On the outside it’s a standard Mercedes G63 limousine. Even on the inside there is nothing untoward. Yet the driver might notice a certain heaviness to the ride – because this G63 is encased in BT 7 grade armour, which means it can withstand hardcore, AK-47 style rifle rounds, and a couple of hand grenades too. It has an external thermal and infrared surveillance system too and its own secure cloud server. Of course, one pays for this 2018 model – US$1.2m. But what price security? Indeed, demand for just this kind of vehicle is – sadly, in some respects – on the up.
“Unfortunately the world is such that there is always demand for armoured vehicles,” says Roman Shimonov, vice president of marketing for the Toronto, Canada- based Inkas, a specialist in building bomb and bullet-proof cars and the company behind this new G63. “There are unstable countries where politicians need the protection, or regions like South America, where the wealthy face a high risk of kidnapping.”
A LIGHT TOUCH
The trick, though, is for an armoured car to wear its protection lightly, so that it looks like the standard version of the model. “From a security point of view the car needs to blend in,” explains Mark Burton, founder and CEO of the Utah, US-based International Armoring Corporation (IAC), which has provided armoured cars to some 42 heads of state. “There have been a number of attacks on cars in which the assailant clearly had no idea of their defensive measures. The assailant may have tried something else if they had. The fact is it’s not like in the movies – assailants don’t chase you down the street shooting. The measures are designed to allow the car to get away – which increases the chances of survival for the occupants considerable.”
It’s one reason why run-flat tyres are now typically standard. But other measures are ever more sophisticated. Although steel plating is more flexible, and so easier to work with, stronger and lighter weight synthetic composite laminates – such as that developed by IAC – are coming to the fore. Then there are a host of Bondian gadgets – concealed ram buffers, radio jammers, fire suppression systems for engine and tyres, smoke screen launchers and, among the most recent devices, even a fire source detection system – basically a kind of radar that allows the driver to pin-point where gunfire is coming from, and hence head away from it.
You won’t find such systems on just any car though. There is, Shiminov adds, a reason why the industry favours the likes of the Toyota Land Cruiser – not every car is suitable to be armoured, since the chassis needs to be able to carry the additional weight without adversely affecting suspension, breaking, acceleration or control. This is particularly the case for many modern, aluminium-chassis cars, which typically have to be re-enforced before they can be armoured.
“No car is designed to be armoured, so the procedure is always complex,” says Burton. “We’ve done Rolls Royces, Range Rovers, Bentleys, even an Aston Martin, which was a special challenge – adding all that weight but retaining the performance of a car designed to be light. But sometimes we have to talk a customer round to having a different car armoured. We had one client who wanted his Tesla armoured. We encouraged him to have his Mercedes sedan done.” The additional weight may be as much as 200kg, with a lot of that accounted for by windows up to 72mm-thick. Sometimes sheer heft is the only defense against high velocity rounds.
Small wonder then that the industry is always exploring new technology to make an armoured car more secure. As Leonard Yankelovich, of Riga, Russia-based armoured vehicle builders Dartz Motorz, puts it: “The industry is a non-stop competition between bullet and armour and the bullet always wins. There are bullets that will go right through armour. But armour gives you a much better chance.”
And especially if it’s reactive armour, perhaps, a military grade innovation which uses explosives or electricity to disrupt a projective from penetrating a vehicle. Burton speaks of hopes for ever harder glass to allow for further weight reduction of what is, in fact, a transparent glass, acrylic and polycarbonate sandwich. Or of times when armour might even be spray on, allowing cars to be delivered to customers that much faster. But he concedes that the advances come slowly. “We’ve managed to get the same resistance in, say, 1.5kg of composites as 6kg of steel, but that’s taken 25 years,” he says. “We’re always on the look-out for new materials to explore.”
It could well be worth while should the bullets ever actually start flying. In 2013 Nigerian politician Governor Kenneth Imansangbon’s IAC-built people carrier came under attack from a barrage of AR-15s rifle fire, as well as being rammed by an 18-wheel semi. It was just one of some 350 attacks on IAC vehicles over the years. While this armoured car was ultimately undriveable, all four of its occupants lived on. “That’s what we’re most proud of,” says the IAC’s Burton. “That’s the real test of these vehicles – survival.”