Popemobile (Italian: Papamobile) is an informal name for the specially designed motor vehicles used by the Pope during outdoor public appearances without having to employ the antiquated and often impractical sedia gestatoria. The Popemobile was designed to allow the Pope to be more visible when greeting large crowds. There have been many different designs for Popemobiles since Pope John Paul II first used a modified truck to greet the crowds on his first trip to Poland as Pope.
Some Popemobiles are open air, while others have bulletproof glass to enclose the Pope. (These were deemed necessary after the Ali Agca assassination attempt.) Some allow the Pope to sit, while others are designed to accommodate the Pope standing. The variety of Popemobiles allows the Vatican to select a vehicle appropriate for each usage depending upon the level of security needed and distance and speed of travel. The vehicle registration plate of the Popemobile reads "SCV 1". "SCV" abbreviates both "Stato della Città del Vaticano" and "Status Civitatis Vaticanae", the Italian and Latin names for the Vatican City State. The vehicle is only ever driven by an experienced and trusted member of the state where the pope is visiting.
HistoryEditThe precursor to the popemobile was the sedia gestatoria, which was a chair carried on the shoulders of a number of papal attendants. This fell out of use after the death of Pope Paul VI in 1978.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, many automotive manufacturers have produced specially designed vehicles for the Pope. The Ford Motor Company produced a series of cars based on its presidential limousines. The custom built 1964 Lehmann-Peterson was used by Pope Paul VI in his 1965 New York visit and was reused in 1970 in Bogotá. Later, Paul VI used a Mercedes-Benz 600 Pullman-Landaulet. However the term Popemobile did not come into common usage until the pontificate of Pope John Paul II.
The first time Pope John Paul II travelled to his home country the white painted vehicle (one of two made) was based on Polish mark FCS Star, a small truck from a firm in Starachowice with a speed of six kilometres per hour; a Ford Transit truck was converted in 1979 for Pope John Paul II's first visit to Ireland, bigger than the one used today in the Vatican; yet another is a modified Mercedes-Benz with a small windowed enclosure in the back where the Pope sits. A converted 230 G Geländewagen was built for John Paul II's visit to Germany in 1980. One of the current models is based on a M-Class sports-utility vehicle built in the United States. The ML430-based Popemobile was presented to John Paul II in June 2002.
Following the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II in 1981, the Popemobile was fitted with bulletproof glass on four sides. However, it was sometimes driven with open windows. During the Pope's visit to Canada in 1984, a modified GMC Sierra was used as a base, but the Popemobile was built by the Thibault Fire Engine Company in Pierreville, Canada. It was subsequently used for the 1998 papal visit to Cuba and was displayed at the Canada Museum of Science and Technology in 2005. The second truck built by the Thibault Fire Engine Company was sent back to the Vatican in 1984.
During the papal visit to the United States in September 1987, a pair of Mercedes-Benz 230 G Popemobiles were flown to Washington, D.C. and modified by the Secret Service to provide access to the Papal compartment from the driver's cabin, a design that continued to be used after the trip. One of these vehicles has been retired and is currently on display at the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart, Germany.
Several vehicles used for the Pope's overseas visits have remained in the host country and were reused on his subsequent visits. The Mexican Papamóvil, for example, was brought out in public during John Paul II's funeral. In Chile, a private individual, Amado Paredes, paid for the creation of the Chilean PapaMovil, and it was used for His Holiness' visit to that country. Similarly, the Philippine automobile manufacturer Francisco Motors produced the custom Popemobile for the 1995 papal visit. It was funded by voluntary contributions from the private sector, and (as with the Irish vehicle) had bulletproof windows, bombproof parts, and passed inspection by the Swiss Guards. When John Paul II died, this Popemobile was briefly borrowed by parish officials of the Quiapo Church to be put on display. It became a pilgrimage destination for Filipino devotees who could not afford to go to the Vatican for the Pope's burial ceremonies.
For Pope John Paul II's visit to Portugal, UMM created a special Popemobile based on a 1992 5-doors-long wheelbase chassis from the Alter II. It featured a 40 mm armoured glass box on the rear with a chair for the Pope. It also had air conditioning and outside loudspeakers connected to a microphone in the rear.
In 2002, Pope John Paul II requested that the media stop referring to the car as the Popemobile, saying that the term is "undignified". In 2006, an armor-plated Leyland Popemobile used by John Paul II during his visit to Britain in 1982 was sold at auction for £37,000 ($70,500).
The Popemobile most often used by Pope Benedict XVI when traveling abroad is a modified Mercedes-Benz M-Class sport utility vehicle with a special glass-enclosed "room" that has been built into the back of the vehicle. The Pope enters through a rear door and ascends several steps. After the Pope sits in his chair, it is elevated up into the glass "room" by a hydraulic lift, allowing the Pope to be more easily seen. In addition to the driver, there is room for one passenger (usually a security agent) in the front of the vehicle. The glass-enclosed rear of the vehicle also has room for two papal aides who can sit in the area in front of the Pope's elevated chair. The vehicle's security features include bulletproof glass windows and roof and reinforced, armored side panels and undercarriage.
Uncovered Popemobiles are most commonly used for events within Saint Peter's Square.
On 6 June 2007, a German man tried to jump into Pope Benedict XVI's uncovered Popemobile as the pontiff began his general audience. The Pope was not hurt and did not even appear to notice that the 27-year-old man had jumped over the protective barrier in the square and had grabbed onto the white Fiat Popemobile as it drove by. At least eight security officers who were trailing the vehicle as it moved slowly through the square grabbed the man and wrestled him to the ground. The man was interrogated by Vatican police.
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