Back when the world was a more innocent place and politicians didn’t have to worry about every single person in a crowd being a potential shooter, things were a lot simpler. Teddy Roosevelt was infamous for hanging out by the people and with the people, literally surrounding himself with crowds of strangers pretty much everywhere he went. John Adams had an open-door policy at the White House. That’s right; anyone could walk right in and talk to him. The Pope rode around in an open Fiat almost from the time that Fiats were invented.
But then came along a little thing called World War One. Care to remember how that affair started? It started with good old Franz Ferdinand, Archduke and heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, being shot to death by a Serbian nationalist while riding in his open Graf & Stift touring car. Just in case that wasn’t enough, almost 50 years later, a homegrown American crazy man named "Lee Harvey Oswald" shot President Kennedy in Dallas while Kennedy was riding in a convertible stretch Lincoln Continental. Less than 20 years after that, Pope John Paul II was shot four times by a Turkish zealot while riding in a wide open Fiat “jeep.” The era of politicians, dictators, and leaders riding around in unprotected cars was over.
Nowadays, your random garden-variety TV celeb can get an armored car of his or her very own straight off the showroom floor, but the truly awesome, customized, and modded-out cars that every dictator should drive are out there in force. For the right price, a modern dictator can get one hell of a safe ride. Here are 15 of the best and most famous bulletproof cars every dictator should own.
15 INKAS Huron: For Government Use Only
OK, I’m not sure if this entry really counts as an armored “car” or if it’s actually a tank pretending to be a car. What I do know is that any head of state or another politico lucky enough to ride around in one of these is gonna feel pretty goddamn safe. It’s got an 8.3L truck engine (to which I can only nod respectfully), can withstand running over landmines, and goes almost 90mph… on flat tires. It’s been affectionately called an “angry Hummer.” Oh yeah... it can withstand AK-47 fire and hand grenades and has an optional turret mount for the dictator who wants to mount a .50 cal up top. Even though it starts at a measly $485,000, don’t expect to find one for yourself - INKAS, based out of Toronto, only sells to government or law-enforcement agencies. For some reason, the National Police of Columbia got the first four models - lucky dogs!
14 Putin’s Mercedes
It should come as no surprise to anyone that Russian President Vladimir Putin has a “heavily armored” (that’s what the releases call it - they’re coy about how heavily armored it is) Mercedes S-Class limousine. After all, this is a country where the Russian “Mafiya” runs rampant and ethnic clashes occur with some regularity. The president needs that protection, I’m sure. The most appealing feature of Putin’s vehicle is that it comes with run-flat tires that allow it to travel a distance of almost 20 miles at around 60mph even after all four tires have been shot out. One would hope that would be far enough to get the president out of danger. Supposedly, Putin's looking into a homegrown limo alternative to his Mercedes, but so far, nothing has quite matched up.
13 Russian Mob Fave
Alright, so if the president of Russia needs an armored car to get around in, it’s a good bet that all of those crazy Russian mob bosses need something too - probably even worse than Putin does. Is it any surprise then that BMW unveiled the X5 High Security at the Moscow Motor Show a few years back? Nope, not at all. The X5 base package protects against anything up to a .44 caliber gun. Which is why, if you’re a Mafiya guy, you probably want to upgrade to the Security Plus option which holds up against AK-47s. BMW themselves said of this option, “The risk of armed violence and, in particular, attack with automatic weapons like the AK-47 is a fact of everyday life for certain customers.” Now there’s a sales pitch! The base vehicle comes in at around $150,000.
12 The “Popemobile”
I already mentioned how, back in the day, the Pope used to tool around in an open Fiat Popemobile that basically looked like an undersized U.S. Army jeep from World War Two that someone slapped some white paint on. Then came the 1981 shooting. These days, the Popemobile is a Mercedes Benz M-Class vehicle that’s been, shall we say, slightly modified. When I say "slightly," what I really mean is that the Popemobile has a raised armored-glass “turret” rising up out of the rear of the car like the Pope is sitting in an elevator going straight to heaven. The Pope uses the car to be seen by his millions of adoring followers. It also has the obligatory collection of armor and bulletproof glass on the rest of the car as well. This custom-built car for the Vatican’s ex officio head of state runs about $525,000 with mods.
11 International Armoring Corporation’s SUVs
Alright, so most of us probably have a little bit of buyer’s envy when we see a fully decked-out Escalade rolling through the hood - I know I do. But just because your run-of-the-mill Escalade is a legitimate option for the stockbroker or mobster mom who lives on your street doesn’t mean it’s the end of the line for those and other SUVs (notably, top-end Land Rovers) in the armored-car business. Nope, your neighborhood Escalade has got nothing on what International Armoring Corporation can and does do for South American and African tinpot dictators, Eastern European bankers, and Cali rappers. For a price - high enough that various upgrades range from hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars - International Armored will customize your SUV with bomb-suppression “blankets,” a road-tack delivery system, run-flat tires, electroshock handles, and even a smokescreen option. Oh yeah... you can also get an external mic system to yell at would-be attackers that they don’t know who the f*ck they’re messing with… International Armored even equipped one Porsche Cayenne with two roof-mounted remote M-16s and one under the rear hatch!
10 Dartz “Black Shark” For Eastern Europe
There’s a little car company in Latvia that's making a big splash in the armored-car market. Their name is "Dartz," and while their initial offerings included weird amenities like seats made out of whale foreskin (seriously, what the hell is that all about!??!), they've recently gone toward a more reliable model of defensive car engineering. The Black Shark model is quickly becoming a favorite for local warlords in some of the more violent and dangerous areas of Eastern Europe. It’s not hard to see why either. Dartz took a Mercedes G65 V12 engine with 1,500 horses and put it in a street tank, basically. It has a sniper-resistant roof, B7 armor all around, explosive detectors and signal jammers, and body armor. They also offer the interior in “stingray, alligator, ostrich, crocodile, or python, along with shark-skin & sheep-skin floor mats.” No more whale foreskin, though - they’re trying to be legitimate, I guess. Or knock back that $1 million price tag…
9 President Kennedy’s Lincoln Continental Convertible
I know, I know... you’re asking yourself, “What the hell is wrong with you, Geer? Kennedy’s convertible was a death machine!” Yeah, it was... until the US government decided it couldn’t afford to do a brand new custom Presidential vehicle and instead revamped the car that got Kennedy killed. It’s a weird old world, ain’t it? Here’s the deal, though - the “new” car was custom-built for the time. A task force of government scientists and military advisors implemented an all-new re-armored rear. They built a new permanent, non-removable (no more convertible) bulletproof, armored glass top. The engine was rehauled to add almost 20% more power, and every weak joint on the car was reinforced. They even upgraded to state-of-the-art electronic communications for the car. Presidents Johnson, Nixon, and Ford all used the car until its retirement in 1977, each adding some mods (Nixon had a hole cut in the roof for instance). With all the mods, the vehicle cost a cool $500,000.
8 Thai Royal Family’s Maybach Fleet
The royal family of Thailand has had a lot of money for a very, very long time. And they sure aren’t afraid to spend it, judging from the looks of the fleet of cars they maintain. Every member of the family has at least one armored and bulletproof Maybach to tool around in, most of them with additional emergency options like upgraded engines and run-flat tires. However, the king is the only one who gets to ride around in a Maybach 62 that has its own refrigerator and wine chiller. I suppose for $500,000, one ought to at least get a wine chiller, but I don’t know - I think I might demand a humidor, too, if I were the king. I mean, after all, if you have to sit behind bulletproof windows, you might as well enjoy the ride.
7 Range Rover Gets Official
Dictators in far-off dry and sandy countries have been modifying Range Rovers for years, so it made sense that Range Rover would finally make their own official “security vehicle.” The Range Rover Sentinel isn't cheap - it starts around $600,000, but it is tough. It has the standard grenade-withstanding armor and highly adaptable brakes and suspension (for high-speed escape) and even has an emergency escape hatch in the bottom of the car. However, both you and I know what Range Rover is really trying to sell is its own brand identity. C’mon... who wouldn’t want an armored car that could also climb a mountain, cross a river, and conquer a desert? That’s what makes this particular offering so cool! Because we all know personal security can only be found on the top of a distant mountain somewhere.
6 Mercedes Pullman Guard For India’s President
Like China, India is a huge country, and its president commands a lot of power and respect. Unlike China, India has been very capitalist for a very long time, which might explain why India’s president gets to tool around in a Mercedes Pullman Guard instead of a homegrown knock-off. The “Guard” part comes into play because this car can withstand grenade attacks and is much more heavily armored than a regular Pullman would ever be. It also has an integrated surveillance system so that the Prez and his drivers can keep tabs on everything happening around them in the world beyond their bulletproof windows. Even though it’s a stretch limo from Mercedes, this vehicle seems like almost a steal at $180,000.
5 The Queen’s Bentley State Limousine
Queen Elizabeth has been around for so long that I’m pretty sure her first official state car was a horse and carriage… Alright, maybe not that long, but you get my drift. But times change, as they will, and now, England’s monarch cruises around her various state parades and official functions in a state-of-the-art Bentley. It’s called the “Bentley State Limousine,” and there's only one of its kind in the world. Maybe that’s because Bentley, who used a top-of-the-line Rolls Royce engine in the vehicle, was commissioned to make it for her Diamond Jubilee year! It is, my friends, by far the most expensive state car in the world, although the real figure is somewhat mysterious. Of course, it has Kevlar armor across its whole body, blast-resistant windows, and the cabin can be sealed to protect its occupants from gas attacks. Plus, the doors can be opened at a ninety-degree angle to allow Britain’s aged queen to get easily in and out.
4 UK Prime Minister’s “Bond” Car
So, it turns out the queen isn't the only British bigshot to cruise around in a fancy homegrown fortress on wheels. The Prime Minister of England (currently The Right Honourable Theresa May) also has a customized vehicle, albeit at a slightly lower price tag. The Jaguar XJ Sentinel has Kevlar armor reinforced with extra titanium steel in the entire body of the car. It also has the obligatory bulletproof glass and even night-vision technology. Like most cars of its type, the engine has been overhauled to provide additional power - you know, to lug that heavy armor frame around. It even has one added benefit that might not contribute to its defensive capabilities but surely makes the occupants happy; the rear seats have built in massagers.
3 Xi Jinping’s Hongqi Limousine
China’s Premiers need a slick ride too, right? Of course, they do - they're the head honchos of almost two billion people. It’s a good thing they have their own native luxury-car company to come roaring to the rescue. The company is called "Hongqi," and their limousines are so pricey that only government officials in China tend to have them. The Premier’s is fitted to accelerate out of danger at zero to 100 in eight seconds. When you consider that this behemoth is almost 20’ long and is very heavily armored, that’s not too shabby. Hongqi knows what it's doing, too - its name means “Red Flag,” a suitably communistic title to woo buyers with. We all know China has become a bit more capitalistic in the last few years, which is probably good for Hongqi, as its limo goes for a cool $800K.
2 Philippines President’s Mercedes W221
The Philippines has long been a bastion of corruption and decadent abuse of power by its leaders, so it'll probably come as no surprise that the traditional state vehicle for the president of that country is pretty luxurious. It, of course, comes equipped with bulletproof windows and armored plate doors, but the Mercedes W221 that the president drives around in also has quite a few creature comforts - including having the number “1” for its license plate, a longstanding tradition in the country. It also flies not only the national flag but also the president’s personal standard - pretty sweet if you want to flaunt your power! Actually, this car is one of the cheaper ones on our list, coming in at just under $225K. Maybe, just maybe, the Filipinos are starting up a new program of austerity, right? Nah.
1 POTUS & Cadillac One
A lot has changed since “POTI” (sorry, I’m not really sure if there's a plural for POTUS) Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Ford used that old Lincoln Continental we’ve talked so much about. Today’s US presidents travel in very different style. I’m sure you’re asking, “How different, Geer???” Well, let me lay it down for you. Cadillac One was built for President Obama with the express purpose of serving his successors as well. It has 8” thick armored plate throughout the whole body and the standard head-of-state bulletproof windows, and it weighs 8 tons. But get this… it also has its own supply of oxygen for the occupants, night-vision sensors everywhere, undercoat armor to stop IEDs and, drumroll please, its own onboard refrigerated supply of blood that matches the president’s type. It probably won’t surprise you that Cadillac One is nicknamed “The Beast.” Or that it cost a sweet $1,500,000.