Being the living incarnation of two thousand years of religious tradition has got to be rough on a guy. Popes of the modern era have been burdened with the additional task of traveling to tend to the flock, heading out from the confines of the Vatican City to exotic places like Venezuela, Africa and Hamtramck. Look it up. Anyway, the task would be insurmountable if not for Poppa's trusty and reliable sidekick, the Popemobile. Serving duly as a perch from whence to greet the masses — and as protection from said masses for the Holy See, the Popemobile has gone through many iterations, some of which you'll have a hard time believing.Popemobiles come in two varieties. The locally made, customized versions, often hewn from the host nation's finest home-grown automobile and turned into a rolling vista fit for a king — or at least the head of a sovereign nation. Then there are the official Popemobiles, now the only kind after the attempt on John Paul II's life in 1981. Some are made for daily open-air service in St. Peter's Square and others are bullet-proof Popequariums which travel with the high pontiff to locations far and wide.
The 1930 Mercedes-Benz Nürburg 460 is the first car acknowledged as a formal Popemobile, built specifically for Pope Pius XI as a gift from Daimler Benz AG. The big Benz was equipped with a central rear-mounted throne and custom interior, which the Pope called “a masterpiece of modern engineering.”
The 300D Landaulet was the first new Popemobile in thirty years, with Mercedes spanning the gap during the tumultuous period. The 300D was stretched some 450 mm, with hard top up front and soft top in the rear layout of the Landaulet body style allowing El Papa to take in the sunshine and wave to the crowds. This car retained the single-throne seat setup in the rear, but added amenities like air conditioning and a two-way radio to the driver.
Everybody knows you have to roll in style when you visit New York City, so a stretched 1964 Lincoln Continental was in order. Also customized in the Landaulet style, in this case the Pope's throne seat was equipped with a hand crank which elevated the Pontiff 12 inches into the air so the crowds could get a better look.
The Landaulet version of the 1965 Mercedes-Benz 600 was delivered to Pope Paul VI. The car was equipped with an enormous folding top as well as a huge set of rear doors and an additional two and three-quarter inches of head room.
The basic concept of the previous car was retained, however, the papal seat was set with a sliding mechanism which allowed the Pope to slide to the side, allowing added seating in the rear for a Papal aid.
This Benz was more of a Papal limo than a Popemobile, as it was equipped with occasional seating for up to six in addition to the longer doors and elevated roof line.
Following his elevation to the Papacy, Karol Józef Wojtyła returned to his native Poland as John Paul the Second, with an impressive Popemobile in tow. The FCS Star is a Polish-built industrial truck normally outfitted for firefighting duty, but for his home swing, it was converted to the baddest Popemobile ever. The platform rode atop the chassis and remained open to the crowds. In fact, the design was one developed with the guidance of JPII himself. Seriously, epic Pope win.
JP the Deuce was a busy guy following his Popification, making tours of many points of the globe to greet the flock. When he visited the Ireland in 1979, the first time a Pope had set foot in that soil, a Ford Transit , of all things, was converted for Pontiff-toting duties. It was outfitted in the papal colors of yellow and white with a tall cabin with large windows in addition it was fitted wit silk-and-teflon carpet said cost over a thousand dollars a yard.
During a trip to Germany in 1980, Mercedes provided a customized Mercedes G230 which would become the guidepost for Popemobiles to come. With a transparent superstructure and elevated viewing position, the G230 made crowd-surfing with the Pope look good.
Believe it or not, there was a Peugeot 504 converted for holy-rolling. The 504 was used by John Paul II in a visit to Lyon, France, and still exists in a Peugeot Museum in Sochaux. Go made a pilgrimage to see it.
The Spanish Papamóvil was an all-open-air Seat designed with a grab handle in front so El Papa could stand and greet the crowds. This may also be the smallest Popemobile ever.
The first bullet-proof Popemobile was built following the first assassination attempt on John Paul II in 1981. The Rover took the precedent set in the design of the 230 G and enclosed the cabin, adding bulletproof glass for a visit to the UK.
This most massive of Popemobiles was built by Leyland Truck for the Popes visit to Scotland as well as additional travels around the UK in 1982. The 24 ton monster has a cool glass room at the top of the vehicle and logged 11,000 miles during its services. Our personal favorite of the Popemobiles was donated to the British Commercial Vehicle Museum, in Leyland, Lancashire in 1988, but was sold at auction in 2006 for the bargain price of $70,000. (Thanks to al_beaton on this one)
Here's a working class Popecar, a converted GMC Sierra used for the Pope's travels during a visit to Canada in 1984. No doubt it was professional-grade even then.
The Vatican’s fleet of limo-style Popemobiles grew with the inclusion of the first fully armored car, a Mercedes-Benz 500 SEL. Just because it was armored doesn't mean it wasn't crowd friendly. The sunroof opened, a windscreen elevated, and the floor lifted to a platform position below to allow the Pontiff to do his crowd-waving thing. This car is actually still in use and ferries Pope Benedict XVI during official outings.
Here's a thoroughly updated Landaulet Mercedes complete with electro-hydraulic top, two rear-facing occasional seats, and a center mounted throne which can power-elevate half a meter when the top is down.
In a visit to Mexico during 1999, JPII rode in a glassed-up bus through unprecedented crowds of onlookers. Following John Paul the Second's death in 2005, this Popemobile was put on permanent display in Mexico City at the Basilica of Guadalupe, where the faithful made pilgrimages to pay respect to the passed pontiff in-lieu of a trip to Vatican City to do the same.
Here's the thoroughly modern Mercedes ML 430 Popequarium which has been the standard bearer until recently. The fully enclosed, bullet-proof, air-conditioned, platformed car served major duty during the last years of John Paul II.
A Fiat!? Yep. This open-top SUV was used during transit within Vatican City, primarily during masses at St. Peter's Square, usually accompanied by a phalanx of burly security guards.
That Fiat didn't have a terribly long run, as it was supplanted by a far more stylish G500 right at the end of 2007. This one is the first that can be converted from open-air duty to bullet proof class as well. The G500 is also the first Popemobile exclusively used by the current Pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI. [Sources: 504.org, WorldCarFans, StrangeHarvest]