The bespoke bulletproof car that screeches luxury around every corner

Armoured Mercedes gives the protection of a tank with the sleekness of a saloon, as the super-rich demand customisation

Powered by automated translation

Those in the know say it's the safest car in the world. The Mercedes S680 Guard 4Matic, the company says, can resist gunfire from an automatic rifle and gets top marks in tests measuring resistance to explosives.

When the car's defences were tested against gunfire and explosives, none of the biofidelic dummies, which are designed to have the same bone density as humans, were damaged in any way.

The S680 Guard 4Matic is part of a long heritage of special-protection vehicles that Mercedes has been building since the late 1920s, starting with its Nurburg 460 model in 1928.

The integrated protection system is housed underneath a protective shell, giving much of the S680 Guard its four-tonne weight. Its armour-plating and bulletproof glass mean the suspension has to be adapted, but with modifications to the V12 engine and the transmission, the S680 Guard drives like a standard S-Class.

Normally, the reinforced door panels and the thick, heavy windows mean opening the door on a slope would challenge the burliest of bodyguards. But Mercedes has fitted electromechanical door actuators, a sort of power-steering for the doors, which push the door open when the latch is activated, meaning a protection operative can open it with one hand.

It even has a special filtration and air pressure system to ensure that any poisons in the air immediately outside the car don't enter the vehicle.

The basic cost is £387,600, ($493,000) but that gets you a choice of four or five seats, a V12 engine with 612bhp and a safety level of VR10 – which is the highest possible grade for a civilian car.

“VR stands for Vehicle Resistance,” Sasa Zejnic, marketing manager for Mercedes-Benz Guard, told The National.

“The highest VR class for civilian cars is 10. You differentiate between transparent [the windows and glass] and non-transparent areas. The S680 Guard 4Matic is the only civilian car that can provide VR10 in both transparent and non-transparent areas.”

But the beauty of the S680 Guard 4Matic is the fact that it still looks like an S-Class Mercedes, providing the owner with protection that rivals a tank and yet the sleek discretion of a Mercedes saloon.

“This is what cost the engineers quite some grey hair and the company quite a lot of money to make this car look like a standard S-Class,” Mr Zejnic said.

“Not only does it look like an S-Class, but it also feels like one with the space, material, comfort, luxury and driveability of a standard class.”

Mercedes is, however, keeping some information about the S680 Guard 4Matic to itself – mostly about how many have been built, how many it is planning to build and who has bought them.

“We sell the car worldwide,” Mr Zejnic told The National.

“Obviously, we're not selling it to countries which are under embargo and to buy a car you have to follow a very strict due diligence process, where we have to do background checks. Not everyone can purchase this car.”

“It is governments, royal houses and so on, who are our clients.”

'Bespoke interiors'

But while the S680 Guard 4Matic can protect the occupants, Mercedes has also ensured that the interior can also be tailored to an exceptionally individual standard, through the Mercedes Manufaktur programme which allows for distinctive customisation and personalisation of vehicles.

The more than 80 bespoke options that Mercedes offers on its regular S-Class vehicles can also come as fittings in the S680 Guard, from interior lighting to integrated media systems incorporating OLED technology. In addition, clients can choose between a two-seat rear suite and a three-seat arrangement, decked out in a choice of upholstery.

“It also has what we call the Manufaktur interior, so it can have a fully individualised handmade upholstery,” Marcus Breitschwerdt, executive vice president at Mercedes-Benz and the head of Mercedes-Benz Heritage, told The National.

“You can have whatever kind of leather, whatever kind of fabric you want to have, and we’ll do it for you in Stuttgart. And it’s all handmade.”

Cars suited to billionaires

Speaking to The National at the third annual Concours on Savile Row – an event which brings together London's finest tailors with classic and luxury carmakers on the London street that's synonymous with bespoke suit making – Mr Breitschwerdt said that all Mercedes models command much interest in the Middle East.

“The Gulf region is one of our important markets in the world,” he said.

“Obviously, we have very long relationships in the area, very close relationships. We always had very strong operations there.

“Recently, we unveiled that we are creating the Mercedes-Benz Places tower in Dubai, showing how important the market is to us.

“We have many collectors in the area, people who not only use our cars for their daily commute but also collect them, use them as an investment and to be part of Mercedes-Benz heritage. We also serve such customers to make sure they can use those cars forever and ever.”

Tailor-made

The craftsmanship that goes into the S680 Guard's interior was on show at Concours on Savile Row, where Mercedes joined forces with Henry Poole and company, the oldest bespoke tailor on the famous street, and a firm older than the German carmaker itself.

“Obviously, we share a customer base that very much enjoy the best of things on the market and the service that comes with it,” Simon Cundey, managing director of Henry Poole, told The National.

“So, with cars that are beautifully made when you get to certain levels, it's much the same way as with a suit. You’re choosing linings, styling and you’re creating something that very much fits you. With the bespoke car, you start to choose your woods, colour, seating design, and so on.”

Mercedes G-Wagen goes electric - in pictures

Bespoke outfitting is increasingly important in both the automotive and tailoring world, and car manufacturers are focusing much more on adapting models to a customer's individual preferences.

A recent report by McKinsey revealed 71 per cent of car company executives expected vehicle interiors to become more important in the future, while only 38 per cent held the same view about how cars look from the outside.

The McKinsey study predicted that in the very near future car magazines will be more concerned about the ride than the drive – more emphasis will be placed on comfort, fabric quality, entertainment systems and the scope to bespoke – rather than on horsepower and acceleration.

Electric dreams

One niche element of the craze for bespoke in the classic car arena is the trend to replace fossil fuel-driven internal combustion engines with electric ones.

It is a controversial area in the motoring community.

Purists hold the petrol engine in a classic car as sacrosanct, due to its feel to drive and the noise it makes.

On the other hand, modernisers claim that – given the increasing regulations and emissions standards – putting an electric drive train into a classic car is the only way to guarantee it will stay on the road in years to come.

Nonetheless, the growth in specialised conversion companies in recent years is testament to the increasing demand from classic car owners to turn their pride and joy electric.

But in the UK, regulations around converted classics have yet to catch up and policies on how they are registered after being restored and upgraded have not changed since the 1980s, and certainly do not take into account electrification.

It means that even if a classic car has been fitted with an electric drivetrain, it can still be subject to the same rules it was when it had its petrol engine, including when it comes to restrictions such as London's Ultra Low Emissions Zone (Ulez).

In response, the UK government launched a consultative process with the classic car industry, which in the UK is worth £18 billion a year and employs 113,000 people.

“The way we restore and protect classic cars has not kept up with the times and evolving technologies, which is why we are calling for industry and enthusiasts to have their say on how to best protect these British classics for decades to come,” said Transport Secretary Mark Harper.

Be it classic or modern, EV conversions or high-spec bespoke interiors, the automotive industry at the luxury end is adapting to clients' individual needs and tastes. It stands to reason that the road to net zero will mean more classic cars being converted to electric, if they are to survive outside exhibitions and museums.

But likewise, technology and the arrival of AI will enable the world's luxury carmakers to enhance the driving and riding experience like never before, and tailor it to the specifics of an individual's tastes.

In addition, the advent of autonomous driving will naturally place more emphasis on comfort and interior design, meaning opportunities for the bespoke become ever more plentiful.

Updated: May 31, 2024, 7:49 PM