Armored automobiles

There's nothing vulnerable about these vehicles

Nothing says “I care” like equipping a car with underbody grenade protection.

Armored cars, limos and SUVs are traditionally the domain of Saudi princes and heads of state. However, aftermarket manufacturers like Scaletta Moloney Armoring, Centigon and Intl. Armoring are seeing a leap in the number of consumers who want to wrap their cars in layers of steel and Kevlar.

“The Hollywood crowd, they have a lot of problems,” says Scaletta sales manager Tom Herlihy. “You have stalkers and disgruntled employees.”

Trade mag American Metal Market said more than 18,000 armored cars were sold worldwide in 2003, a figure expected to grow by 15%-20% each year.

“I used to work out of the Beverly Hills Rolls-Royce office, just bringing the armored vehicle experience there,” says Herlihy. “They want the protection and they want the status of how they’re used to traveling. Whereas overseas, (they) just want to get from A to B safely.”

Protection comes at four levels: Handgun, assault rifle, armor-piercing and blast protection. As the protection rises, so does the cost and the weight of the car. Less nimble handling and acceleration also means driver’s reeducation. And not every car is a candidate for armor.

“I have had people ask for convertibles,” Herlihy says.

“If you say ‘I like a high, high level of protection for my (VW) Bug,’ I’ll tell you it’s not going to make sense,” says Intl. executive VP Francisco Ruiz. “You won’t be able to move by the time we’re done.”

Protection doesn’t come cheaply, with estimates ranging from about $50,000 to more than $1 million. However, like the ad says, the value can be priceless.

“If Tupac Shakur (had) been protected, he could have been alive,” Ruiz says. “And the cost would have been no more than the cost of his fancy stereo equipment.”

V Life Weekend asked three armored car companies how much it would cost to armor a Mercedes-Benz S500 against assault rifles.

Centigon, Cincinnati, OH:
$250,000
Includes: Perimeter protection, glass, adjusted brakes and suspension, hinges, protected car battery and computer
Time frame: 4 weeks for handgun protection; up to a year for head of state vehicles
Warranty: Comprehensive. Says rep Darren Flynn, “(If) there’s a warranty claim in Tashkent (Uzbekistan), we go.”
Manufacturer relationships with: Cadillac, Peugeot-Citroen, Jaguar, Land Rover, Renault, Volvo
Clients: State Dept., Justice Dept., DEA, U.S. Postal Service. Has made four presidential limousines.

Intl. Armoring Corp., Ogden, UT:
$80,000 for armoring alone
Includes: Protect passenger compartment, roof and floor against fragmentation.
Also reinforced: side panels, windows, bumpers and tires, which can run even when flat.
Time frame: 30 to 60 days
Warranty: Depends on car
Manufacturer relationships with: Ford Motors
Clients: Pope John Paul’s Popemobile, SWAT vehicles for 2002 Olympics and private clients in Africa, South America and Mexico

Scaletta Moloney Armoring, Bedford Park, IL:
“We don’t do the Mercedes-Benz because Mercedes does it,” Herlihy says. “There’s no way to do it better.” However, he estimates it would cost $75,000 for a Chevrolet Suburban.
Includes: Run-flat tires, protected fuel tanks (like a race car’s, it won’t explode in a crash), ballistic glass, passenger compartment armoring and a steel mesh tailpipe insert to prevent pipe bombs.
Time frame: Average is 45 days; custom work can take 3-4 months
Warranty: Multi-year in the U.S., but depends on use and location
Manufacturer relationships with: GM
Clients: Celebrities, Fortune 500 companies, government agencies and diplomats

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