6 Super Cool Popemobiles

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We’ve had a pope (sometimes two at once) for two millennia; we’ve had cars for a century. For most of popedom, the head of the Catholic church was carried around on a chair held aloft by twelve poles, one for each disciple. There was one man per pole, and they lifted the pope up above the thronging crowds, the better to see his pointy hat and waving hand. Once the automobile and its safety and usefulness had been proven, though, the Vatican was happy to accept cars as gifts. Below are a few of the more interesting vehicles to convey waving popes over the past century—not including the Ferrari he’s rumored to have in the garage.

1. 1930 Mercedes-Benz 460 Nurburg edition

Courtesy of Motor Trend

When Mercedes-Benz gave Pope Pius XI a stretch 460 Nurburg edition car, those 12 pole-carrying guys were probably pretty relieved. Vatican insiders at the time simply called this Benz “the Rome vehicle,” as it was used as a kind of around-town car. It didn’t have any armor, though Mercedes made that option available in 1928. Like all the pope’s cars to come, this one carried the license plate “SCV-1,” for “status civitatus Vaticanae,” and the pope being Numero Uno. The Vatican kept this particular car for 30 years. The pope must have one hell of a mechanic.

Mercedes-Benz proudly proclaims that it has always been the official vehicle supplier of the Popes, but that’s only kind of true. When popes started jetting around the world in the mid-twentieth century, local manufacturers would kit out a car for them to use while in foreign countries.

2. 1964 Lincoln Continental limousine

Courtesy of CatholicHotDish

Pope Paul VI was the first pope to visit the United States, in 1964, and he was given a fat Lincoln Continental limousine to use for his tour. It was customized by Lehmann-Peterson with platforms for security officers along the sides, an open roof, and a little 10-inch windshield above the usual windshield to keep the breeze from blowing off the pontiff’s beanie. Since a limousine wouldn’t fit in the overhead bins, Pope Paul didn’t take the car home as a souvenir. Instead, it remained Stateside and would be used by returning American astronauts and in Chicago as a parade car for dignitaries.

3. 1979 Ford custom: The first “Popemobile”

Courtesy of World Irish

The first car known popularly as the Popemobile debuted in Dublin, Ireland, in 1979. A Ford truck was completely customized to hold the waving Pope John Paul II above the crowds, much the same way the twelve men with poles carried the old popes out to see the masses. The truck has what looks like a greenhouse, which held the throne and was big enough to house a little papal entourage, too. There was also an open-air platform for standing and being beneficent. Sound good to you? You’re in luck! This repainted Popemobile can be yours for £300 a night, courtesy of its current owners at the Dublin Wax Museum.

4. 1982 Custom Land Rovers (and an Ill-Fated Fiat)

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Popemobiles made a big change after John Paul II was shot four times—not fatally—in 1981. On his tour of the United Kingdom in 1982, he used two fully armored, bomb-proof, four-wheel-drive Land Rovers to get around. They also had the greenhouse and throne in back for visibility and waving, but the pope’s advisors put the kibosh on the outdoor platform. (By the way, when John Paul II was shot, he was riding in a jeep-like modified Fiat Campaignola. Benedict XVI used it even as late as 2012 to get around the Vatican.)

5. 2002 Mercedes-Benz G-Class SUV

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In 2002, Pope John Paul II traded up for a more hip Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen in his signature papal Mystic White. In keeping with his new, cool image, he also asked that people stop calling his modified cars with thrones “Popemobiles.” The throne itself is white with the Vatican’s coat of arms embroidered in the upholstery. The Pope may be infallible and the Vicar of Christ on Earth, but the word “Popemobile” is here to stay.

6. 2013 Mercedes-Benz M-Class SUV

Courtesy of CarAdvice

Which brings us to the latest Popemobile, which was rolled out about three seconds before Pope Benedict XVI announced his retirement in early 2013. Was this Benedict’s judgment of the new, more streamlined, more suburban Mercedes-Benz M-Class? Probably not. This version of the Popemobile got a lot of updates, from soft halogen lighting over the throne to a motorized lift in the greenhouse to raise the pope up even further for better visibility. This M-Class has been made shorter, too, so it’s easier to bring along on a plane. But it still won’t fit in an overhead compartment.

Rumor has it that a future Mercedes-Benz Popemobile will have a greener hybrid power train, but Vatican insiders say it won’t go as far as being all electric. Electric motors have the advantage of full torque availability for fast getaways if the poop hits the papal fan, but traveling at high speeds will drain a battery faster than you can say “pater noster.” Making a quick getaway only to roll to a silent stop behind St. Peter’s isn’t the lifesaving maneuver the pope is probably looking for.

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March 19, 2013 - 11:04am
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