld Capo or anyone else considered a target a safe house on wheels: the bullet proof car.

Rolls Royce started proceedings when they went to the desert in time for the Great War. Take a Silver Ghost chassis, apply basic coachwork in order to lavish steel plate on every surface. Leave a gap or two for the driver’s sight and stick a Vickers machine gun up top. Incredibly basic and initially just what the armed forces were after, though it was the Royal Navy who saw the potential. Lawrence of Arabia defined them as “more valuable than rubies,” and even weighing in a just shy of five tons, traversed the dunes with ease.

T.E. Lawrence “above rubies”. Image: Autoweek.com.

A turn of fate helped save the life of Charles de Gaulle in 1962, although the car in question was not armoured in any way. The OAS, Organisation de l’Armée Secrete targeted the French president over the long running Algerian war. President de Gaulle and his wife were heading along Paris’ Avenue de la Liberation that August evening when a dozen gunmen opened fire. At least 140 bullets peppered the Citroën DS, smashing windows and puncturing the tyres.

The chauffeur, Francis Marroux fought to control the wayward car on the greasy road but once those hydropneumatics levelled out, he could speed away to safety, the flattened tyres still providing grip. Miraculously, all three DS occupants were unharmed. The perpetrators were later caught and executed. Marroux was lauded with a Legion of Honour, and de Gaulle insisted upon travel by Goddess from then on.

President de Gaulle in quieter times. Image via Pinterest.

Citroën took the 1992 XM to specialists, Heuliez who christened their version la Palace for Francois Mitterrand. Built on an elongated platform with Heuliez altered wings and bonnet, they were sadly underused. A Présidentielle was also constructed for Jacques Chirac in 1996 with differences that are easily spotted when following this in-depth link:

Most modern day manufacturers produce a suitably titled armoured car with baffling levels of protection and acronyms. Audi’s A8 has the somewhat plain Security moniker, although this car could withstand a pitched battle with VR9 levels of Merkel protecting armour. BMW’s natty Protection only goes to VR6 – three less. Add Armour’s version of the already crenelated Cadillac Escalade gives B6 levels; surviving a thrown hand grenade or a 5kg land mine, or should a ruffian attempt actual door entry, the electrified door handle should alter their hairstyle.

Mercedes-Maybach S 600 Guard. Image: Autocar

JLR have been protecting the British aristocracy for some time with both outfits providing Sentinels. Land Rover have kitted out the escorting Discovery too. Nothing looks quite as reassuring as a slowly driven Discovery 4 filled with armed officers as you head out for the weekly shop. Or should that be as terrifying?

Maserati sold 19 protected Quattroporte’s costing around €200,000 per car to the Italian government. That V8 has to work hard shifting nigh on 3.5 tons of Italy’s often unnamed finest, and their important folk. Renault have the Centigon made Espace, Volvo’s armoured XC90 weighs in at a cool half a million pounds, whereas the Mercedes-Maybach Guard takes those VR levels to ten. And then we have Rolls Royce catering for those who can configure numbers larger than mobile phones.

Image: Topgear

Should sir on a more modest budget requiring high levels of occupant safety consider a ŠKODA Superb Estate for £119k? Yes, the Winged Arrow can provide you with a two litre diesel with those secret enhancements to keep you alive. Bulletproof glass to PAS 300 standard, steel reinforcing, run flat tyres, better suspension and brakes and most vital, a perfectly normal three year warranty. Škoda use an unnamed British supplier for these changes. Well, we can’t have every Tom, Dick or Terrorist knowing these things, now can we?

Image: Jankel.com

Talking of suppliers, Jankel Engineering are a British firm quietly going about their business for over fifty years. Beefing up Land Cruisers is their speciality along with making their own Fox Rapid Reaction Vehicle. Along with Hot Formed protection that vastly reduces the amount of armoured panels required, yet offers incredible levels of blast protection for those unlucky enough to find themselves in a volatile situation. It must be strange for such a firm; having to advertise (up to a point) but not being able to fully explain matters. Not too dissimilar to the mainstream manufacturers, one expects.

And we close this heavily armoured door with none other than the antithesis of Colin Chapman’s ethos of adding lightness, ZIL. The Russian carmaker hardly known for aesthetics simply beefed up a standard Zavod Imeni Likhacheva chassis by loading it up with more steel; the pounds certainly went on, with a top weight grossing over five tons. One imagines these ZILs would be less valuable than Roubles. TE Lawrence would be frowning.

But they did keep Gorbachev, Yeltsin and many a high ranking official in one piece. ZIL ceased trading due to an influx of foreign, mainly Stuttgart-Untertürkheim-made armoured automobiles arriving on the scene. Funny how an iron curtain doesn’t always provide protection, isn’t it?

Read more about armoured Citroëns here.

Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

12 thoughts on “Bulletproof, Baby”

  1. Good morning Andrew. An interesting if rather sobering subject for a Sunday morning. Your piece reminded me of a more prosaic example of an armoured regular car, one with which I became familiar when I worked in Belfast in the mid-1980’s:

    These were used by the Royal Ulster Constabulary, Northern Ireland’s civil police force at the time. The Cortina’s side windows were replaced, but the original windscreen and rear window remained, behind which was a separate inner steel framework containing bulletproof glass. This can be seen more clearly in the example below, where the original rear window is shattered:

    I’ve no idea what additional armour plating they contained, but The interior must have felt very claustrophobic.

  2. Hello Andrew,
    Thank you for this tale of the origins of the armored car; one of the currently most famous ones is the one the POTUS has at his disposal- affectionately named “The Beast”. A very intriguing characteristic of The Beast is that it has so-called “one way” bullet-resistant glass: secret service details inside the car can fire at attackers on the outside, but the attackers’ bullets are stopped.

    1. All that technology to protect a president, then this happens:

      President Obama leaving the US embassy in Dublin in May 2011.

  3. I never given this particular segment of the automotive industry much thought, but the assassination of Dana Seetahal on May 4th 2014 changed all that. I never had the pleasure of meeting her, but my girlfriend was a friend of her’s. She would probably still be here if her Touareg had had sufficient armour.

    It’s very much a niche market, but the need for these vehicles is probably bigger than I imagine, since there are quite a few brands offering one or more armoured models.

  4. Ah, Jankel. That reminds me of times past when Panther Westwind, another venture of the late Robert Jankel, gave the world such treasures as the Six, which had that number of wheels, and the rather unfortunate Rio, a tarted up version of the Triumph Dolomite which advertised Rolls Royce standards of opulence. Sadly not many could be persuaded to spend three times the cost of a standard Dolomite and the business eventually ceased trading before being bought by a Korean investor and then ceasing trading a second and definitive time.

  5. Compared to Land Rover Tangi or Snatch Defenders these armoured LRs look harmless.

    Shortly before C-19 I spent a night in a small hotel in Como. In a corner of teir parking space sat two Snatch Defenders including rubber skirts and flip-up windscreen protection in dark blue with white roof and ‘Carabinieri’ lettering. They looked somehow out of context.

  6. I was shocked at the amount of armoured S-Classes and 7-Series on Turkish classifieds but the most suprising one was a silver Volvo 850 wagon..Apparently everyone and their dog needs bulletproof cars in Turkey

    1. I checked out some used vehicles in the UK, just for amusement, too, Murat.

      I recalled that one could buy armoured BMW 3-Series with discreet additions, including a megaphone (the temptation to shout at other road users would be too much, I fear).

      I found this one, which has obviously led an interesting life. The wear on the near side back seat would suggest regular contact with metal – either firearms-related or handcuffs. Just as well it can’t talk.


    2. I wonder what the switch next to the gearshifter does.That’s one mean looking 330i

  7. Hello Andrew
    What a mine of information you have provided. I knew nothing about VR6 , VR8 and B6 levels of protection but am undertaking further research post haste! Thank you.

  8. On a side note of armored cars:
    While original owner couldn’t care less, as this type of vehicle falls into the “If you have to ask” pricing range, used buyers should be very wary.
    Due to the overall weight increase, wear and tear on the suspension parts makes replacement of said items a per yearly service event.
    I don’t think engine and gearbox appreciate the extra hauling as well but it’s mostly the suspension that bears the grunt of all that extra weight.

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