A procession of the most presidential automobiles

 

For elected officials, deciding which car to be driven in can be fraught with difficulties - from security to what it says about you, writes Ben Oliver

WITH THE new job comes a new car – pity he’ll never get to drive it himself. When Barack Obama was inaugurated as the 44th president of the United States of America yesterday, he also took delivery of a new Cadillac Presidential Limousine. It was a rare moment of pride for the beleaguered American car industry, and continues a tradition of presidential Cadillacs that dates back to the first World War.

For senior politicians, the correct choice of wheels is critical. Your car can’t be too flamboyant – the Department of Justice ordered a €160,000 Mercedes S-class to replace the one Bertie Ahern kept after leaving office, but Brian Cowen was initially reticent about using it, for fear of sending the wrong message as the economy floundered.

And if, like Obama, you represent a car-producing nation, it’s got to be one of your own. Being forced to choose a home-grown car can be a blessing or a curse. Jaguar-borne Gordon Brown could have a British-made Rolls Royce or Bentley, but with price tags starting north of a quarter of a million euro, they’d be seen as too ostentatious.

The Italian president and prime minister each get a Maserati Quattroporte, but the Swedish PM gets a sensible Volvo S80, and the French president has to settle for a Citroën C6; he also has a couple of glorious 1970s, drop-top, Maserati-powered Citroën SMs in the garage, but they’re not secure or reliable enough for regular service.

Of course, if you don’t have to worry about the opinions of pesky voters, you can have what you like. For years, a Mercedes S-class like Cowen’s – almost always stretched and armoured – has been the automatic ride of choice for paranoid despots.

Reclusive North Korean tyrant, Kim Jong-Il, and presidents Muammar Gaddafi of Libya and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe are current customers. Previous freedom-hating fans of the S-class or its Pullman forebear include Mao, Yugoslavia’s Marshal Tito and Idi Amin.

Official transport also has to function as everything from mobile office to bomb shelter. Since JFK was killed in his open-top Lincoln, US presidents have travelled in closed, armoured cars. The details of Obama’s new car remain a state secret, but it is so heavily armoured that it can’t be based on a standard model. Instead, it is bespoke and has more in common with a truck beneath the shell. It is believed to feature a sealed cabin with its own oxygen supply to protect occupants from chemical attack, and an ultra-secure communications system to allow the president to launch a nuclear war from the comfort of the back seat.

Cadillac has confirmed that the presidential seals are stitched into the seatbacks and doortrims and high-intensity LED lights are set into the front wings to illuminate the US flag and the presidential standard.

We surveyed the rides of world leaders so that you can work out who wins the battle of the black stretch limo. Some of our data has to be educated guesswork; hand-built in tiny numbers, security measures employed on many of these vehicles are a state secret, and all prices are estimates, as you certainly can’t order one from your local dealer.

But the days of vast, luxury saloons flying the flag might be numbered. Public concern over pollution and interest in alternative power will surely force our leaders to be seen in leaner, greener vehicles before long.

LEADERS’ CARS: WHO DRIVES WHAT?

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

In the back seat: President Barack Obama

Car: Cadillac Presidential Limousine

Standard price: Not on sale here in Ireland

Engine: 4.6-litre V8

Power: 290bhp

Top speed: 130mph

Seats: Six (presidential version)

Standard weight: 1,800kg

This version: 4,500kg (estimate)

Special features: Presidential seals in the seats and doors; high roofline for better visibility. Protection systems a state secret, but certain to include gun racks, heavy armour and secure communications system to authorise nuclear strike.

GERMANY

In the back seat: Chancellor Angela Merkel

Car: Volkswagen Phaeton

Price: €100,000-plus

This version: €250,000 (estimate)

Engine: 6.0-litre W12

Power: 450bhp

Top speed: 155mph

Seats: Four

Standard weight: 2434kg

This version: 4,000kg (estimate)

Special features: Gerhard Schroeder chose Volkswagen’s flagship four-wheel drive super-luxury saloon over the Audis and Mercedes traditionally used by former German Chancellors and took delivery of the first, but he then had to hand it over to his successor Angela Merkel.

FRANCE

In the back seat:President Nicolas Sarkozy

Car: Citroën C6

Price: Diesel version starts at €57,100 here

This version: €200,000 (estimate)

Engine: 3.0 litre V6

Power: 215bhp

Top speed: 155mph

Seats: Four

Standard weight: 1,816kg

This version: 3,000kg (estimate)

Special features: Sarkozy’s stylish new C6 replaces an armoured presidential version of the ancient Safrane, a terrible, large hatchback long out of production and ranked at number 45 in Crap Cars, a recent book.

ITALY

In the back seat: Prime minister Silvio Berlusconi

Car: Maserati Quattroporte

This version: €250,000

Engine: 4.2-litre V8

Power: 400bhp

Top speed: 171mph

Seats: Four

Standard weight: 1,930kg

Armoured weight: 3,300kg (estimate)

Special features: Trust the Italians to have the fastest, noisiest, most stylish state transport, complete with Ferrari-sourced V8 engine.

SWEDEN

In the back seat: Prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt

Car: Volvo S80

Standard price: S80 diesel starts here at €46,340

This version: €200,000 (estimate)

Engine: 4.4-litre V8

Power: 315bhp

Top speed: 155mph

Seats: Four

Standard weight: 1,839kg

Armoured weight: 2,800kg (estimate)

Special features: Not as flash as some other world leader’s wheels, but it was this or a Saab. Also favoured by Sweden’s car-mad King Carl Gustaf – who has an AC Cobra in the garage for when he needs some excitement – and other Scandinavian leaders.

RUSSIA

In the back seat: President Dmitry Medvedev

Car: ZIL 41052

Price: €5,000,000

Engine: 7.7-litre V8

Power: 313bhp

Top speed: 120mph

Seats: Seven

Armoured weight: 5,500kg

Special features: The Russian president travels mainly by stretched, armoured Mercedes but keeps a handful of these vast, old-style Soviet limos in the Kremlin garage. A few passed into private hands in return for hard currency, including one bought by the CIA and stripped down. Not a conversion of an existing car, it’s built around a bombproof shell.

JAPAN

In the back seat: Emperor Akihito, Empress Michiko

Car: Toyota Century Royal

Price: Can’t buy one

Engine: 5.0-litre V12

Power: 273bhp

Top speed: 120mph

Seats: Eight

Armoured weight: 4,000kg

Special features: Based on huge Japan-only luxury saloon. Nissan asked Imperial household to stop using their bespoke, but antiquated, Nissan Prince Royals, but wouldn’t develop a replacement.

DEMOCRATIC PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF KOREA

In the back seat: Kim Jong-Il

Car: Mercedes-Benz S600

Price: €242,500

This version: €1,000,000-plus (estimate)

Engine: 5.5 litre V12

Power: 500bhp

Top speed: 155mph

Seats: Four

Standard weight: 2,210kg

Armoured weight: 4,500kg (estimated)

Special features: Poster boy for evil dictators everywhere, Kim’s austere communist rule clearly doesn’t extend to his garage, which is well-stocked with German metal, including at least 20 S-classes according to some sources. It is also equipped with the usual B7-level armouring.

UNITED KINGDOM

In the back seat: Prime Minister Gordon Brown

Car: Jaguar Super V8

Standard price: €119,500

This version: €300,000 (estimate)

Engine: 4.2-litre V8

Power: 400bhp

Top speed: 155mph

Seats: Four

Standard weight: 1,665kg

This version: 3,000kg (estimate)

Special features: This car has its own air supply to counter gas attacks; it’s armoured to withstand attack by hand grenade or assault rifle; it has a public address system; tamper sensors and even runflat tyres. Three cars were built at an estimated total cost of €300,000 each.