You don't have to be a U.S. president to ride in a well-armored car. In fact, more and more ordinary citizens are placing orders for Cadillacs, BMWs or Mercedes-Benzes that provide them with almost the level of protection currently enjoyed by the occupant of the White House.
The demand is growing for steel armoring; bullet-proof glass; and reinforced roofs, body panels, floorwells and wheel housings on private cars, which look almost indistinguishable from standard models. German manufacturers build armored sedans on their assembly lines, but most U.S. automakers send the cars for conversion to companies such as Scaletta Moloney Armoring Corp. (www.scaletta.com), where 40 percent more inquiries have been received since the September 11 attacks and where actual orders have increased 25 percent.
BMW has sold armored cars since 1999, when it introduced two light-armored luxury sedans: the $99,400 740il Protection model and the $124,400 750il (above) Protection with a V12 engine. Both can resist an attack from a .44 Magnum, while Mercedes-Benz's $153,000 S500 (below) Guard sedan is certified to B4 ballistic protection. The S500's fuel tank is self-sealing against threat, and labyrinth construction prevents penetration of door and body seams. GM is also considering production on the armored DeVille now showing as a concept car at auto shows.
High-end sedans aren't the only vehicles you can order armored. Scaletta Moloney has converted Ford Explorers and Expeditions and a GMC Suburban, though you might want to draw the line at a Daewoo.
Go online and you'll find several companies offering this specialized protection, but keep in mind that responsible installers of armor should use materials that have been properly certified by recognized agencies such as Underwriter's Laboratories. Reputable armorers should also have product liability insurance in case of any armor systems' failure.
Editor and consultant Jill Amadio has been reporting on the automotive industry for 24 years.