HEADS of government attending the G20 summit in Brisbane on November 15-16 cannot be expected to walk from their well-guarded digs to the hosting venue, the Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre. And mere luxury car transport is deficient in one key and obvious area – safekeeping in the event of a rocket, grenade or heavy gunfire attack.
Instead, the leaders at the G20 summit will be cossetted and protected inside an armada of armoured limousines.
In the world’s driest announcement, the federal government has revealed it has accepted a proposal for the leasing of 16 Mercedes-Benz S600 Guard limos to support the G20 chat-fest.
The toughened-up S600s will play a big role in the complex security operation.
Merc obviously hopes the high-profile role in the G20 will lead to an outbreak not of war, but of orders from its target markets (pun intended).
It already supplies the bullet- and bomb-proof cars to about 100 countries, but has never sold a car to Australia.
The cost of renting the 16 specially constructed S600 Guard versions is believed to be in the vicinity of $1.8 million. The cars are valued at around $1 million apiece, or twice the cost of a regular V12-engined S600.
There is a specialist (but growing) market of building selling armoured transport for everyone from heads of state, presidents, prime ministers, royalty, the rich and powerful, the paranoid, and your regulation despots and tyrants. In other words, people who don’t always feel love and affection from their constituencies.
Mercedes says it does not sell to mobsters and gangsters, though one executive cutely suggested to Wheels that sometimes the difference between a politician and a gangster can be just a week or two.
Mercedes boasts the world’s widest range of special-protection vehicles available from its factory – tougher variants of the S, E, M and G-Class.
The company closely guards its sales numbers, but they could run into the thousands annually, with Mexico, Latin America, Russia and parts of the old Soviet Union prominent.
Delivery time is usually about nine months, although some cars are kept in stock for emergencies.
Though burdened by an elaborate protective occupant cell, reinforced chassis, thick bulletproof glass, self-sealing fuel tank and all of its other numerous measures to shield valuable human cargo, the S600 Guard is virtually indistinguishable visually from the standard S600.
All panels are standard, so the higher-profile Michelin PAX run-flat tyres and thick, reinforced glass are the only obvious giveaways.
Obviously the Guard variant of the S600 has piled on some kilos, the arch-enemy of acceleration, handling and stopping.
However, the tech-heads have taken careful measures to ensure the 4.2 tonnes of S600 Guard behaves like the regular production version dynamically; the suspension has been beefed-up and the brakes upgraded. Importantly, the S600 Guard stops from 100km/h in 39 metres, only one metre more than the standard car.
While the V12 remains standard, the diff ratio has been lowered to help acceleration, which is a handy 6.2sec from rest to 100km/h. Top speed, limited by the run-flat tyres, is 210km/h.
If the tyres are shot out, the car can still proceed away from danger for 30-40km at a speed of around 80km/h.
The complex and exacting (mainly labour-intensive) work on the armouring starts at the bodyshell stage when protective components of special steel are integrated into the cavities between the body structure and the outer skin.
Special components provide additional splinter protection, and overlapping systems at particularly critical points ensure comprehensive ballistic protection.
The glass areas are coated with polycarbonate on the inside for splinter protection.
The flat underbody is a blend of steel, Aromide fibre and carbon-fibre.
The new S600 Guard and other armoured limos are certified by the German government after a lengthy validation process that involves shooting high-calibre bullets from any distance and any angle into any part of the car.
Of course, a regulation swish S-Class interior replete with fine timbers and high-quality leather, and state-of-the-art communication and entertainment systems will keep occupants contented.
No-one has died in a Mercedes armoured car for many years, though there have been some notable attempts.
In 1998, attackers fired rocket-propelled grenades at a motorcade headed by Georgian president Eduard Shevardnadze’s armoured Mercedes.
One bodyguard was killed and another two were wounded, but the president's car managed to drive on and out of the crossfire.
In 2003, Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf narrowly survived two assassination bids in less than two weeks. The second was more serious when suicide car-bombers attacked his motorcade, killing at least 14 people.
Shevardnadze later thanked God for saving his life. Musharraf lauded Allah.
Maybe both owed more to Mercedes.