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Bulletproof BMWs grab AFP attention

No soft-roader: The Australian Federal Police bought five examples of the BMW X5 Security, which can resist a .44 Magnum bullet fired at point-blank range.

The safest BMWs money can buy are not for public consumption – in Australia

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BMW logo11 Dec 2013

BMW is offering a top of the range 760Li limo which is heavier and slower than the standard version, uses more fuel and costs an extra $150,000.

What’s the catch? Well it’s probably the safest BMW that’s ever been built and one of the most secure cars in the world.

Lined with 10mm sheet-steel and glazed with 60mm polycarbonate windows, the $544,000 BMW 7 Series High Security can withstand point-blank fire from an AK-47 and two hand-grenade blasts.

The armour-plated limo has a whopping 1500kg of extra weight to carry around, but thanks to revised gear ratios and a 6.0-litre V12, it manages to get to 100km/h in just 6.2 seconds – handy if you are being shot at.

That level of ballistics protection is described as VR7/VR9, but if more than half a million dollars is stretching the budget, BMW can offer choices of VR4- and VR6-rated BMW X5 SUVs starting at $90,000 over and above the cost of a $133,000 X5 50i.

A BMW X5 Security can stop repeated shots from even the largest handgun calibers and provides such comprehensive protection for occupants, the Australian Federal Police decided to invest in five examples.

International direct and special sales regional manager Thierry Weidenbach believes BMW fought off competition from Toyota and Mercedes for the AFP deal because of the in-house qualities of the Security Vehicles.

“The difference between our cars and the competition is that they are retro-fitted. We are building cars at our plants”, said Mr Weidenbach, speaking to GoAuto this week on a flying visit to Melbourne.

“We are the most experienced security car manufacturer – this is already the fifth generation 7 Series – that’s more than 30 years.”

If you have half a million dollars and a lot of enemies don’t get too excited just yet. Many countries regard a 3800kg bullet-proof BMW as a weapon requiring strict control and regulation – and Australia is one of them.

As a result there are no private owners Down Under and, for now at least, the only Security vehicles here are the five in the possession of the AFP.

In more lawless parts of the world business is much better, with customers in Central America and Russia ordering more cars than anywhere else in the world, but given the nature of its clients BMW will not discuss figures.

The security measures are not just a retro-fitted add-on and each Security Vehicle begins life in the same factory as the standard versions.

So extensive are the differences that BMW assigned the 7 Series High Security with its own series code – F03 – but how do you add 1500kgs of extra without compromising on other functions?The answer is simple – the design of each vehicle has allowed for the additions right from its initial design stages.

As a result suspension is completely retuned to allow the same ride-height, comfort and bullet-evading agility, the 150kg windows still wind up and down thanks to a huge electric motor and regulator and the X5 boot-space is unchanged.

In fact almost every feature of the 7 Series flagship has remained, with only the Bang & Olufsen sound system and sunroof being removed from the extras list.

There are quite a few neat tricks to make up for the relatively small losses however.

One area of the car that isn’t bulletproof are the wheels, but a puncture wont prevent them safely carrying the car 50km at speeds of up to 80km/h thanks to special Michelin PAX tyres.

The PAX is not a conventional run-flat tyre and uses a solid band fixed to the wheel inside the tyre, which takes the load of the vehicle if air pressure is lost.

Bullets and bombs are not the only thing the VR7/VR9 can protect occupants from: for around another $22,000 an oxygen system with toxic chemical sensors can be installed.

If any dangerous airborne substances are sniffed by the Seven, it will seal off the outside world and turn on taps to two hours worth of life-support oxygen stored in the boot.

For another similar sum BMW will include a fire-extinguisher system, which automatically douses the car with retardant foam if things get a little too hot.

And you thought emergency exits were just for planes didn’t you? Wrong – for another (yes you guessed it) $22,000 the front screen can double as an exit if all the doors are obstructed.

A simple press of a guarded button on the ceiling releases the massive pane using pyrotechnic charges, so that occupants can then push it out with their feet and escape.

Aramid fibre composite adds light-weight shrapnel-stopping protection, and even the fuel-tank is treated with a self-sealing compound to prevent leaks and fires if it takes a bullet.

BMW says that nothing is too outrageous or too hard if it improves the safety of the occupants, which is why they will gladly supply tailored handgun holsters in the door-pockets and centre console.

Despite all of the extra weight, technology and expense, unless you look really closely, the range of Security vehicles are aesthetically almost unchanged on the outside.

Only a slightly thicker black frame around each window gives away the presence of the ultra-tough materials and, let’s be honest, the bodyguards won’t let you get that close anyway.

Other than that, the vehicles look identical in every way to the ones you can buy in any showroom and the story is much the same once inside too.

Only a few extra switches to control the auxiliary systems set the interior apart from other 7 Series’ with many functions programmed in to the existing iDrive system.

You might think all of this extra technology would make the range of Security vehicles hard to maintain – and you would be right.

Only selected BMW dealerships around the world are suitably equipped to look after a Security vehicle.

For a start, the extra weight of the armour means that only a five-tonne, four-post hoist is capable of lifting the bullet-proof cars safely and any work carried out on the car must be done in a special secure area to prevent unauthorised persons compromising its safety in any way.

Even the technicians must be specially trained to cope with the extra challenges, such as extremely heavy panels and working safely around compressed oxygen if the life-support system is fitted.

Measures are even taken to hide the licence-plates while the top-secret cars are in the custody of the dealership.

BMW can also offer a special driver training course to accompany any Security Vehicle, which equips the driver with evasive driving skills and instruction on how to identify a dangerous situation before it arises.

Each vehicle takes up to two-weeks longer to build than the standard version and the hand-built cars are ready to deliver between six and ten months after ordering.

But what do you with a bullet-proof Bimma when you no longer need it? You won’t find many on eBay. Well BMW has this covered too.

All used Security cars can be returned to BMW for tender and are advertised globally on its website.

Currently for sale are a range of used 7-Series High Security models, and for a modest $134,000 you could be the driver of a very tough 1999 750iL - one careful owner.

Very, very careful.

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