Mercedes-Benz customers cover a broad spectrum of society and there’s no denying that a large number are the rich and famous in the upper strata as well as corporate and government leaders. While government leaders and heads of state can have the protection of the police or army when they travel in their cars, other customers would not have such privileges.
As the German carmaker has always strived to meet the needs of its customers, it has also offered specialised vehicles with protective measures and features. This part of the business – known as Mercedes-Benz Guard or M-B Guard – has been going on for more than 90 years, starting the Model Nurburg 460 of 1928.
It was the first company to start equipping its saloons with special protection ex-factory, so as to effectively protect the occupants from attacks using firearms and explosive devices. Emperor Hirohito of Japan chose an armoured Grand Mercedes as a personal car befitting his status (the Pullman Saloon, delivered in 1935, is now displayed at the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart). Many heads of state and government leaders followed the emperor’s example in using cars with additional protection and they entrusted their safety and security to M-B Guard.
The production of M-B Guard’s special protection vehicles has a unique history of innovations. This is because the protective features are always developed for specific models (unlike independent companies which can also ‘fortify’ a car with basic measures). The engineers also keep pace with technical advances to provide the best possible protection.
In September 1963, for example, after the legendary Model 600 was launched, the German government approached the company with a request for an armoured version. When a large demand for special protection vehicles arose in Latin America in 1970, the armoured 280 SEL 3.5 became a popular choice. Mercedes-Benz also produced special protection versions of the 8-cylinder W 116-series models and delivered them to selected customers in Europe and overseas.
Since 1980 and without exception, all generations of the S-Class (W126, 140, 220, 221) and the current model (W222 series) have always also been available in special protection versions. The current M-B Guard models provide maximum protection up to Class VR10, and are highly sophisticated products at the highest technical level.
Fortifying a car to resist bullets and explosives can be easily done by just using thicker metal panels and glass but this would turn it into a ‘tank’ and it would feel like one on the move too. The M-B Guard models are engineered to the highest protection standards available for civilian vehicles but also offer the same levels of luxury and comfort for the occupants as the standard models sold
Integrated special protection makes this possible. For example, all the protective elements for the doors, rear wall, side components, roof and firewall are not subsequently installed in an already finished vehicle but are integrated into the bodyshell in a separate production process right from the start. This means the models in the Guard family are conceived and developed together with the unprotected variants from the time a new model is developed. Potential weaknesses are identified by extensive tests during the development process and verified by the specialists.
All the measures are based on the many years of experience of Mercedes-Benz in the engineering of special protection vehicles. All reinforcing elements made of special steel alloys and other high-strength materials are already integrated in cavities between the bodyshell and exterior skin during the body production phase, specifically reinforcing the basic structure. Joints and material transitions feature intelligently designed material overlaps. Relevant areas of the underbody are protected by armour specially developed for these vehicles.
The glazing is a fixed and very important part of the protective measures. Here too, the material and thickness meet the high requirements of the protection category concerned, from bullets to explosive projectiles. The inner surfaces of the glass are coated with polycarbonate for splinter protection. Despite their comprehensive protective effect, they offer very good visibility.
Naturally the suspension, brakes, springs and assistance systems are adapted for the additional weight to ensure near-standard handling characteristics with the comfort occupants in every Mercedes-Benz expect.
Additional equipment to protect the occupants inside the cabin can also be specified, such as an emergency fresh air system and self-activating fire extinguisher system. This is in the event the car is unable to move away and had to withstand attacks for some time before rescue teams can arrive.
It is part of the protective concept that models with special protection are only distinguishable from their standard production counterparts on very close scrutiny. A number of special technical features also ensure that they remain mobile during and after an attack, and can leave the danger area as rapidly as possible. The powerful, high-torque V12 engine with 530 bhp/830 Nm is one advantage.
Each M-B Guard vehicle (SUVs are also available) obviously costs a great deal more than the standard model. The vehicles are, like any Mercedes-Benz, engineered to be long lasting but there may be cases where the owners no longer require them. In such cases, the company will try its best to buy back the vehicles so that they do not get into the open market. According to a former executive in the company, this is to avoid such vehicles getting into the hands of the ‘wrong type of customers’.
It’s not known how many, if any, M-B Guard vehicles are in Malaysia and it would be hard to identify them as they appear like standard models unless you look closely. There may be some units but in any case, a former senior executive at the Malaysian subsidiary said that there is no real need to publicise M-B Guard products which would send a ‘wrong message’ about the countryas it is generally safe and peaceful.