Do You Need a Thicker Skin?
If you're a) rich and paranoid, or b) really, really sure they're out to get you, the Town Car BPS is the car for you.
(Business 2.0) – When choosing an armored vehicle, it's important to keep in mind how badly someone wants you dead. This will affect your purchase. If your assassin is an amateur—perhaps some punk with a .38, which fires a 158-grain, round-nose lead bullet at a velocity of 850 feet per second—you'll probably be just fine in an aftermarket armored sedan or the one offered by Cadillac. In fact, even if your enemy comes at you with a .357 Magnum—a serious weapon capable of spitting metal-ripping charges at up to 1,395 feet per second—you'll probably escape without a scratch in one of those sedans. But if someone really wants to kill you, you'd better be riding in the 2005 Lincoln Town Car Ballistic Protection Series. The BPS is a rifle-grade armored vehicle, meaning that it can withstand an attack by professional killers wielding 7.62-mm high-powered rifles or even 5.56-mm high-velocity assault rifles, which fire armor-piercing rounds at more than 3,000 feet per second and can take out targets from half a mile away. Oh, the BPS can also deflect shrapnel from roadside bombs, in case you've angered someone with a background in demolitions.
Here's what your assassin is most likely to do: If he's acting with a team, they will try to block the Town Car's path and box you into a "kill zone." They will shoot out your tires. They will pepper your vehicle's rear underside with rounds, attempting to explode the fuel tank, and spray the front grille, hoping to pierce the engine block. The primary shooter will concentrate fire at the far edge of the front windshield—typically a weak spot on many armored cars. If one of the attackers has sufficient elevation, he will try to blast through the roof, again aiming at structural joints. Always, the shooters will focus round after round into the same bullet hole, hoping to crater away steel and glass until a piece of lead worms into the cabin and begins striking flesh. This year, by Lincoln's estimate, 300 consumers will be sufficiently convinced that such a scenario awaits them that they'll lay down $144,995 for a Town Car BPS. In truth, however, only "a relatively small percentage of these people are ultimately attacked," admits John Anderson, the vehicle's product manager. Whether Anderson was pleased or disappointed by this fact is unnervingly unclear.
The first thing you notice about the BPS is that it is, by design, barely noticeable. Inconspicuousness, it seems, is at the leading edge of personal security, at least as explained by the man responsible for the BPS, a former Secret Service agent named Rick Bondy who was employed as a bodyguard to Ford Motor's president when the idea for the car struck. Since most armored vehicles sold in the United States are aftermarket creations, they tend to have clumsy and obvious armoring, poor handling, and shaky performance. Bondy believed that Ford—with his input, of course—could create a superior armored sedan. The result of Bondy's vision arrived at select dealers a few months ago. Of the cars sold this year, half will end up overseas, primarily in Latin America, the Middle East, and, yes, Iraq. But 150 will remain in the United States, part of an armored vehicle market that has been increasing by 10 percent annually. Thus far, buyers have been corporations, government agencies, and what Anderson refers to only as "private individuals." Invariably such individuals ride in the cozy cocoon of the Town Car's rear seat, while a driver/bodyguard pilots the BPS. I drove myself.
Although the BPS looks identical to every other Town Car you see dotting the streets of Manhattan or Los Angeles, the first clue that something is very different comes when you try to open the door. Engorged by slabs of ballistic steel and ceramic composite panels, and then capped by a 1.6-inch-thick window made of glass and polyvinyl butyral (the indestructible stuff used to shield the Declaration of Independence), each door approaches 300 pounds and opens with all the ease of a mausoleum crypt. Once you've slithered inside, however, the cabin is frighteningly quiet, so much so that Ford cautions drivers to "remain vigilant of the outside surroundings." The bunker effect is deepened by the bulked-up frame, which sprouts thick overhangs that lip the windows and fatten the pillars; a ballistic blanket of something called aramid fibers (the same material used in soft body armor) wraps the cabin, shielding the undercarriage. Bondy insisted that the BPS employ run-flat tires, and that its fuel tank be swaddled in self-sealing material able to withstand, as the company gently puts it, a "ballistic event."
All this protection earns the BPS an impressive Level III rating on the National Institute of Justice's ballistic-resistance scale, for you Law & Order fans. It also adds a ton to the Town Car's weight—7,500, gulp, pounds—and thus the suspension, transmission, brakes, and electrical system have been beefed up to handle the load. Ford left the engine essentially untouched, however, and the 239-horsepower V-8 groans a bit, although the company insists that the BPS remains nimble enough to exit any kill zone. Good to know.
And in fact, trundling around town in the BPS makes you soon feel dangerously indestructible, silently immune from wayward SUVs and incipient road rage, as well as boom boxes, snipers, pipe bombs, potholes, tossed rocks, and other sundry hazards of modern commuting life. Well, almost immune. Steering to a tollbooth, I eased the tank to a halt and powered down the window—only to discover that the gargantuan chunk of glass descends just a few inches, restricted by its sheer thickness. I threaded the dollars through the gap, but they fluttered to the pavement, unreachable by me because the so-safe door was too wide and weighty to shove open. Realizing that he was going to have to retrieve the money himself, the toll-taker grumbled and waved me through, glaring the whole time. Ah, if looks could kill.