You've heard it a million times.

The world's a dangerous place. People are out to get you. Terrorists. Evil folks. Terrible California drivers. Aggressive Boston drivers. Papperatzi. You need something that would make them think twice.

What you need is immediately to your left. It's an armored sport utility vehicle, and it costs about $ 140,000. Corporate executives are buying them by the ... well, let's just say this is a booming business, even if actual volumes are small.

Of course it doesn't look terribly awe inspiring. It's just another overpriced sport utility vehicle, but with armor plating. You could tell it was customized by the dark glass windows in back, but it's unlikely you'd look twice at this thing.

The company rep, who was a really nice guy, says this is intentional. It helps people keep a low profile, while riding in luxury and enjoying the benefits of bullet proofing.

Armored cars come in three grades, in ascending order of protection. The Cadillac sport utility vehicle displayed was, of course, armored to the highest level.

Even though most armored vehicles are now sport utilities like the Cadillac, I must confess to a preference for that old standby, the Mercedes S-Class. So naturally I asked him about that.

If you wanted to armor a Mercedes S-Class, it would cost you $ 97,000 for the armor, above and beyond the cost of the car. A S500 ($97,000) or S600 ($128,000) are the best candidates; he's done S320s ($67,000) but the extra weight bogs down the car quite a bit.

Armored cars won't help you against bombs. The typical client is a CEO or top executive of a multinational corporation, and kidnapping is the primary threat; for this reason, bombing is unlikely. There are devices that attempt to detect bombs, but they are apparently not reliable; your own visual inspection (or that of a minion) is more effective.

Incidentally, according to our armored car expert, Princess Diana's car was apparently not armored, unlike earlier reports. Just a garden-variety S320. Not that armoring would have helped much in the circumstances, although it might have slowed the driver down a bit; as we said, armored car performance is marginal in a S320.

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Image and text Copyright © 1999 David H Dennis