BY MARK PHELAN
DETROIT FREE PRESS AUTO WRITER
Photo by Motor Trend
A lot of people say they love their cars, but what would you pay for one that'll take a bullet for you?
About 300 customers a year will have a chance to find out when Ford Motor Co.'s luxury division begins selling its $144,995 Lincoln Town Car Ballistic Protection Series model this month.
When most car companies promise security, they're talking about air bags and antilock brakes. The 6,200-pound armored sedan takes occupant protection to a higher level with 1.6-inch-thick windows -- compared with less than a quarter-inch in a conventional sedan -- that will stop a round from a .30.06 or M16 assault rifle. A reinforced floor can absorb the impact from an antipersonnel grenade.
Don't call it bulletproof, says Rick Bondy, the Ford executive in charge of the program and a former Secret Service agent. Nothing is bulletproof, he warned, but a BPS Town Car will survive enough hits from high-powered rifles to carry its owner to safety, remaining mobile even if its radiator, battery and alternator are destroyed, he said.
A small team of engineers from Ford, Roush Industries Inc. and several suppliers of armored materials developed the car at Roush's headquarters in Allen Park. Roush will make the first few BPS Town Cars there, moving the work to its facility in Livonia as production rises.
Lincoln builds the cars on its regular assembly line in Wixom and ships them to Roush for the installation of specialty glass, steel reinforcements, military-grade ceramics and fibers similar to those used in bulletproof vests. The global market for armored vehicles rises 20 percent annually and is currently about 20,000 vehicles a year, Bondy said.
The BPS is visually indistinguishable from a normal Town Car, despite doors that weigh 205 pounds each -- versus 42 pounds for a standard Lincoln -- and run-flat tires.
Luxury brands like Mercedes-Benz, Audi and BMW also build armored cars. Ford is the first North American company to do it, Bondy said. Any Lincoln dealer can sell and service the BPS cars, although only a select few will have the equipment and training to work on the armored materials.
Lincoln offers just two options on the BPS Town Car: power rear windows and a rubber-coated gas tank to keep the fuel from draining out quickly if it's pierced.
Lincoln expects most BPS customers to be diplomats, corporate executives and celebrities. It will initially sell the car in the United States, Mexico and the Middle East.