With random terrorist attacks, continued violence on the streets, and an increase in social injustice, our personal safety is becoming more of a prime concern than ever before. The wide spread violence around the world is contributing to alarming safety issues, not only affecting the rich and famous, but also for executives, diplomats, politicians and heads of state.
I recently took an excursion in one of the hottest new armored cars and I never felt safer, although a little too guarded with windows that don’t roll down. The Cadillac Escalade I experienced was like riding in a normal SUV with no evidence it was armored from the outside. This is the future of high profile executive travel.
The armored car industry has been popular for a while overseas, but recently we are seeing a huge increase in buyers in the United States as concerned citizens take action to protect themselves. One such company, International Armoring Corporation is leading the wave in converting luxury vehicles into the ultimate protection to help for an easy escape when a threat occurs.
Car manufacturers are also creating custom built armored cars for elite customers including BMW, which offers a Security Vehicles division with vehicles designed to withstand a range of three risk categories – street crime (up to a .44 Magnum), organized crime (attacks with an automatic AK-47) and attacks with explosive devices. Mercedes offers a Maybach S600 Pullman Guard, which is heavily-armored and has a VR10-level for protection and Land Rover offers up the Range Rover Sentinel, which includes a steel-plated armored passenger cell and windows of optical-quality multi-laminated armor privacy glass with a 3.9 inch opening in the driver’s window for passing documents. The Sentinel is certified to VR8 standard against ballistic threats, which means it can withstand 7.62 mm high-velocity, armor-piercing incendiary rounds, 33 lb. TNT explosions, and DM51 grenades going off both beneath the floor and on the roof.
International Armoring Corporation also provides custom options right out of a James Bond movie including;
Designed to absorb the impact from Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and lessening the shrapnel associated with pipe bombs, hand grenades, and other fragments around explosives. The Armormax technology provides a lightweight, bomb suppression blanket that helps to absorb the blast impact.
Custom vehicles can be equipped with a Road Tack Dispenser which, when deployed, can greatly increase your chance to escape a dangerous situation. The system has been designed to allow the driver to remotely release tire damaging and deflating devices from behind the car’s rear wheels onto the roadway in order to disable the pursuit of a following vehicle. Inside the console is a red toggle switch marked “TACKS” with a protective shield over the toggle to prevent accidental activation.
The vehicle can be equipped with an external microphone to allow protected communication with others outside of the vehicle without having to lower a window or open a door. This microphone is extremely sensitive and is mounted in or near the drivers outside door mirror.
Run Flat Tires
Run-flat tires will carry you for 50 miles at 70 miles per hour, depending on road conditions. This is considered an adequate distance required to escape or leave a dangerous situation to a safe zone.
New options are now offered to create a smoke screen/cloud to be installed on the vehicle through a smoke generator. This machine heats a volatile material (oil or an oil based mixture) to evaporate it, then mixes the vapor with cool external air at a controlled rate so it condenses to a mist with a controlled droplet size.
Electric Shock Handles
The electric door handle system operates with a power inverter that converts the 12-volt battery voltage into a 120-volt current fed directly to the door handles. To operate the system, cars are installed with a shielded toggle switch inside the vehicle for added safety precautions.
As seen on the television show Sons of Guns, the team at Red Jacket Firearms transformed a Porsche Cayenne into a defensive armed vehicle. A wealthy Eastern-European client commissioned the vehicle to offer not only offensive armored capability, but also to feature cutting edge fighting elements.
International Armoring Corporation completed the armor on the Cayenne and Red Jacket Firearms fitted the vehicle with a roof pod containing two forward-facing remote-controlled M16s assault rifles with 100 rounds each, a third M-16 was hidden behind the flip-down rear license plate, and two rear-facing Claymore mine-launching tubes were also added.
A central control unit enabled all the firepower to be conveniently handled from the comfort of the drivers or passenger seat. Seven cameras were also mounted outside of the vehicle and fed into the navigation system to assist in firing the weapons properly when visibility is limited.
I spoke at length with Mark Burton, the CEO of International Armoring Corporation about the current popularity of armored luxury vehicles, and the future demand for self-protection.
How did International Armored Corporation get into this business?
In the late 80’s the private sector started in foreign countries with the need to have armored vehicles. The governments were protected, but there was no source for the public for these types of vehicles. Kidnappings in Central America and Mexico were starting to escalate, and I started in 1993 after getting calls from a number of individuals, mostly outside of the U.S. At the time there wasn’t a big market in America and these vehicles did very well in countries where there is a disparity between the rich and the poor.
I developed personal relationships through my work in ballistics, I was asked to build cars and I wanted to change the way it was done. I created Armormax, where we developed methods and materials that were revolutionary. We first wanted to armor the entire passenger compartment, while retaining the original appearance of the vehicle as well as the original performance of these cars. When most people think of an armored car, they think of heavy steel that obviously appears armored, so we became very successful. After six months of work, we delivered three cars to our first customer, and they were so popular that we ended up doing 225 vehicles in the next year.
Is there a certain model that is the most popular?
In the beginning it was the Jeep Grand Cherokee and the Grand Marquis. It really depended on what market the customer was in. That has changed over time based on designs and based on the country where the vehicle is going. Today vehicles like the Toyota Land Cruiser are very popular in the Middle East, whereas in Nigeria the Range Rover is very popular.
The United States market has significantly picked up. Three years ago about 95 percent of the cars we had in our U.S. facility were for export, where today about 80 percent are for U.S. clients. That demand here in the U.S. over the last two years includes the most popular cars like Cadillac Escalade, Range Rover and the custom Sprinter Van.
What type of clientele do you currently work for?
In the U.S. we have some very prominent clients including celebrities and sports figures, but we are getting more into a sector where its a doctor or businessman who feels a threat to their safety. We have some high-end business leaders buying these cars as well for some peace of mind. That’s truly what these vehicles offer.
There has been much discussion as far as families getting to their private bunkers in the case of an emergency. How is that fitting in to your increased business?
When you talk about transportation from point A to point B, that is an area you can’t control. You can’t control your surroundings. If you have an armored vehicle there is a solution to that concern. Whether it is a random act of violence or an actual threat.
The standard vehicle we are doing in the U.S. is a B4, and that is the most popular armored protection. Whereas when you go into a country like Iraq, the cars have a B6 (high powered rifle fire protection). The B4 doesn’t mean you have less coverage and it only adds 400 pounds. It looks original, drives original, and yet you are in a safe cocoon that does not appear armored.
How protected are you with B4 and B6 coverage?
B4 protection is up through; 44 magnum, 357 magnum, 9 millimeter Uzi type of machine gun. Floors are also protected against hand grenades on that level. If you go up to a B6, you have the same coverage, but it will include just about any weapon you can bring to your shoulder, hunting rifles and things like that. There are business executives in the U.S that buy the B6 purely as a defensive vehicle by not only protecting you, but allowing you to escape a dangerous situation.
You also offer some James Bond style extras to your armored cars. Tell me about those.
A lot of these options came about from people seeing them in the movies. The smoke screen, the tack dispenser and the electric shocking system are actually all very practical. If you are concerned about somebody pursuing you, you have to use good judgement when you use these options, but it is meant to allow you to escape a dangerous situation.
There are some options that I think are silly, like the oil slick. In the last 25 years I have installed around five oil slick systems, and I try to talk the customer out of it every time. We have a standard package that we feel is adequate to sufficiently protect most people. You are providing the driver time to first recognize that they are under attack. It takes a trained mind to realize someone is shooting at them, and then the ability to respond and escape and not to fight back. We lighten up the vehicles, we put flat tire bands on the cars. We also protect the battery, the ECM, the fuel tank and we upgrade the suspension.
That is your basic armored package, and we make the drivers window the only one that is operable. One of our clients who owns a sports team wanted all of his windows operable so that’s also an option. For an Escalade, the standard B4 package runs you around $58,500 plus the cost of the vehicle. We recently created a luxury bus for a head of state which ranged around $2 million, a few Maybach’s we delivered were about $550,000 a piece.