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Popemobile takes center stage for UK state visit

By Max Foster, CNN
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A close up look at the Popemobile
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Popemobile lands in UK ahead of first ever papal state visit to that country
  • Raised seat allows crowds to see pope behind large sheets of bullet-proof glass
  • Side panels and undercarriage are armor-plated which makes it secure, but heavy
  • Popemobile will be seen in Edinburgh, Birmingham and London over next few days
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London, England (CNN) -- The Popemobile has landed, just ahead of the pontiff himself who arrives for the first ever papal state visit to the UK. There is some debate about the cost of this event for British taxpayers but it is going ahead, and the Popemobile will play an integral role.

Appropriately enough, the car is a Mercedes; a converted M-Class. A German Popemobile for a German pontiff. It's been used before but this is its UK debut and I got a closer look at what's become a symbol of the pope's overseas tours.

It is rather grand: white, with few markings, the Mercedes logo and Vatican coat of arms. A raised seat allows crowds to see Pope Benedict XVI behind large sheets of bullet-proof glass. The side panels and undercarriage are armor-plated which makes it a secure, but heavy, vehicle.

It has an average speed of just 6 mph but I am reliably informed it can sprint off at break-neck speed if required. I asked about its top speed but received no answer. I also asked about the number plate, SCV 1, and was told it simply represents Vatican City which has its own number plating system.

I also learned that there are in fact several Popemobiles, scattered around the world and that two of them would be used in the UK for this visit. We weren't allowed to film the interior for security reasons, but it was pretty simple with white upholstery and room for a couple of aids sitting at the feet of the pontiff. In the driving seat will be, I understand, a British police officer, who has apparently had a practice.

The Popemobile will be seen in Edinburgh, Birmingham and London over the next few days for various events and security teams may welcome news that fewer tickets have been sold than expected so that should mean smaller crowds.

Bullet-proof Popemobiles were introduced after an assassination attempt on the previous pope. But John Paul II disliked the term "Popemobile." He thought it "undignified." But the nickname stuck and the church is even using the term itself again. Expect to hear the word "Popemobile" a few times yourself in the media over coming days ...

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