- The Washington Times - Friday, February 9, 2001

If you believe that as an American citizen you deserve as much protection and hi-tech James Bond gadgetry in your car as the 2001 Cadillac DeVille built for the new U.S. president, you are out of luck. If, however, you have a spare $100,000 sitting around, you can order a BMW, a Mercedes-Benz, a Lincoln, or the DeVille with almost as much bulletproof glass and body panels as the one owned by the commander in chief.
The demand for steel armoring, security glass and other special-protection features on private vehicles is rising. Cadillac has started to track sales of these vehicles for the first time this year although like most auto manufacturers it won't release the results while BMW has kept count since it introduced its light-armored luxury sedans in 1999.
"It's a small market, of course, but a growing one," said BMW spokesman David J. Buchko, whose company was the first to manufacture a production protection vehicle on the assembly line. BMW's quietly burgeoning business in the armoring of motor vehicles includes the $99,400 740iL and the $124,400 750iL models.
These BMW sedans can resist attacks from a .44 Magnum, have run-flat tires and bullet-resistant glass. The doors, footwells, wheel housings, roof and rear bulkhead are armored with aramide reinforcing fiber. The protective elements add around 340 pounds of weight to the 740iL and 308 pounds to the 750iL.
Mercedes-Benz has introduced an armored version of its S500, called the Guard, with the protective option running around $75,000 extra. A standard 2001 S500 four-door model hovers at $70,000. Wait-time for the Guard version is about two months. Each vehicle is hand-built to order at the company's Sindelfingen, Germany factory, which has an assembly line dedicated specifically to building the Guards.
If you are feeling truly threatened, be assured that each S500 Guard is certified to B4 ballistic protection. With steel armoring, multilayer polycarbonate security glass, reinforced chassis components, and a fuel tank that is self-sealing against attack, Mercedes-Benz also provides a James Bond-like, two-way intercom for communications to and from the outside of the car. Vulnerable door and body seams are protected with a "labyrinth construction" that prevents penetration. Although the S500 Guard accelerates in a non-too-swift 8.5 seconds, its top speed of 130 miles an hour is not affected by the armoring equipment.
Cadillac which won out over Lincoln this year in a bid process to supply U.S. presidential limousines takes its DeVille chassis to master coachbuilders for conversion to armored cars. Vehicle prices are determined by the coachbuilder, depending on the level of security installed. President George W. Bush's new Cadillac, however, was designed and built by General Motors' Specialty Vehicle Group, taking into account requirements by various U.S. government security agencies, of course.
Cadillac believes this particular DeVille model is the most technologically advanced in the world. Although the company is keeping mum on its details, the limo is equipped with Night Vision, Cadillac's patented infrared object detection system, as well as a heavy-duty suspension, heavy-duty transmission, heavy-duty axle and heavy-duty brakes.
Lincoln, which started the stretch craze with a 1961 Continental, supplied armor-plated cars to a number of former presidents, including Eisenhower, Kennedy and George H.W. Bush. Some of the limos had outside grip handles, concealed platforms that popped out instantly for bodyguards to stand on, and special racing tires for speedy getaways.
You needn't order your armored car from a dealership, or buy a high-end luxury sedan. A GMC Suburban was recently armor-proofed, though you might want to draw the line at a Daewoo. There are several U.S. companies (check out the Internet) that handle security and armored conversions after you've bought a vehicle.
One company offers six levels of protection, including attacks by .357 Magnums, AK-47s, and light missiles. Keep in mind, though, that responsible installers of armor should provide materials that have been properly certified by recognized agencies such as Underwriter's Laboratories. Most reputable armorers will have general liability insurance, which provides product hazard insurance in case of the armor system's failure.

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