A St. Paddy's Day reminiscence of the papal ride
Edward Lapham is executive editor of Automotive News.
As a tourist, I've visited the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter's Square and many of the other attractions in and around the Vatican that we saw on TV news reports last week.
I've never had an audience with the pope.
But as an automotive reporter, I connected with the so-called Irish Popemobile that shuttled Pope John Paul II around the Emerald Isle in 1979. With the new pope's election coming just a few days before St. Patrick's Day, it seems like a good time to share the story.
In October 1979, just after the pope's three-day visit, I was in Ireland and went to Henry Ford & Son Ltd. in Cork. It was Henry Ford's first overseas venture and had been assembling Ford vehicles since 1919.
Ford built the Irish Popemobile. And it wasn't just one of those small armored limousines used since the papal assassination attempts in the 1980s.
By comparison, the Irish Popemobile was huge. It was a converted Ford Transit van with 15 seats -- enough to carry His Holiness plus 14 Irish dignitaries. At the front of the tall, oddly shaped cabin was a viewing platform where the Pontiff could see and be seen by cheering Irish crowds.
When the pope left Ireland, the big yellow customized vehicle went back to Ford in Cork, which is where I saw it.
But the story doesn't end there.
In 1984, Henry Ford & Son stopped assembling vehicles.
According to published reports, the Popemobile sat in the Dublin Wax Museum for three decades until being acquired by a Dublin businessman with a tour business. He refurbished the Popemobile and now rents it out for parties, tours or whatever.
The biggest affront? He put it on a Mercedes chassis.
Is nothing sacred anymore?
You can reach Edward Lapham at email@example.com.