NEW LONDON, CONN. – The National Rifle Association 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 world of rifle-grade ballistics.
The new Lincoln Town Car BPS (Ballistic Protection Series) is the only
rifle-grade armored car made by a North American manufacturer that is
certified to meet or exceed the National Institute of Justice's Level
III ballistic testing, a standard that easily rebuffs ordnance fired
by common guns such as a Beretta 9 mm handgun.
The $145,000 vehicle, which for reasons of discretion looks exactly like a regular Town Car and is otherwise known in Los Angeles as a "studio car," can withstand rifle rounds that would fell an elephant, including a Winchester .308-caliber round.
The full-metal jacket version of this round is known to NATO forces as
7.62 mm-by 51 mm "ball" ammunition. 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, shattering the human body as though it were jello.
In addition to these threats, the Town Car BPS will ward off the NATO 5.56 mm by 45 mm "armor-piercing" round high-velocity, assault-rifle ammo with a tungsten core that whistles through the air at 3,000 feet per second and 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 troops in Iraq superior protection over many of the ad-hoc Humvees they currently use for patrol.
The market for private armored cars picked up after 9/11, but says
Ford executive Rick Bondy, formerly 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," Bondy said.
Besides auto manufacturers, 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 said 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 said. Everything has been crash tested, durability tested and rough-road tested. “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."
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 GSA. The company already builds a number of DeVille sedan motorcade vehicles for the GSA, including the presidential limousine.
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 U.S.
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.
All the windows in the Lincoln are 40-mm thick ballistic transparent armor, made up of layers of glass and polycarbonate. Ballistic steel (Brinell hardness rating over 600) wraps the roof, engine compartment, door seals and firewall. In the doors themselves, ballistic ceramics, backed with steel and aramid blankets, protect the passenger compartment and the fuel tank is surrounded by a self-sealing compound to reduce leakage.
Given enough time, Bondy said, any ballistic solution will fail. "People can keep putting bullets in the same hole."
The Town Car BPS is built on the heavy-duty frame of the company's stretch limo. The shocks, springs, control arms, bushings and sway bars are upgraded to cope with the car's 6,220-pound curb weight. Underneath is a heavy-duty axle with a 3.55:1 rear gear, giving the car better off-the-mark acceleration. The tires are 17-inch all-season Michelins with run-flat inserts.
QUIET: The first sensation of the Town Car BPS is a dramatic silence in the cabin. The 40-mm glass keeps out sound as well as bullets.
WEIGHT: If you park the car on a sideways incline, those on the uphill side will struggle to open the doors, which must weigh 300 pounds apiece. Eventually you adapt a technique of squeezing out of the door like toothpaste. The door hinges do not have the usual detents to prop the doors open. They swing like the doors of a safe.
DRIVE-THROUGH: The 40-mm thick windows drop open only about six inches,
not nearly enough to get a Dairy Queen Blizzard through.
INERTIA: The primary difference between the Mercedes and BMW armored
cars and the Town Car BPS is that the German cars have modified engines that cope with the added weight of the armoring. The Lincoln engine is the stock 4.6-liter, 239-horsepower V8, producing 287 pound-feet of torque at 4,100 rpm. The BPS can reach 60 mph in under 12 seconds.
INVINCIBILITY: Once the door closes, you experience a sudden, transforming experience where the world cannot touch you.