The chronicles of the Popemobile: from the first model to the latest Mercedes M-Class

In occasion of the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception's celebration, Pope Benedict XVI has been presented this week by Mercedes with a new Popemobile, nickname for the specially designed car used by the pontiff during public appearances. It's nothing unusual: the German manufacturer has provided the Pope with custom made Mercedes vehicles for over 80 years.

The new Popemobile is a specific Mercedes M-Class, which has been lowered by a few centimetres, compared to the previous model, to allow easier air transport. Inside, the car offers many innovative technologies designed to improve both air conditioning and lighting systems, as well as facilitating the communication between the driver and the Pontiff. The body is characterised, as the previous models, by a pearl white paint-job.

It took nine months to 'conceive' the new M-Class Popemobile, and it's the latest of a long list of vehicles used for the Pontiff's transportation. Come aboard our virtual time machine to explore the Popemobiles of the past!

The Lateran Treaty of 1929, which established the Vatican City as an independent State, resulted in the Head of the Church being no longer confined in his area of residency. From that moment onwards, the Pope has been able to travel around the world and car manufacturers have begun to compete in a bid to create a specific model to address his needs.

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The first Popemobile in history was given to Pope Pius XI by Senator Giovanni Agnelli, grandfather of the late Gianni Agnelli. The car was a FIAT 525M and was delivered to the Vatican by driver Felice Nazzaro. The Pontiff later received different vehicles, including the Tipo 8A made by Italian manufacturer Isotta Fraschini, the American Graham-Paige 837 and Lictoria Sex. Over the years, since the beginning of the pontificate of John Paul II, it was urged to use a panoramic car, able to offer greater visibility of the Pope. For this reason, since his earliest international trips made in 1979 in the Dominican Republic and Mexico, Pope Wojtyla decided to sit next to the driver, in order to get a satisfactory eye contact with the public.

The 13th May 1981 attack on Pope John Paul II - during which he got shot by Mehmet Ali Agca while entering St. Peter's Square on his Fiat Campagnola - brought attention to the problem of security. Soon after the first official Popemobile was created to offer the Pontiff an armoured car with a modern design that could protect him as well as facilitate the contact with the public. The first two panoramic armoured car were manufactured by British Leyland, while the next pair by Range Rover. Many countries built their own Papamobiles to welcome papal visit.

The longer lasting relationship between the Vatican and a carmaker has been with Mercedes. In 1930 the German manufacturer delivered a Nurburg 460 Pullman limousine to Pius XI. Later in the 60's a 300d automatic convertible was given to John XXII, while Paul VI opted for a Mercedes-Benz 600 Landaulet Pullmann and a 300 SEL. John Paul II also chose a G-Class and a M-Class, which has now being replaced with an updated version recently delivered to Pope Benedict XVI.

Dr. Dieter Zetsche, Chairman of the Board of Management of Daimler AG and Head of Mercedes-Benz Cars said: “It is an honor for Mercedes-Benz to be accompanying His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI on his future journeys with our new Popemobile.”

CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE FULL "History of the Popemobile - Photo Gallery"

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