PAPAL POWER: The History Of The Popemobile


Photo: AP

As Pope Benedict XVI begins his tour of his home country, attention once again gets cast on the world’s most famous luxury vehicle.The Popemobile (to use its unofficial, but beloved name) was first introduced in 1930 and has seen countless redesigns and evolutions since then.

Depending on the country, year and level of security risk, the Pope has ridden around in vehicles resembling everything from a minibus to a golf cart. He even made one visit to the UK in an adapted truck.

What the future holds for the world’s holiest car, no one quite knows, but there are some rumours that the Pope may soon be modernizing his ride in order to look after the environment.

The Original (1930)

When the Pope himself described something as a 'miracle' you know it's impressive.

That's exactly what Pope Pius XI said of the car that Mercedes manufactured for him in 1930. No bells and whistles on this early occasion, just a stretched version of Nürburg 460 model. It did however signal the start of a great relationship between Mercedes and the Vatican; they've made 12 cars for the Pope since then.

The Sunroof Arrives (1960s)

In 1960, Mercedes offered the first redesign of the Popemobile, with its Landaulet model.

The car was stretched a little (presumably to provide a little bit more luxury) but the most significant innovation came up top. The roof at the back of the car was now able to be peeled back, allowed the Pope to greet crowds as he was driven along.

The version pictured is the 1965 Landaulet model, which had a huge fold-back roof and extra headroom to make greeting the crowd a lot easier.

The Limo (1967)

Another Mercedes redesign in 1967 gave the Pope a stretch for his ride.

The car could seat six and again came with a wide reaching sunroof.

The Trendsetter (1980)

Pope John Paul II rode in what many envision when they think of the Popemobile with his 1980 Mercedes G230.

This model was the first to offer the Pope an elevated throne so that he could greet crowds while still sitting down.

The French Interpretation (1981)

This Peugeot looks like it has a large fishtank on the back which housed the Pope without giving him an elevated platform or throne to sit on.

It was used in 1981 for Pope John Paul II's visit to Lyon.

The Spanish Interpretation (1982)

Used by Pope John Paul II when visiting Barcelona in 1982, this Popemobile continued the tradition of each country manufacturing its own version of the vehicle in honour of a Papal visit.

This car is a merely a modified Seat Panda.

The Bulletproof Buggy (1982)

After the attempt made on Pope John Paul's life in 1981 when he was riding his Popemobile through Rome, designs started to feature bulletproof glass and chassis.

This model, which was made for a 1982 trip to Britain is now, somewhat unnervingly, stored in the National Museum of Funeral History.

The Minibus (1987)

Used during Pope John Paul II's visit to Chile, this Popemobile broke the mould slightly in that it wasn't an armoured jeep or a stretched Mercedes, but a cute-looking minibus.

The Actual Bus (1999)

John Paul II upgraded when he visited Mexico in 1999 commandeering a much larger bus for the Papal visit.

The bus is pictured here in 2006 following John Paul II's death. It has been left on display in Mexico City since then.

Mercedes' Comeback (2002)

With a detachable bulletproof incasing, this was the vehicle that John Paul II used in the latter part of his papacy.

Benedict XVI inherited this Popemobile but not for long...

The Latest Manifestation (2007)

The current version of the Popemobile is essentially a big SUV with a huge glass tank on the back.

With four inches of bulletproof glass, this vehicle is heavy. Weighing almost three metric tons, Mercedes made sure it was equipped with a special transmission for driving very slow.

Looking to the future, strong rumours have been circulating that the Pope will soon be riding in a greener automobile as Mercedes are starting to explore an electric Popemobile as the latest innovation to this holy vehicle.

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