Never mind His Holiness: here's his new £75,000 Popemobile

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The Independent Online

With their brilliant white paint jobs and personalised number plates, the Popemobiles are almost as ubiquitous a component of a papal visit as the Pope himself.

For many spectators – especially non-Catholics who will have had little opportunity to obtain "pilgrim passes" to the three main open-air events – the specially modified, £75,000 cars are the best opportunity to see the Pope in the flesh.

The latest incarnation to be used by the Vatican are a pair of custom-built Mercedes M-Class vehicles. They have 2in-thick armour plating, blast-proof undersides and bullet-proof glass that allows Benedict to be seen in full as he is slowly driven through crowds.

The Mercedes Popemobiles are a far cry from the enormous Polish-built van that was first converted into a moving platform for John Paul II's triumphant return to his homeland in 1979. For the Pope's trip to Ireland in the same year a converted transit van was used.

It was only after the assassination attempt on John Paul in 1981 that Vatican security chiefs decided they needed armoured transport.

In France, the Pope travelled around in a converted Peugeot, in Spain it was a Seat and in Germany he used Mercedes. For his visit to the UK, John Paul travelled in a converted Land Rover and a 24-tonne Leyland truck.

In recent years the Vatican has stuck with its fleet of armoured Mercedes for countries where threats are considered high. Each car's number plate has the letters SCV, which stands for Stato della Città del Vaticano, the official name for the Vatican State.

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