The surprising news came early last week: Pope Francis traded in his bulletproof Mercedes-Benz Popemobile for a brand new Hyundai Santa Fe convertible. The new car boasts a 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine, and will be the first in an all new lower-cost line of Popemobiles.
Auto experts know that this is the first Hyundai ever ridden in by a Pope, but some may be confused as to why Pope Francis would make such a humble change. Those who are familiar with his beliefs and practices may remember a statement he made a mere two years ago, shortly after his appointment: “I cannot greet the people and tell them I love them inside a sardine can, even if it is made of glass. For me it is a wall.”
Needless to say, Pope Francis’ recent vehicle change got us thinking about all of the other Popemobiles that have ever graced the Vatican’s parking garage in the past. Because of its position as an icon of the 20th century, we’ve decided to take a closer look at a few of our favourite Popemobiles since 1930.
Mercedes-Benz Nürburg 460 (1930)
It’s no secret that the German luxury auto brand and the Vatican have maintained a closely knit relationship for a very long time. In fact, Mercedes-Benz has been presenting the Vatican with Popemobiles for the past 85 years, though there have been other brands of Popemobiles in between.
The relationship began in 1930 during Pope Pius XI’s term, when the Mercedes-Benz Nürburg 460 was commissioned for the Pope as a gift from Dailmer Benz AG. Professionals in automotive careers know that this particular model boasted an inline 8-cylinder engine with a top speed of 62 mph. The Pope’s Nürburg 460 also featured black front seats, covered in leather and a rear-mounted throne. One feature that any mechanic school graduate can confirm was way ahead of its time is the control panel, located in the rear, allowing the passenger to signal instructions to the driver.
Mercedes-Benz 300D Landaulet (1960)
The next Popemobile arrived 30 years later in 1960. The Mercedes-Benz 300D Landaulet was a substantial upgrade from the Nürburg 460 as it was much more technologically advanced. The car maintained some similarities to its predecessor, as it featured the same rear-mounted throne. However, this could now be controlled electronically. Mercedes-Benz’s 300D Landaulet was also quite a bit faster than the Nürburg 460, with the ability to reach a top speed of 99mph. The car also had an air-conditioning system and a two-way radio.
Lincoln Continental (1964)
In 1964, the customary papal Mercedes-Benz was switched out for a brand-new Lincoln Continental hot-rod. The Pope rode around in this Lincoln during his visit to New York City. The Continental featured a throne that was capable of being elevated by a hand crank. The car was commissioned by Henry Ford II, in celebration of Pope Paul VI’s first visit to the Americas. It consisted of a transparent bubble roof, a convertible top and running boards along its sides.
Mercedes-Benz G 500 (2007)
Let’s flash forward to a much more recent Popemobile—the one and only G-Wagen. The Mercedes-Benz G 500 was used by Pope Francis’ immediate predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI. While this is a popular luxury vehicle that many certified automotive service technicians have worked on, this particular model is quite different from the rest. This is mainly due to its bespoke modifications including its colour—“Vatican mystic white,” and of course its bulletproof glass enclosure and folding windshield. This one has got to be our favourite!
Which of these cars is your favourite, and why?