Seeing and being seen: Popemobile based on the G-Class

From 1980 on, Pope John Paul II became arguably the most prominent user of a G-model worldwide. This is because at public events, the Pontiff most often used a 230 G of model year 1980 painted in mother-of-pearl white, or two years later a nearly identical 230 GE built by Mercedes-Benz, as his official popemobile.

Both “Papamobiles”, as the vehicles were called by the public, accompanied the Pope for two decades on his travels all over the world. And even in places where the Holy Father was a guest without his own popemobiles, he was usually provided in the particular country with a vehicle that was modelled after the design of the G-models from the early 1980s. Starting in 2007, an open-top G 500 furthermore was used as a vehicle for audiences at the Vatican.

The two popemobiles from 1980 and 1982 were based on the 460 model series with long wheelbase. They continued a partnership between the Stuttgart-based brand and the Vatican that had already been in existence for many decades. The legendary predecessor of the G-models included the popemobiles based on the Mercedes-Benz Nürburg 460 (W 08, 1930), Mercedes-Benz 300 (W 189, 1960) and Mercedes-Benz 600 (W 100, 1965) models.

However, the new vehicles differed from these Saloons and Landaulets in several aspects. The high seating position in the new vehicle contributed to the safety of the Pontiff. To this end, the floor in the rear of the G was raised by 400 millimetres over the production version – significantly more than had been customary on the Mercedes-Benz vehicles for the Vatican in the past. This allowed the Pope to be close to the faithful at large events in a wide range of different places. This was demonstrated by the Pope’s visit to the Federal Republic of Germany in the late autumn of 1980, when the 230 G popemobile had its première.

The new vehicle also stood out from the earlier popemobiles in terms of colour: the bright paint finish (rather than the customary black of before) with gold and brass highlights as well as a white interior (white wool velour and white leather) now presented both vehicles in the colours of the Pope.

Another characteristic feature was the Plexiglas protective dome with integrated lights and powerful climate control system, which prevented the windows from fogging up, even in warm and humid weather. The cube-shaped dome was initially intended mainly as weather protection and was designed to be removable. The 230 G, the first popemobile based on a G-model, is one of the most popular exhibits in the permanent exhibition of the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart today.

Two vehicles of the M-Class from 2002 and 2012 continued the tradition of the popemobiles based on the G-model. The Mercedes-Benz ML 430, of which the Vatican took possession in 2002, had a cabin for the Pope made of bulletproof glass. The vehicle debuted during the visit of Pope John Paul II to the World Youth Day in Toronto.

From December 2007, an open G 500 was also used as a vehicle for the Pope. The white painted G-Class was either used totally open at audiences in the Vatican – or with a transparent weather roof, for example, during the visit of Pope Francis to Brazil in July 2013.

The two first popemobiles based on the G-model can be told apart by their number plates: the 230 G usually had the number plate SCV 7, and the two years younger 230 GE the number plate SCV 6. However, by now the Vatican has introduced the rule that whichever automobile the Pope uses always carries the number plate SCV 1: “Status Civitatis Vaticanae” (Vatican State) Number One.