How Armored Cars Work

History of Armored Vehicles

A cutaway view of a 20th century model of a tank designed by Leonardo da Vinci.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The idea of an armored vehicle predates the invention of the internal combustion engine, it seems. In fact, none other than the multi-talented Leonardo da Vinci made sketches of an armored war vehicle in 1485. It consisted of a circular platform on four wheels with light cannons arranged facing out. These were covered with a cone-shaped shell of panels with a turret at the top for a lookout. Underneath were the cranks and gears to make the wheels turn and propel this proto-tank forward.

And that was the problem -- the cranks and gears wouldn't work as they were drawn. The mechanism, as da Vinci sketched it out, would end up turning the wheels in opposite directions.


All the wheels on the next armored car, however, and more than 400 years later, turned properly. Rolls-Royce Ghosts were armored by the company for use in World War I, with the first heavy-duty Ghosts seeing service in August 1914. They were used by the Royal Naval Air Service in Great Britain, and came equipped with gun turrets.

Not long after, no less a romantic figure than Colonel T.E. Lawrence -- Lawrence of Arabia to you and me -- put a fleet of nine armored Rolls-Royces to use in his campaigns in the Middle East. He went so far as to call them "more valuable than rubies" for fighting in harsh desert climates [source: HistoryNet].

Armored cars have come a long way in the past century. Next, let's look at what it takes to create a modern armored personal protection vehicle.