Sunday, 26 September, 2010

Inside the Popemobile: Glimpse of the holy customised Merc that will transport Benedict XVI around the UK

No papal tour would be complete without the sight of a Popemobile.

Yesterday saw the unveiling of the official vehicle to be used on Pope Benedict XVI's first official visit to the UK.

The Popemobile is a media-coined nickname for the specially customised motor vehicles used by the Pope during outdoor public appearances.

Before the advent of the Popemobile, popes were often carried by teams of bearers on an elaborate variant of sedan chair called the sedia gestatoria.

The Popemobile was designed to allow the Pope to be more visible when appearing before large crowds. There have been many different designs for Popemobile since Pope John Paul II first used a modified truck to greet the crowds on his first trip to Poland as Pope.

In 2002, Pope John Paul II requested that the media stop referring to the car as the Popemobile, saying that the term was 'undignified.'

Some Popemobile were open topped but the possibility of an assassination attempt led Vatican officials to adopt a new design with a bulletproof glass enclosure for the pontiff.

There are a variety of subtly different Popemobiles based in different territories but they all traditionally carry the papal numberplate SCV 1. SCV stands for either Stato della Città del Vaticano or Status Civitatis Vaticanae, depending on which cardinal you ask.

The Popemobile. which will be used during the British visit is a modified Mercedes-Benz M-Class 'green petrol' SUV with a special glass-enclosed cabin that has been built into the back of the vehicle.

Two have been flown in. Each costing more than £200,000, they are believed to have been donated to the Vatican by the manufacturer.

The Pope enters through a rear door and climbs several steps. After the Pope sits in his chair, it is elevated up into the glass 'turret' 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, armoured side panels and chassis and it has a top speed of 160mph but while in on papal business in Britain the Popemobile. is expected to travel at a more sedate 6mph.

Dr Alberto Gasbarri, who is in charge of organising all the Pope's trips, said: 'The Holy See has two Popemobile but there are others scattered around the world.'

'The two for this trip were sent to Britain in a secure container by road and are currently in a secret location. '

'Both of them use green petrol and the driver will be British and chosen by the local authorities in Britain. He will have to be a competent driver and he will get a chance to accustom himself to the Popemobile.'

'Each Popemobile has about 5,000km on the clock which for an eight-year-old car is not bad at all and they are in perfect pristine condition and are serviced regularly.'