First, you have to have a suitable vehicle to armor. Most armored cars are built to customer specifications, so a company like Alpine Armoring will buy from a dealership or a fleet service. The vehicle will be brought to the shop and stripped of absolutely everything -- seats, carpet, headliner, door panels -- everything.
Then the armoring begins. The armor, which in most cases is high-hardness ballistic steel, is applied like a jigsaw puzzle all over the car, including underneath. There's a small overlap with each piece, as gaps are not good in any armored car. "Think of it as a cocoon," says Ron Leffler, project manager at Alpine Armoring. "If you were to shoot the car from any angle, it would not get through." That includes the firewall, the tailgate and even the battery being armored. The factory glass is replaced with custom glass anywhere from 1 to 3 inches (2.5 to 7.6 centimeters) thick.
There are different levels of armoring, depending on the type of ballistic the customer wants to stop. Lighter armor doesn't add as much weight, but it only stops handguns. The heaviest armor really weighs a vehicle down, but it can also stop a sniper rifle.
When all the materials are overlapped, then the interior goes back in and the panels go back on. The idea is to keep the vehicle as original-looking and inconspicuous as possible, says Leffler. "Our first goal is to be the only armored vehicle in a row of cars, but you're unable to tell. Our second goal is that if an attack occurred, you'd survive the attack. And our third goal is to be able to get out of the area and back to safety."
The process is quick to describe, and painstaking to complete. Robert Pazderka, owner of The Armored Group LLC, says it can take a few weeks to convert a vehicle with a lower level of armoring. The more heavily armored vehicles can take several months to complete.
Keep in mind that the armor adds several thousand of pounds, so brakes, shocks, and sometimes even the engine have to be modified to haul all that weight around. Also, things like rear side curtain airbags have to be removed to install the armor. That means the car's computer has to be reprogrammed to forget that it ever had rear side curtain airbags; otherwise, that annoying little light will keep popping up on the dashboard.
Besides the ubiquitous Brinks trucks parked outside the bank, there are a few other famous armored cars out there. Keep reading to find out what goes into protecting world leaders (and fictional characters, too).