Extreme armored cars

When most people think of armored cars, the picture that most often comes to mind is the big bulky cash transport vehicles used by banks and other businesses to safeguard their money as it travels from one place to another. Many probably also think about the president and a limousine outfitted with bulletproof glass and flanked by Secret Service agents.

The fact is, however, you don't have to be the president or drive a tank-like vehicle to travel in a well-protected automobile.

Utah-based International Armoring Corporation has been in business since 1993 and has armored vehicles for 38 different heads of state, according to the company's president and CEO Mark Burton.

Although sport utility vehicles and luxury sedans are among the most popular vehicles people have armored, Burton says that his company has worked on nearly 130 different models of cars, including everything from a Volkswagen Beetle to a Ferrari.

Not everyone that gets their vehicle armored wants to stand out with a flashy sports car or luxury automobile as evidenced by this Volkswagen Beetle armored by International Armoring Corporation
Photo courtesy International Armoring Corporation

One of the most important aspects of car armoring, according to Burton, is that the vehicle's original appearance be maintained. Performance is also a factor that's taken into consideration when determining the impact that an armoring packing will have on a vehicle.

"That's kind of our claim to fame," he said. "We build vehicles that maintain their original appearance, come close to maintaining their original performance, as well as provide the level of protection that's required."

Burton said that one head of state even wanted his bus armored, which the company was able to accomplish to the tune of $1.5 million.

This bus, pictured above, was armored for a head of state at a cost of $1.5 million.
Photo courtesy International Armoring Corporation

While the price to armor a converted bus is an exception to the norm, the process itself can be quite costly, depending on the type of armoring packing the customer wants. Vehicle price aside, Burton said the average armoring package at his company would be somewhere between $60,000 and $70,000.

When is comes to the actual armor itself, Burton said that a variety of materials are used, depending of course on the level of protection that is needed. A car traveling the streets of the U.S., for example, would not to be protected from blasts by improvised explosive devices as a vehicle in Iraq would.

"One material doesn't fit all applications. Knowing that none of these vehicles were designed to be armored, you want to make sure you use the appropriate material that makes the most sense," Burton explained. "The floor, for example, is (armored) against landmines, IEDs and grenades so its material composition is a little bit different. The lateral side is more concerned with rifle fire. If you can protect it against rifle fire, you're going to be protected from fragmentations, in most cases, from explosive devices. All the armor is designed to fit the car, versus modifying the car to fit the armor"

Though International Armoring has worked on vehicles for heads of state, Burton said the majority of his customers are wealthy individuals and high-ranking corporate executives. The increase in drug related violence along the U.S.-Mexico border has also generated a demand for armored vehicles among executives and other individuals that have to traverse the area. To date, vehicles armored by the company have protected people in over 250 attacks around the world.

Another company that works in the high-end of vehicle car armoring is San Antonio, Texas-based Texas Armoring Corporation.

Jason Forston, the company's executive vice president, said that his company has also worked on wide variety of vehicles, ranging from a modest Toyota Camry up to the most luxurious of automobiles including Rolls Royce and Bentley.

At the highest of the high-end of luxury armored vehicles are cars such as this Rolls Royce Phantom
Photo courtesy Texas Armoring Corporation

Texas Armoring has been in business for over 30 years and has a global client base that includes corporate executives, heads of state and politicians.

Forston said that an average armoring package from his company will run between $80,000 and $100,000. On the high-end, for those that want a more robust armoring package, those jobs can run between $200,000 and $250,000. One vehicle recently completed by the company, a Cadillac Escalade dubbed "The Beast," was outfitted with the strongest armoring package available as well as a luxury interior for around $450,000.

This Cadillac Escalade, dubbed "The Beast" features TAC's strongest armoring package and cost nearly $450,000 when completed
Photo courtesy Texas Armoring Corporation

In addition to armoring, Forston said that many of the company's customers also want to enjoy a custom interior, which includes everything from flat panel televisions to the finest leather upholstery. That can add another $200,000 to final price tag of the vehicle.

Jason Forston, executive vice president of Texas Armoring Corporation, says that some customers will spend upwards of $200K just on the luxury amenities of their cars.
Photo courtesy Texas Armoring Corporation

"At the end of the day, it is all about what the client wants, what their needs and priorities are and what they're willing to pay for it," Forston said.

Forston said some customers have even requested to have "James Bond-type" optional equipment added to their cars, be it a smoke screen system or electric shocking door handles.

"A customer will see something in a movie and then come and ask us to replicate it," he said. "We don't add any weapons to vehicles, obviously. We're not going to add any guns or munitions to a vehicle unless the client has the proper licenses from the U.S. government. But some of these smaller defense options that buy you a little extra time in an attack situation are useful."

Of the thousands of vehicles armored by Texas Armoring, Forston said that they have never had anyone killed in any that they have outfitted.