For Pope Benedict XVI Christmas has come early in the form of a new ‘popemobile’ from Mecedes-Benz. The 85-year old head of the Roman Catholic Church has been given two popemobiles from Mercedes based on the popular M-Class.
The vehicles bring the world of popemobiles further into the modern age with all the latest technology geared towards the Pope’s on-board safety and comfort, including a communications system to allow the occupant to communicate with the driver.
The vehicles are finished in the traditional mother-of-pearl white and have been subtly lowered to make transportation by air easier. These curious bullet-proof unleaded vehicles have taken nine months to adapt.
The popemobile is essentially a far more practical modern take on the traditional gestatorial chair, in which the Pope would sit on a ceremonial throne and be carried by 12 footmen. Surprisingly, this method of transport was still in use as recently as 1978.
Mercedes-Benz have been the proud current supplier of popemobiles since the 1980s, but the past has seen various manufacturers and wildly differing designs of this specialist vehicle – including a very open-plan Seat Panda version in 1982.
These days, the Pope enters the vehicle through a door at the back, ascends a few steps to his chair, which is then elevated hydraulically into the bullet-proof glass dome that we are all now so familiar with seeing.
Although specialist vehicles have been used to transport the Pope safely since 1964, the term popemobile was first heard to describe these various white vehicles only as recently as the reign of Pope John Paul II. Pope John Paul was not keen on the term and in 2002 asked that the media stop calling these vehicles popemobiles. But it seems not even the Pope can influence the juggernaut of the world press, for the term is now widely used across the world.
In 2007 a popemobile was nearly boarded by a German man who attempted to gain access to the vehicle while Pope Benedict XVI was aboard. Fortunately, no-one was hurt as security quickly swarmed over the man who was later questioned by Vatican police. Pope Benedict barely seemed to notice or acknowledge the attempted disruption to his schedule.
Generally, these days old popemobiles go the their own version of Heaven in the form of the Mercedes Museum in Stuttgart. Although a less dignified ending was recently announced for the vehicle used to drive Pope John Paul II around Ireland in 1979. Local businessman, Paddy Dunning, has kitted out the 15-seater vehicle -which still includes the original chair as used by the Pope – as a party bus.
The ungainly looking bright yellow vehicle is available to hire from the end of November this year for £240-odd per hour. A price that should help Paddy recuperate some of the £49,000 that he spent on making the Ford vehicle fit for its new role.
New popemobile image from telegraph.co.uk, Paddy’s popemobile from cars.uk.msn.com