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Full-metal dinner jacket

In today's scary world, does the armor-clad Lincoln Town Car BPS qualify as a family car?

August 25, 2004|DAN NEIL

The National Rifle Assn. is right when it says guns don't kill people. Bullets kill people, and really big bullets traveling at four times the speed of sound kill people with excellent and resounding authority. Welcome to the fascinating world of rifle-grade ballistics. Please keep your brains inside your skull during the ride.

The new Lincoln Town Car BPS (Ballistic Protection Series) is the only rifle-grade armored car made by a North American manufacturer, certified to meet or exceed the National Institute of Justice's Level III ballistic testing, a standard that easily rebuffs ordnance fired by common gats such as a Beretta 9-millimeter handgun. The $145,000 vehicle -- which for reasons of discretion looks exactly like a regular Town Car, otherwise known in Los Angeles as a "studio car" -- can withstand rifle rounds that would fell an elephant, including the .308-caliber round Bwana might fire while hunting with his Winchester.

The full-metal-jacket version of this round is known to NATO forces as 7.62-millimeter-by-51-millimeter "ball" ammunition. Science geek alert: The 7.62 round has a muzzle velocity of 2,750 feet per second and imparts to the 150-grain projectile a kinetic energy of about 2,511 foot-pounds. In the face of these enormous kinetic values, even the most Olympian of hardbodies is nothing more than a bowl of Jell-O.

In addition to these big-bore threats, the Town Car BPS will ward off the NATO 5.56-millimeter-by-45-millimeter "armor-piercing" round -- high-velocity assault-rifle ammo with a tungsten core that can, whistling through the air at 3,000 feet per second, punch through quarter-inch armor plating. Also, the Ballistic Town Car has an aramid-weave ballistic blast blanket in the floor to protect against small antipersonnel mines and grenades.

All of which means, for instance, that the Town Car BPS would afford our troops in Iraq superior protection over many of the ad-hoc, half-baked "up-armored" Humvees they are currently obliged to patrol in. The thought of American troops rolling into battle in black limos is funny. Why am I not laughing?

Fear factor

The market for private armored cars picked up after 9/11 but, says Ford executive Rick Bondy, the former G-man in charge of the BPS program, it may have less to do with increased threat than increased perception of risk.

"People might perceive risk more now because of what they know and what they hear and the timeliness that they hear it in," says the no-nonsense Bondy, who has ballistic-shaped gray hair and armor-piercing eyes. "But is there more violence? I can't tell you and nobody else can either.

"If someone perceives that they are at risk and they want to feel safer and more serene going through life, then they buy one of these products."

There are scores of armorers around the world that retrofit production cars with ballistic protection. The armored-car business is very big in the Middle East, Central and South America and Asia. Some of the big aftermarket companies, such as Ohio-based O'Gara-Hess & Eisenhardt, offer assault-rifle ballistic retrofitting, but Bondy argues convincingly that the automakers themselves are in the best position to engineer a ballistic car.

"There are over 700 unique parts in our ballistic cars and every one of them is a Ford part with a Ford part number," he says. "Everything has been tested -- crash testing, durability testing, rough-road testing. I know the doors will close 80,000 times. I know that the windshield won't become a secondary projectile in a crash. I know the air bags work. We're going to build these products to the same standard and with the same serviceability as any other product we sell."

Lincoln will sell the BPS cars through 16 authorized dealers, including the Galpin Ford mega-dealership in the San Fernando Valley, but the cars can be serviced at any Lincoln dealership.

Last year, Cadillac announced that it was partnering with Scaletta Moloney Armoring to build a ballistic series DeVille. Scaletta armors a variety of big SUVs for the Government Services Administration; the company already builds a number of Sedan DeVille motorcade vehicles for the GSA, including -- and this is a secret -- the presidential limousine, which looks like the unholy spawn of a DeVille and an Abrams tank.

The Cadillac is a handgun-rated car, capable of withstanding a .44-magnum round. This is roughly the same level of protection offered by the Mercedes-Benz S500 Guard, meeting the European B4 ballistic standard. Both Mercedes-Benz and BMW sell cars capable of taking a hit from a 7.62 armor-piercing round (B6/B7-level protection). However, neither company imports the B6/B7-grade cars into the United States.

The rifle-grade Town Car BPS is aimed directly at the handgun-grade Mercedes S500 Guard, with a price point slightly below the German car.

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