For the first time the Pope will have electrically-powered wheels. Or at least partially. According to the German magazine Wirtschafts Woche, Mercedes is building a hybrid for Pope Benedict XVIs September 2011 state visit to his homeland.
The Popemobile will be based on the new generation SUV ML model that will also be available as a hybrid version to the common consumer. In his custom-made vehicle, the Pope will be shielded by bullet proof glass. The electric, armored four-wheel drive can go for up to 30 km before needing to be recharged, but a switch over to a petrol-powered engine is always possible.
Mercedes had built the first modern-day Popemobile for John Paul II, who, unlike his predecessors, felt it was important to be more accessible to his flock. However, a convertible was out of the question, so Mercedes came up with the glassed-covered sit-and-wave solution.
That vehicle had been based on an all-terrain Mercedes G class. Following an assassination attempt on the Pope in 1981 it became the vehicle he used for all his public appearances.
The car had a special gear that enabled it to be driven at very low, constant speeds. A raised seat covered by a bullet proof glass dome was mounted behind the driver and mother of pearl colored lacquer added that touch of elegance.
For many years, the papal Mercedes was taken on all the popes foreign visits. But it was soon replaced. Todays Popemobile is no longer based on the G model, but on the more comfortable M class.
Despite the Vaticans history with Mercedes, the Pope is no poster boy for the German car maker. Other automobile manufactured have built Popemobiles for the Pontiffs trips abroad. There are some 60 of them in the world. Among the best known are those based on a Range Rover and a VW Touareg. But Ferrari has also gotten in on the game though its vehicle didnt have the glass partition - and Cadillac built a Deville with an actual throne.
The cars may have been different, but the license plate was nearly always the same: SCV 1. The letters stand for Status Civitatis Vaticanae (Vatican City State). Numero uno refers to the papal position as head of state.
Despite the grandeur of the Popemobiles, cars used for less momentous occasions are more run of the mill. And of Italian make. For audiences on St. Peters Square, for example, the pontiff will often wave from a Fiat Campagnola. To get around Vatican City, theres the Lancia Thesis Jubileo, already used by John Paul II.
If what he was driving back in the day in Germany as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger is any indication, His Holiness actually might have a soft spot for German cars after all. He was known to get around in a VW Golf.
Read the original article in German