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Holy Rollers: Vatican vehicles past and present


Recently, Pope Francis advised members of the Catholic church to avoid the temptation of flashy and flamboyant cars. According to Reuters, the Pope wants to see his flock in more “humble” cars, commenting that “It hurts me when I see a priest or a nun with the latest model year car, you can’t do this.”

Il Papa’s comments are just the latest examples in a long list of austere measures being instilled into the Catholic Church. Upon election, instead of traveling from the Sistine Chapel to the Santa Marta residence in an official car adorned with the license plate “SCV 1” or “SCV” (abbreviations for “Stato della Città del Vaticano” and “Status Civitatis Vaticanae”, the Italian and Latin names for Vatican City) Pope Francis opted for public transportation, jumping on the bus alongside other cardinals. Humble indeed.

Spurning the much more opulent papal apartments, His Holiness chose a more modest Vatican guest home as his residence. And while Pope Francis received the keys to a decked-out M-Class from Mercedes-Benz chief Dieter Zetsche (whom we believe moonlights as the Monopoly top hat guy in his spare time), within Vatican walls it’s said he prefers to cart around in an ordinary Ford Focus.

But while Pope Francis might snub some of the finer things in life, his predecessors didn’t seem to have any problems riding around in some of the most modified and expensive cars known to man.

Unimaginatively dubbed “Popemobiles” these cars can be classified into two categories: Custom-made examples provided to the Pope on his trip to foreign nations and the more official four-wheeled chariots of his Holiness, often bespoke Benzes that provide a rolling – and often bulletproof – aquarium from which to wave to a sea of faithful onlookers.

Given the Pope’s recent comments, we offer a list of various Vatican-approved vehicles past and present, starting with the Mercedes-Benz Nürburg 460 from about 80 years ago.

Mercedes-Benz Nürburg 460 (1930)


Internally codenamed the “Rome Vehicle” and considered the first “real” Popemobile, the Mercedes-Benz Nürburg 460 dates all the way back to 1930 and was commissioned for Pope Pius XI (that’s Pius, not Prius, folks) as a gift from Daimler Benz AG. Sporting an inline eight-cylinder, the 460 had a top speed of 62 mph and featured front seats covered in black leather, a dove-shaped interior roof motif, a rear-mounted throne, and a “control panel” in the rear for signaling instructions to the driver, which was pretty groundbreaking for the time. Apparently, yelling was frowned upon.

Mercedes-Benz 300D (1960)


It took almost 30 years to see a new Popemobile but in 1960 the Mercedes-Benz 300D Landaulet (a car with convertible roof above the rear seats) was delivered to the Vatican. The same singular throne setup was retained in back, only this time it could be controlled electronically and was accompanied by two folding seats for the Pope’s escorts. Other amenities such as air conditioning and a two-way radio were also added. An inline six-cylinder replaced the 460’s inline eight-cylinder, with top speed upped to 99 mph.

Lincoln Continental (1964)


Of all the car’s on the list, it’s the Pope’s hot-rod 1964 Lincoln Continental that’s got us thinking unholy thoughts (sorry, Father). Keeping the pimped-out yet papal Landaulet design, the Lincoln was stretched out for the Pope’s visit to New York City. While not as teched-out as the 300D, this Popemobile featured a hand crank that elevated the Pope’s throne about one foot toward the heavens. There’s no word on what boat that second windscreen came from.

Mercedes-Benz 600 Pullman (1965)


Yes, the 1960s witnessed its fair share of hippies but it also saw its fair share of Popemobiles – with Mercedes alone supplying four of the five models used during the decade of “flower power”. In 1965 came the 600 Pullman Landaulet, which served Pope Paul VI and again featured Pope-worthy amenities such as two-way radio, a convertible top and an electrically-controlled throne seat in the rear.

FCS Star (1979)


One of a few non-Mercedes built papal chariots; the FCS Star was used by Pope John Paul II upon his return to his native Poland. The FCS is a Polish-built industrial truck that was most often used for firefighting duty, however, it was converted into one of the most impressive (and bad-ass) Popemobiles ever created, with an open top that the Pope could stand and wave from. OMG is he waving to me?! No, he isn’t.

Ford Transit (1979)


Another trip, another Popemobile – only this time a burly Ford Transit had the papal privilege of escorting his Holiness around the Emerald Isle, which as the history books tell us was the first time a Pope had visited Ireland in, oh… I don’t know …EVER. Rather than a drab black (or local green for that matter) the holy rolling Transit got the official Papal makeover colors of yellow and white.

Mercedes-Benz 230 G (1980)


Don’t lie – it’s a sin after all – but how awesome would it the next time you travel to Germany, Mercedes-Benz just hands you the keys to your very own G-Wagen? Oh wait, you’re not believed to be God’s representative on Earth? Well then you’re out of luck, friend, because that’s exactly what Mercedes did upon Pope John Paul II’s trip to Germany in 1980.

Out of all the Popemobiles on this list, it’s the 230 G that many will consider the most iconic Pope car. With a “mother-of-pearl” livery and a reinforced plastic cupola that was originally designed to be removed during optimal weather conditions, following the attempt on the Pope’s life in 1981 the plastic “bubble” became a fixed feature for obvious reasons. But it wasn’t all Bad News Bears for John Paul II. An automatic climate control system made sure his mobile aquarium didn’t become hotter than the flames of hell and a nice inner light array was installed to ensure people could see him even if it was dark outside.

Peugeot 504 (1981)


John Paul II may have just have been the most well-traveled Pope in history and upon his visit to Lyon, France, was given a converted – and clearly humble – Peugeot 504 to ride around in. In keeping with beefed-up security measures, a trend that nearly all subsequent Popemobiles would follow, the 504 was also outfitted with a plastic cupola to protect against any attempts on his life. But we think just riding around in this thing while standing is somewhat death-defying.

SEAT Papamóvil (1982)


Spain was awarded the grand honor of hosting John Paul II in 1982, and as a cheeky gesture, the country bestowed upon him the smallest Popemobile ever, the SEAT Panda Papamóvil. Pope Francis would approve.

Range Rover Popemobile (1982)


The Pope sure got around in the 1980s – but who didn’t, really? His trip to jolly old England saw Land Rover up its holy game with the first-ever bulletproof enclosure for his Holiness’ trip to the U.K. Sadly, we can’t say for certain whether it protected him from the bland food…

Leyland Popemobile (1982)


Range Rover takes the credit for the first bulletproof Popemobile, but it’s Scotland’s Leyland Trucks that deserves recognition for being the most massive. Weighing in at 24 tons, this Popemobile featured the now typical enclosure with the addition of glass room at the top. God help you if you ever got in its way.

GMC Sierra (1984)


We pray frequent flyer miles existed in the 1980s. 1984 saw Pope John Paul II make another trip, this time to Canada. But instead of being courted around in a stately Mercedes, the papacy rode around in a pickup: a GMC Sierra. Those Canadians know how to keep it simple. And forget being professional grade, this had to be Papal grade.

Mercedes-Benz 500 SEL W126 (1985)


While the John Paul II continued to use his 230 G-Class for international outings, an armored 500 SEL became his mobile vehicle of choice in and around the Vatican. The single seat in the rear returned along with two folding seats that faced rearwards for his bodyguards. In addition to being armored and weighing almost three tons, this particular Popemobile had a special top door that allowed the Pope to stand and wave to onlookers.

Mercedes-Benz S500 Landaulet (1997)


Landaulets: it’s not only fun to write and say out loud, but they make awesome Popemobiles and in 1997, a 320 hp 5-liter V8 Mercedes model was again used by the Vatican. There was even a Saint Mary icon integrated into the car’s paneling! Sweet Jesus, that’s cool! Did we mention the throne in the back could elevate upward of a meter?

A bus (AKA “The Commandment Center”)


John Paul II’s trip to Mexico in 1999 saw him forgo more traditional, Pope-ly modes of transpiration in favor of a big ‘ol bus. Yes, a bus. This bus.

Mercedes-Benz ML430 (2002)


Another of the more iconic Popemobiles, the ML430 was the vehicle of choice of Pope John Paul II for major public outings before his death in 2005. It sported an air-conditioned, bulletproof cupola and was the absolute worst car to order from at a McDonald’s drive-thru and the most obnoxious vehicle to end up parked in front of you at a drive-in movie screening of The Passion.

Fiat Campagnola (2004)


Showing some Italian pride, the Papacy zipped around in this tiny modified Fiat in 2004 during the latter days of John Paul II’s reign. It was used primarily during masses at St. Peter’s Square by Pope Benedict XVI and even the most recent Papa, Pope Francis, has been spotted riding around in it as well. Small, but tough.

Mercedes-Benz G 500 (2007)


“Vatican mystic white” is the color of Pope Benedict XVI’s G500. The Mercedes-sourced Popemobile was mainly used by Benedict XVI during ceremonial proceedings at Saint Peter’s Square during his tenure. Similar to the ML in many ways, the G 500 has the same bulletproof enclosure but has the added luxury of folding windshield, allowing it to transform into a convertible as well.

Mercedes-Benz M-Class (2013)


Another Bespoke Benz for the Vatican was delivered earlier this month by Daimler CEO Dr. Dieter Zetsche, however, given the austere measures Pope Francis has taken, it’s unlikely he’ll get much mileage out of his new set of wheels. But we imagine the Vatican will find some use for it. Perhaps beginning with the Pope’s scheduled trip to Brazil later this month?

We’ll let you know when we know.

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