London, Jul 5: Two auto-rickshaws from India have joined the fleet of luxury Popmobiles that have been used by the Vatican to drive the Pope around to date.
Piaggio, the moped maker that also manufactures motor rickshaws at a factory in India, presented the specially adapted vehicles to Benedict XVI last month. The vehicles are the first Popemobiles to be made in India, and the first three-wheelers in the pontiff's collection. Ravi Chopra, the managing director of Piaggio's Indian subsidiary, said that the tuk-tuks had been specially adapted to "suit the Pope's needs and to suit a person of his status."
He revealed that the rickshaws had been fitted with leather seats, white wheels, white canvas roofs, and white doors inscribed with the Vatican insignia.
Chopra, however, acknowledged the fact that the open-sided vehicles were less likely to be used by the pontiff in public because they were not bullet-proof.
"I don't think he's going to use them on the roads. He's got a fleet of cars. But I'm sure he'll use them somewhere, maybe in the garden or the courtyard," Times Online quoted Chopra as saying.
The vehicles were presented to the Pope during an audience in the Vatican to mark the 60th anniversary of the production of the Piaggio Ape, on whose design the three-wheeler is based.
According to Vatican officials, the first Popemobile made for the purpose of driving the pontiff around was Nurberg 460 Pullman limousine, which was made for Pius XI by Mercedes-Benz in 1930.
The late John Paul II used a modified Ford Transit on his visit to Britain in 1979.
He commissioned the first the first closed-in, bullet-proof car after surviving an assassination attempt in St Peter's Square in May 1981, while travelling in a Fiat Campagnola.
Benedict XVI at present uses a custom-built two-door Mercedes ML 430 that was donated to the Vatican in 2002.