Let’s say you live in a place where powerful criminal organizations threaten your safety. If you have the money, what do you drive every day? An armored BMW 7-Series? Better buy two — downtime on German flagships is very real, and I doubt your local BMW dealership has enough armored loaner cars to go around. What about an armored Chevrolet Suburban? I won’t lie, that’s a great choice, but it does have several downsides. The first is having to run a Suburban. Tires and fuel cost a fortune, plus every instance of parking on a tight street is an opportunity to re-enact the Ever Given getting stuck in the Suez Canal. The second is that an armored Suburban is a little bit conspicuous. A bit like wearing a ten-gallon hat on a European vacation — you’re going to attract attention. Fortunately, Mexico has a solution. How about a nice, sensible armored Volkswagen Jetta?
Volkswagen Jettas (and Boras) have a bit of a history in Mexico. VW’s been making the compact sedans in Puebla since the first-generation model, so it shouldn’t be surprising that these small cars enjoy healthy popularity south of the border. One great security strategy is to blend in – dress like a local and you probably won’t be messed with. Somewhere along the line, someone had the genius thought to pair stealth with security, and the first armored Jetta was born.
Most armored Jettas are kitted out to Level III armored specification. But what does that mean exactly? Well, Level III in Mexico is roughly equivalent to the EU’s B4 specification or America’s NIJ III-A standard. A Level III armored Jetta is good for stopping bullets fired from handguns, such as 9 mm bullets and .357 Magnum rounds. If you want to stop a .223 Remington from a Colt AR-15 or Ruger Mini-14, a 7.62x39mm bullet from an SKS, or a 12 gauge slug, you’ll need to step things up to Level IV. Truthfully, Level III is good enough for most close-up events like assaults and carjackings. I mean come on, what kind of idiot would use an SKS for a carjacking? The close-quarter wieldiness just isn’t there.
So what goes into Level III armoring? Well, you get Kevlar and Aramid door inserts and special ballistics-resistant polycarbonate windows. Not massively heavy stuff, but there is a downside here. Bullet-resistant windows feature massive frit bands, or black bands around the edges. They’re subtle, but easy to spot if you know what you’re looking for — that’s not ideal if you want to blend in.
Thankfully, there’s an easy and cheap way of partially masking the frit – just tint the windows. Oh, and because criminals might shoot out the tires, run-flats are sometimes equipped on armored Jettas.
Let’s take a closer look at this white Mk6 Jetta from security experts Seguridad Blindaje. Upon first glance, this humble compact sedan looks ready to be reasonably reliable efficient transportation. It’s obviously well-equipped judging by the 17-inch alloy wheels, but nobody’s going to think it’s a rich person’s car, as you could pick up a loaded early Mk6 Jetta for around $10,000 all day every day, even in this inflated market.
This little Volkswagen looks as inconspicuous as a lamp post, right until you get up-close. Then you notice the big black frit band around the windscreen, and suddenly you realize that you’re in the presence of a seriously protected vehicle. Thankfully, compromises on the inside appear to be minimal. The transparent part of the windscreen starts roughly where it meets the dashboard, door card fitment looks really good, and the whole job almost looks factory.
However, if literal “factory” is what you’re looking for, you’ll have to go a bit older. In 2011, Volkswagen de México released the Bora Protect, a Mk5 Jetta with the two-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine and DSG dual-clutch gearbox from the GLI that was armored to NIJ III-A specification at the Volkswagen plant in Puebla. According to automotive publication Al Volante, the Bora Protect also got reinforced front suspension to cope with the weight of the armor and a full factory warranty. While a price tag of $833,424 Mexican dollars in 2011, or the equivalent of $70,000, may sound steep, it’s actually on the cheap end of the factory armored conversion market.
So, if you desire the security of a lightly armored vehicle but want to blend in, skip the grandeur of a Suburban for a Volkswagen Jetta. While I’m not entirely sure how happy the 1.5-liter turbocharged engine in the latest model would be with a full load of passengers and the weight of armor, there’s a solid chance an armored Volkswagen Jetta would still be quicker than Jason’s Yugo. On the other hand, if you’re a die-hard watercooled Volkswagen fan, set your calendar to 2036. I have a feeling that a stock Bora Protect would be a hell of a flex at any VW meet.
Update: a wonderful reader named Santiago reached out to us all the way from Colombia with amazing firsthand info on armoring cars. Take it away, Santiago!
What can be armoured?Anything. If it runs and drives, it can be armoured. Mazda 3? Its been done. Chevy Spark? Sure. Nissan Micra? We’ve seen a fair few. Of course, those aren’t the norm but they do indeed exist. The cars that usually see armouring are large body-on-frame SUVs (ie. Chevy Tahoe, Land Cruiser Prado) and luxury sedans (ie. 5/7 Series BMW, E-Class Merc, etc)How much is it? Does it take long to get it done?It depends on who does it for you, and how common the work you are doing is. Armouring a Prado is cheaper than a Tahoe, due to simple economies of scale. The Prado is more common, and they already got the glass molds ready and they might even have everything needed already in inventory. (Yes, the market is large enough to justify having inventories). From personal experience, I’ve had 3 cars armoured: 2 BMWs and a Chevy Tahoe (I got pictures of the process somewhere in my PC, I couldn’t find them yet thought). For a Level II you are looking at roughly 12,500 to 15,000 USD, and for level III-a, its usually between 17,000 USD & 20,000 USD (Note that pricing varies between companies, makes and models, as well as the very fluctuating exchange rates). This includes new glass all around, including the sunroof which remains operational in most cases, aramids on all metal panels (fire wall and doors, some times floor and roof). In some cases mechanical upgrades are also done, to improve performance and reinforce the suspension, note that this isn’t always necessary.What impact does it have on the vehicle?Depends on the car that you have it done on. On larger SUVs, the impact is minimal, compared to smaller cars, as usually level III-a weights about 250 kg, which is around the weight of a full load of passengers. Level II is usually around 200 kg IIRC. Besides performance losses, you can usually expect to loose functionality of the rear windows, and for the front ones to only roll down a few inches. In visual terms, you usually cant really tell the car is armoured unless you know what you are looking for, like the distinctive tinting and the metal frames around the windows holding the plastic and glass sandwich together.What’s the long term impact?Armouring requires maintenance, and if not cared properly will degrade over time. In humid environments it might also start developing mold in the Kevlar (aramids). You can also expect the glass to start suffering delamination if the glass is low quality.Legal restrictions?In Colombia at least, you can armour anything to level II and only need to report it to the “DMV” so the ownership card can be updated. Level III-a and above requires a permit which justifies why the armored vehicle is required.What impact does it actually have on safety?Depends on the person. But usually its a very good deterrent against most petty street crime in south America. Most car jackers and muggers carry knifes and sparkplug ceramics, those that carry guns usually don’t pack anything larger than a .22 revolver or a 9mm pistol. Armouring even at its lowest level can usually handle at least 2 to 3 shots on the same area of the glass, but usually what you are expected to do is to be fleeing by the time they fire the second shot.One final thing, I saw in the article that you mentioned run flat tires, this isn’t quite accurate. What we actually do in most cases is fit plastic rings inside the tires themselves, to make sure they stay in shape even if the tire loses all of its pressure.
It sounds like the typical run-flat tech for armored vehicles is a lot like the Michelin PAX system, a piece of run-flat tire technology so insane that we ought to have a separate story on it sometime. Thanks for reaching out, Santiago! It’s so cool to hear firsthand experience of armoring.
Hat-tip to Santiago Rocha!