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Demand Growing for Personal Armored Vehicles

Don't leave home without a bullet-resistant Range Rover; by Graham Kozak

By AutoWeek Jul 11, 2012 2:54PM

Nothing about this Range Rover suggests that it can protect its occupants from a hail of gunfire -- and that's just how the VIPs inside like it. Photo by International Armoring Corporation.




If you're a well-heeled VIP in the market for a luxury SUV, you can hardly go wrong with a new Land Rover Range Rover. Roughly $100,000 gets you a vehicle with both presence and an enviable list of features.


Advanced suspension makes off-roading feel like a cruise through the countryside. The surround-sound Harmon/Kardon speaker system is more than powerful enough to drown out any noises that manage to invade the luxurious interior. And don't forget the air-conditioned leather seats—perhaps the greatest technological breakthrough since the invention of the wheel—which will keep you cool and collected in even the most sun-scorched of emirates.


Run into a gang of AK-47-toting street thugs, separatist guerillas or religious extremists on the way to the country club, however, and you're probably toast. Neither a well-appointed interior nor a perfectly chilled posterior will protect you from a hail of small-arms fire.


That's why you need to take your new ride to a professional armoring service before you hit the road. Thanks to modern armor technology, nearly any vehicle can be turned into a rolling panic room—for a price. Global instability has high-profile individuals turning to armoring services in ever-increasing numbers, and business is booming.


The interior of the armored Range Rover maintains the vehicle's stock amenities while adding a level of protection. Photo by International Armoring Corporation.
Autoweek recently spoke with Mark Burton, founder and CEO of Salt Lake City-based International Armoring Corporation (IAC), about the growing market for personal armored vehicles.


Burton founded IAC in Ogden, Utah, in 1993. While he initially planned to produce a limited run of 24 vehicles, he ended up building more than 225 in his first year in business. Roughly 8,000 vehicles have rolled out of the IAC facilities since.


None of this would have been possible, he explained, without the emergence of the civilian armored-vehicle market. Firms such as IAC still provide heavy-duty armored vehicles for security companies and military contractors, but the development of lightweight, flexible, bullet-resistant materials means that conventional vehicles can be refitted to provide protection at a price within reach of the wealthy and slightly paranoid.


New markets, new technology


The demand for armored vehicles has spurred the development of advanced armor technologies. IAC's proprietary bullet-resistant material is a blend of synthetic fiber laminates called Armormax. In addition to being flexible and moldable, Armormax is relatively lightweight when compared with more traditional armor materials.


While bullet-resistant steel plate weighs in 13 pounds per square foot, for example, early generations of Armormax offering an equivalent degree of protection weigh only eight pounds per square foot. Burton claims that the newest generation of the material comes in at just 3.9 pounds per square foot.


Armormax, a blend of synthetic fibers and laminates, provides the protection of steel without adding the weight of heavy steel plate. Photo by International Armoring Corporation.
Weight savings and increased flexibility mean vulnerable VIPs no longer need to cower behind the steel plate of a slab-sided armored truck for protection. For $65,000 to $85,000, plus the cost of the donor vehicle, IAC can make nearly any armor-plated automotive fantasy a reality.


Suburban-type SUVs and large luxury sedans are the most popular choices, but IAC has handled everything from Toyota Camrys to Maybachs to Aston Martins. Relatively lightweight armor means that a Camry with a “B5” level of protection—enough to resist 7.62-by-39-millimeter AK-47 rounds—is only 600 pounds heavier than its unarmored counterpart.

As a result, IAC generally doesn't need to modify its vehicles engines, although it often beefs up braking and suspension systems. That also means that virtually no car is too small or underpowered to receive a degree of armor protection.


When asked whether a client seeking the ultimate in armored anonymity could order a bullet-resistant economy car—say, a Nissan Versa—Burton barely hesitated before answering in the affirmative.


Who buys an armored car?


Prospective armored-vehicle owners are almost as varied as the vehicles IAC outfits. Of all the customers seeking protected transportation, Burton estimates that 20 percent are acting to mitigate a known threat or have been targeted for attack in the past. Some 50 percent simply want insurance against random acts of violence, such as carjackings.


The remaining 30 percent is high-profile individuals “accustomed” to a raised level of security, such as captains of industry and celebrities. Armor levels and vehicle style are chosen to reflect the specific nature of the perceived threat against the VIP.


International variations in desired protection levels speak to each region's particular flavor of violence. Burton explained that Brazilian and South African clients want protection against small-arms fire and street crime; they typically request a “B4” armor level (good for handguns and submachine guns).


Wealthy Nigerians, by contrast, grapple with regime uncertainty and criminal organizations that have access to heavy weapons. They demand high-level “B6” armor protection. That's meant to stand up to 30-06 armor-piercing bullets. Better to be safe than sorry.


Improvised explosive devices (IED) present a new challenge for armorers and armored-vehicle owners alike. Unlike ballistic ratings, there is no standardized system of measuring the protection armor affords against explosives. IEDs come in all shapes and sizes, further complicating matters. 


Armormax is both lightweight and flexible, allowing vehicles to retain much of their original interior following the armoring process. Photo by International Armoring Corporation.
Yet Burton says that technologies such as Armormax provide “a certain amount of fragmentation and explosive protection.” He explained that armored vehicles prepared for the Iraq conflict often made use of a combination of Armormax and metal alloys. When incorporated into vehicle floorpans, these materials help shield occupants from shrapnel.


From Kandahar to London


Armored vehicles may make sense in Kabul or Johannesburg, but they are also expected to be out in force this summer in a less likely locale: London.


Dignitaries and celebrities will flock to the city this summer to attend the 2012 Olympic Games, and they're bringing their taste for personal protection with them. According to Burton, VIPs often rent armored vehicles when traveling internationally. Some choose to take their own vehicles wherever they go.


Upmarket sedans and SUVs will dominate the armored fleet in town for the Olympics. Burton says the Range Rover, ubiquitous in the wealthy parts of London, is shaping up to be the most popular choice.


That means that one or two of the Chelsea Tractors you pass by on your way to the games may be able to shrug off a full magazine of 30-06 rounds, although you'd never know it based on their completely unassuming exteriors.


When it comes to personal armored vehicles, it seems, keeping a low profile is as important as a solid coat of armor. Such discretion won't raise any eyebrows on the street, but armored vehicle manufacturers like IAC—and their well-protected customers—wouldn't have it any other way.


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211Comments
Aug 10, 2013 10:42PM
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Just another way the wealthy can distance themselves from everyone else.
Aug 10, 2013 10:55PM
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It was inevitable. In third world countries with great wealth disparity, it is already a common practice. Our nation is in decline, and not because of an effort to abolish poverty. It is declining because the rich and powerful are so detached from the average American, that they can't conceive of doing what is best for the nation as a whole. I don't think that anything I post will change that,  but at least there will be an indelible record of ongoing public discourse.
Aug 10, 2013 11:19PM
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What kind of world are we living in?
Aug 10, 2013 10:26PM
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WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU'RE OUT OF THE CAR ?
Aug 11, 2013 12:24AM
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What's the matter, the rich scum afraid the little guy might get tired of their bull shlt and blow them away? I think they might need more than armored cars.
Aug 10, 2013 11:57PM
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Damn, it's tough at the top! Especially if you've Madoff'd, Skilling'd, Paulson'd, or Koch'd, etc., yourself to get there.
Jul 13, 2012 5:49PM
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Maybe these cars can deflect bullets, but a good 'ol Soviet-era RPG can still blow them up, or at least take off a tire and make these behemoths sitting ducks.
Aug 11, 2013 4:39AM
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Street thugs, separatist guerillas, religious extremists you say. What about honest, hard working Americans who have lost their jobs, their savings, their way of life because of these greedy , amoral, corrupt pigs. They might be the ones pointing the weapons.
Aug 10, 2013 11:39PM
Jul 12, 2012 4:21PM
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@Frosty

Armored vehicles aren't about looks or reliability, they are about being capable of taking gunshots and potentially being rammed into. Also, at the expense these things cost, you don't "look" like you have money, you actually have money. There is an actual need for some people to own these vehicles, with the growing rate of crazies there seems to be today, so why in the world would you mock and insult it?

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