In 1899, British inventor F.R. Simms designed and built the Motor War Car, the first gasoline-powered “armored car.” It featured Vickers armor that was 6mm thick, more than enough to protect the passengers inside, but its 16-horsepower Cannstatt Daimler engine meant it only had a top speed of 9 miles per hour. It was also as far from luxurious as one could get.

Over the years, armored cars for the military have improved in design and comfort, but the word “luxury” still doesn’t likely spring to mind. For a long time there has been the tradeoff of comfort for security when traveling in less than perfectly safe locations.

However, San Antonio-based Texas Armoring Corporation (TAC) offers a solution that is truly the best of both worlds. The company is the designer and manufacturer of lightweight, transparent and opaque armor for automotive as well as architectural applications. Founded in 1975, the company has manufactured “bulletproof”—technically bullet-resistant—armor to protect distinguished clients throughout the world.

“The TAC client portfolio boasts prominent heads of state, politicians, religious leaders, business executives, diplomats, celebrities, athletes and royal families,” said Lawrence Kosub, sales and export compliance manager at TAC.

Discreet Protection

The company doesn’t manufacture armored cars, but rather provides armor for a variety of luxury automobiles from sedans to SUVs. The idea is to help those VIPs riding inside to blend in rather than stand out. While other companies may produce over-armored SUVs that would look right home in the latest Mad Max movie, the TAC approach is to hide in plain sight.

“The appearance of a military/SWAT vehicle is definitely meant to intimidate,” Kosub said. “A flat-black paint finish, red and blue strobes, high-intensity light bars and big all-terrain tires would scare most people. For passenger vehicles, you want the illusion of an everyday vehicle driving down the street. Most of our clients don’t want to draw attention, and this gives them protection in a low-profile solution. If people know you’re in an armored vehicle, you can become a target.”

The other part of the equation is that when “it” hits the fan, it is best not to stick around. Movies and TV shows may suggest that armed bodyguards can shoot it out with would-be assassins or kidnappers, but the best strategy is to get out of harm’s way. Thus TAC provides protection, but at the same time the goal isn’t to transform a Mercedes into a tank that is ready for action against ISIS. “The purpose of armoring civilian passenger vehicles is to buy you those extra precious seconds to escape from a dangerous situation,” Kosub added.

He told of how one of the company’s vehicles was attacked in West Africa. The armor was able to protect the driver and passengers inside, and through quick actions the client escaped unharmed. Kosub summed it up simply enough: “We have never had anyone killed in one of our vehicles.”

That isn’t to say that TAC’s vehicles can’t take a hit or two from small arms fire. In November of 2014, company CEO R. Trent Kimball showed that he trusts TAC’s work with his life. As a now-infamous YouTube demonstrated, Kimball sat in the driver’s seat of a Mercedes-Benz SUV as 12 rounds from an AK-47 were fired at the windshield, and the CEO barely flinched.

Ballistic Armor

Currently, TAC offers four levels of ballistic protection to meet the needs of its customers. This ranges from low-level handgun protection to ultra-high-level armor-piercing rifle protection. The lower-level armor is often sold to clients in the United States and Canada, while the higher level of protection is commonly desired by clients in Latin America, West Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

“We use different types of armor depending on the area of the vehicle and desired protection level,” explained Kosub. “This includes specially formulated ballistic glass, lightweight hardened ballistic steel, and various composites.”

He added that this armor is essentially hidden so that to pedestrians on the street or drivers in other cars it wouldn’t be clear if there was added protection or not. “Most of our business consists of armoring civilian passenger units, and the majority of the public would never know the difference if one of our vehicles drove past them on the road,” Kosub emphasized. “We have seen a big increase in domestic sales, and we expect it to continue to grow.”

The company provides armor to luxury vehicles and thus can’t provide the level of protection offered in an M1 Abrams tank or even a Bradley Fighting Vehicle. Armor equals weight, and too much of it will make any car impossible to maneuver. In the end, it all comes back to what Kosub explained: buying seconds so that the driver can react and escape from an attack.

“At the end of the day there is only so much you can do with a typical SUV,” Kosub said. “We get requests all the time for vehicles that can withstand an attack from an RPG—that is just silly. You would need to have a real military vehicle for that level of protection.

“These vehicles are not meant to stick around and take punishment, but rather buy you extra time to get out of a dangerous situation. Although we use the lightest armor in the industry and beef up suspension and braking systems, you will lose some acceleration and handling of the vehicle,” Kosub added. “The higher you go in protection, the more weight you will add to the vehicle and the more taxing it will be on the performance.”

Most people likely won’t find themselves in a war zone or in serious harm’s way, but some armor can go a long way to ensure peace of mind. The fact that this protection is provided in a luxurious automobile probably doesn’t hurt either—who wants to travel just in style when you can travel in style and absolutely security at the same time?

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