His visit to the UK officially begins on Friday the 13th, but US president Donald Trump will be relying on more than superstition to keep him safe. He will be ensconced in an armoured Cadillac nicknamed “The Beast”, which is said to weigh in at somewhere between seven and nine tons, thanks to doors that are 8in thick and weigh the same as those of a Boeing 747. It is hermetically sealed, has its own oxygen supply and even a couple of pints of the president’s blood on board.
Or, at least, that’s what we think, because details are a closely guarded secret – and the same goes for information about the bulletproof conversions carried out by car manufacturers. Many make armoured versions of their models for at-risk VIPs such as the President, so they very carefully balance their promotional needs with a desire to protect information that could compromise their customers’ safety.
For example, despite Land Rover announcing the launch of its Range Rover Sentinel last year, when we approached the company to talk more about the car, it politely declined. It was the same story with BMW, which has a Security Vehicles division that builds the likes of the 7-Series High Security.
Mercedes-Benz, which has armoured conversions that include a €1.4 million (£1.23 million) Mercedes-Maybach S 600 Pullman Guard, was prepared to reveal some information, saying that cars with the highest protection levels were built for “individuals with a need for continuous protection”, while “factors such as casual crime lead to an increasing need for people and valuables to be protected in public and private life”. From that we can infer that the likes of jewellers and bankers are potential customers for a Mercedes high-protection vehicle.
Freedom EU, a company that supplies and hires armoured vehicles to customers around the world, was also prepared to discuss the burgeoning market and what customers are looking for.
Its director Simon Oldfield told us: “Generally they want the highest protection that they can get. We have some very lightly armoured cars, but there’s very low demand for them because, simply, they don’t protect against an AK-47 [assault rifle]. They do their research and they want the most protection for their money.”
Customers also follow advice from government agencies, though. A representative of a company that develops armoured vehicles, but which wished to remain anonymous for security reasons, said: “In terms of the level of protection, we have to be led by the people who understand the threat levels. People in government organisations say what the threat level is in certain parts of the world and we’re led by that.”
The market comprises vehicles converted by manufacturers but also by specialist aftermarket suppliers. Not all armoured cars are built equal, though. As Oldfield said: “The difference between an aftermarket conversion and one done by a manufacturer is simply the research and development. It’s the manufacturer’s vehicle, so they want it to be as close to a normal car as possible.
“Generally they will upgrade the suspension and go back to a core spring and struts [rather than air] suspension arrangement. And then braking systems, obviously, have to be vastly improved. But it’s also the smaller details, like door hinges: an armoured door can weigh up to 70kg. [154lb]”
Mercedes-Benz made the case for manufacturer-converted vehicles, saying: “We can ensure that the drivetrain, steering, brakes and protection are perfectly balanced and all measures have been considered from the beginning.
“Neither the integrated protection system nor the adjustment of assistant systems can be put in place in an aftermarket solution.
“Furthermore with the integrated protection system we are not compromising space, styling or comfort, despite having the highest protection measurements implemented.”
Although the secrecy around these armoured vehicles means that there are no publicly available sales figures, the feeling in the industry is that there has been an increase in their uptake – and that’s unlikely to change in the near future.
Our anonymous source told us: “It certainly doesn’t feel like the world’s going to be a safer place any time soon. In that respect, there’s a definite market for this product and I see that continuing.”
An increase in orders from certain regions can also act as an indication of where problems are brewing. “The customers come to us and then we see the headlines afterwards,” Oldfield told us. “They get a feeling for what’s happening in their local area. For example, a number of years ago, we sold a few cars into Lebanon and not long after that the issues in Syria arose.”
Of course, there’s a moral dimension to who buys a vehicle that can withstand attack. Heads of state and politicians, especially in volatile regions of the world, are obvious candidates. But businesspeople? How do suppliers such as Freedom decide who is a fit and proper person?
“We obviously do extensive due diligence into everyone that purchases one of our vehicles,” Oldfield explained. “If you need an export licence, the person has to be checked through the UK Government before the vehicle is allowed out of the country. But they also offer a system where, if you don’t need an export licence, you can also have those same checks done.
“I always find it a bit of a moral dilemma, because if someone’s that concerned by an attack, it’s hard to deny them the protection they feel that they need. We have denied selling cars to people, but we’ve certainly tried to make sure they always go to the right kind of person.”
So while some would consider President Trump the wrong kind of person, his armoured car means that he will certainly be protected from those people while on the road in Britain.