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January 8, 2007

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Carriage under fire

Recent years have seen an increase in the number of executives joining the ranks of heads of state and diplomats in travelling in armoured passenger vehicles. This is particularly the case in locations such as the war-torn Middle East and troubled South Africa, but the threat of terrorism in major western cities, especially in the US and the UK, has prompted high-ranking executives to begin taking similar precautions.

In the past, the majority of armoured vehicles have been modified versions of top-of-the-range production vehicles. When President George W Bush visited the UK in 2003, the BBC reported extensively on his armoured Cadillac de Ville. It claimed the vehicle was likely to feature heavily-armoured doors and a five-inch thick armour plate, a heat-resistant fuel tank, anti-shred tyres and night vision capability.

Jon Stanley of Rolls Royce Motor Vehicles comments that, as of the beginning of last year, German firm Mutec has worked for the famous marque as an ‘approved coach service’, modifying Phantoms for the armoured market. “Obviously, one option is to provide an in-house solution, modifying vehicles ourselves or, as we do, with the assistance of Mutec,” suggests Stanley. “However, some firms that have fleets of armoured vehicles may have their own approved armourers who they would prefer to work with, and in that case we are happy to collaborate with those clients on a consultative basis.”

A number of major high-end passenger vehicle manufacturers have now begun to offer their own production line armoured vehicles. A little over a year ago, for example, Jaguar launched the Armoured XJ Long Wheelbase its first venture into armoured vehicle territory.

Jaguar worked with vehicle armouring expert Centigon on the new car. The manufacturer claims it offers protection from “firearms and blast attack, robbery, kidnap and car jacking”. And it comes with a hefty price tag attached at GB pound 199,000 as a starting price, you’d have to be pretty sure you needed one before you started writing out the cheque.

So what does that sort of money buy you? Well, from the outside it looks almost identical to the standard XJ, but delve a little deeper and you discover the car features extensive modifications, including bullet-resistant laminated glazing, underbody protection, steel-armouring and ‘run flat’ tyres.

The car’s chassis has been extensively adapted to compensate for additional weight and what Jaguar knowingly describes as “a potentially more aggressive driving style” thanks to reinforced springs and dampers. The aim is to ensure a similar level of agility and safety to the standard production version.

The armoured XJ features bullet-resistant borosilicate window glazing, able to withstand attacks from a range of hand guns and assault rifles. The armoured body shell is reinforced with ballistic-resistant steel, while underfloor protection is provided by Kevlar fibre material.

This vehicle has undergone extensive ballistic and blast testing by independent test agency QinetiQ, and has been accredited to European Standard EN 1063 levels B5 and B6.

The European Standards that apply to armoured vehicles tend to fall into one of four categories: B4 (which can withstand the impact of a .44 Magnum calibre revolver), B5 (5.56 x 45 calibre rifle), B6 (7.62 x 51 calibre rifle) or B7 (a similar calibre weapon to the B6 level, but with a high level of impact resistance).

New owners of the armoured XJ are offered tailored armoured driver training programmes said to help them “understand the differences in vehicle handling characteristics that such a high level of protection brings with it”.

Production line safety

BMW has three separate models of armoured vehicle, all of which have been on the market for around three years. The company believes that engineering its vehicles’ modifications during production makes for better security.

“This creates a more comprehensive security package than post-production armouring or retrofitting, which can leave hollow cavities unsecured and cause unnecessary weight penalties,” states BMW.

The BMW 330i Security closely resembles the standard 330i road car but, like the Jaguar, its chassis has been extensively adapted to compensate for additional weight, with reinforced springs and dampers. Despite this, it still boasts a top speed of 130 mph and can accelerate from 0-62 mph in 7.3 seconds.

Conforming to the EN 1063 Standard B4, joins and gaps in the armoured body shell are reinforced with ballistic-resistant steel and high-tech fibre material. This is designed to prevent bullets or splinters from penetrating the interior, even at gaps and overlapping points. A fibre-reinforced mat in the underbody area of the passenger ‘cell’ is available as an option, in addition helping to prevent bullet splinter penetration.

The 330i also boasts an ‘assault alarm’. This enables occupants to communicate with those outside the vehicle at a road block, for example without opening a door or window all thanks to an internal microphone and loudspeakers incorporated into the exterior mirrors. In the event of a hostile reception, occupants can press a button to activate the assault alarm. This triggers a loud siren which sounds intermittently for 30 seconds, complemented by flashing high-beam headlights and foglights.

The X5 4.4i Security features a similar level of security protection to the 330i, but as a four-wheel drive model is more suited to remote areas or where roads are poorly maintained. Its glazing is 20 mm thick and coated in polycarbonate (a splinter protector). The car also has run-flat tyres which allow the driver to travel safely up to 30 miles at speeds of 50 mph even when the tyres are punctured or deflated.

The 7 Series High security is BMW’s flagship armoured executive vehicle. It meets the European Standard requirements for B6/B7. This means the 760 Li and 745 Li High Security derivatives are able to withstand attack from explosives or bullets of the armour-piercing 7.62 x 54R API calibre (which, the company helpfully points out, are “often used by today’s terrorist organisations”).

“Standard underbody protection prevents grenade fragments from entering the passenger cell,” claims BMW. “Its effectiveness has been verified independently with hand grenades detonated simultaneously below the driver’s seat and the rear right seat.

“Fibre-reinforced material and special steel elements are used as an additional measure against armour-piercing munitions. The material prevents fragments and secondary projectiles from entering the passenger compartment, and keeps their angle of dispersion as small as possible.

“The High Security 7 Series features multi-layer laminated triple-glazing with an internal polycarbonate layer. Its function is to protect passengers from glass fragments.”

Additional features in the 7 Series include an emergency exit (through the front windscreen), the same intercom ‘attack alarm’ as the X5 and 330 models, a remote starting system, automatic central locking when moving off, fire extinguishing system complete with temperature sensors, an emergency fresh air system and partially lowered windows. Many armoured vehicles aren’t able to lower their windows due to the weight and thickness of the reinforced glass used.

Molotov cocktail hour

Another of the big players in the world of armoured executive vehicles is Mercedes-Benz. The company’s Guard range includes the S-Class and E-Class saloons as well as the G-Class cross-country model.

Mercedes comments that the vehicles “provide defence against revolver and rifle bullets and, if required, against hand grenades, explosives and Molotov cocktails”.

The S-Guard is available in S500 or S600 models (and both B4 and B6/B7 versions), the E-Guard in E320 and E500 (B4 protection) and the G-Guard is the G500 model (B6/B7).

Mercedes-Benz was among the pioneers of protected vehicles, and is proud of its commitment to production-line integration of its special armoured features. “Thanks to this approach, even the smallest details benefit from highly effective solutions,” says the company. “Potential weak points are thoroughly protected: at gaps in the body, at the doors or at the joins between metal and glass sections an ingenious system prevents projectiles from penetrating.

“The Mercedes specialists at the Sindelfingen plant are continually testing new materials, new grades of steel and all vehicle components for their assault-worthiness in order to achieve the optimal capability at each resistance level. The experts’ aim is always to reconcile the highest degree of protection with the lowest possible weight.”

Executive stress relief

Audi offers the A6 and A8 Security models. The A6 4.2 Quattro conforms to European Standard B4, covering protection against mechanical force and shots from hand weapons up to 0.44 mm Magnum calibre. The higher spec A8 is certified to B6+ and B7 Standard.

Both models are manufactured in their entirety at Audi’s plant in Neckarsulm, Germany. Available options include an alarm horn and ‘warning flasher’ (Audi’s description) for emergency situations, an armour-plated floor and protection against tear gas attack.

The A8’s armour-plated passenger cell is made of steel, glass and aramide. “The armour-plating offers ballistic protection against hard-core bullets up to 7.62 mm calibre,” states the company. “Tests with hand grenades and high explosives have also proved that the floor plating is able to withstand blasts from below.”

An extremely interesting safety feature of the A8 and one which Audi claims is unique is the vehicle’s ability to “blow the bloody doors off” (which might not please a certain Michael Caine). Its emergency exit system, you see, operates when the doors can no longer be opened normally, and passengers are trapped within. Audi’s pyrotechnic systems simply blow apart the joins between the doors and the vehicle body. Passengers are then free to emerge from the charred and smoking vehicle.

For the work-crazed executive, the A8 includes a fax, telephone, video and display monitors, enabling it to be used as a fully-featured mobile office. The centre console houses a built-in GSM telephone with a hands-free unit, while the fax machine is located underneath the rear armrest.

And after you knock off for the day, you can dip into the coolbox with bar compartment and then watch a DVD. Audi helpfully points out that the coolbox has enough room for two one litre bottles and two glasses. So, in a way, the car offers Executive Dutch Courage as well.

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