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A popemobile is a custom vehicle used by the Catholic Pope during public appearances.

It's the progeny of the antiquated sedia gestatoria, a ceremonial throne on which popes were carried and designed to allow him to be more visible when greeting large crowds.

The sedia gestatoria of Pope Pius VII, shown in an exhibition at the Palace of Versailles Image Credit: Wikipedia

Popemobiles come in various designs, some light, other as heavy — the biggest weighing 24 tonnes — and able to withstand small-arms fire. Some are open air. Some allow him to sit, while others are designed to accommodate him standing.

Others have armouring and glass cover. The custom-built Mercedes M-Class popemobile is reportedly fitted with 2-inch-thick armour plating, blast-proof underbelly and bullet-proof glass.

It allows the pope to be seen in full as he is slowly driven through crowds. Pope Francis once called it "a glass sardine can".

Usage of the popemobile depends upon the level of security needed, distance, speed of travel, and the pope's preferences.

But the popemobiles with bullet-proof glass is a fairly recent phenomenon, after the 1981 assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II.

For Pope Francis, it's all about frugality over pomp, and prefers the practical over the flashy. He has been spotted driving around the Vatican in a 1984 Renault 4.

Speaking about the desire not to have bulletproof glass on his vehicles, Pope Francis said it is because it is like a “sardine can” that walls him off from people.

A Spanish newspaper quoted the pontiff as saying: "It’s true that anything could happen, but let’s face it, at my age, I don’t have much to lose."

Pope Francis reportedly expressed a desire not to have bulletproof glass on his vehicles, because it is a glass “sardine can” that walls him off from people. Image Credit: Shutterstock/Fotos593

SVC

Usually, the vehicle registration plates of Vatican City all begin with the letters "SCV", from the Latin Status Civitatis Vaticanae ("Vatican City State"), followed by the vehicle fleet number.

The registration plate for the Ford Focus currently used by Pope Francis is "SCV 00919". In the past, the popemobile has typically used registration plate "SCV 1", but plates "SCV 2" to "SCV 9" have also been used.

Pope Francis waves from the Popemobile as he is driven from Jose Marti international airport to Havana's downtown during his visit on September 19, 2015. Image Credit: AFP

After he was elected in 2013, he decided to live in the Vatican's Casa Santa Marta guest house rather than the papal apartments.

He made specific requests for modest vehicles, or “popemobiles”, even if some car makers insist on giving him fancy vehicles.

Lamborghini for Pope

In 2014, Harley-Davidson gave him a Dyna Super Glide, with about a $22,000 resale value, according to a New York Times report.

After getting the Pope's blessing, the bike was auctioned off for $327,000, along with a signed leather jacket that went for $77,000. The proceeds went to the Vatican's hostel and soup kitchen.

In 2017, on the fourth year of papacy, he got gifted a $200,000 Lamborghini.

When Pope Francis was given a Lamborghini Huracan by the Italian supercar manufacturer, he blessed and signed if then auctioned it off for charity. Image Credit: PA

He did not keep it.

When he got the special-edition Huracán in white with gold trim, Pope Francis blessed it and sent it to be auctioned off for charity, with some of the money going to help Iraqis fleeing Daesh and to sex trafficking victims in Africa.

This 400th and final unit of the Ferrari Enzo was gifted to John Paul II by Ferrari in a rare Rosso Scuderia colour, with a unique bare carbon-fibre spoiler. It was auctioned off in 2005, John Paul II's successor, Benedict XVI, received a cheque with the proceeds to be donated to charity. Image Credit: RM Sotheby’s

The latest so-called "popemobile" added to the Vatican's fleet of vehicles, however, is a Hyundai, marking a shift from the higher-priced Mercedes Benz that has been used by prior popes.

File: Pope Francis, right, walks toward his "popemobile" as he leaves his general audience in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican on June 3, 2015. Image Credit: AFP

Who is Pope Francis?

Francis is the first Jesuit pope, the first from the Americas, the first from the Southern Hemisphere, and the first pope from outside Europe since the Syrian Gregory III, who reigned in the 8th century.

Pope Francis waves to people from his popemobile in Havana, Cuba on September 19, 2015. Image Credit: AP

Pope Francis (Latin: Franciscus; Italian: Francesco; Spanish: Francisco; born Jorge Mario Bergoglio; [b] December 17, 1936) is the head of the Catholic Church and sovereign of the Vatican City State.

Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Bergoglio was ordained a Catholic priest in 1969, and from 1973 to 1979 was Argentina's provincial superior of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits).

He became the Archbishop of Buenos Aires in 1998 and was created a cardinal in 2001 by Pope John Paul II.

He led the Argentine Church during the December 2001 riots in Argentina. The administrations of Néstor Kirchner and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner considered him a political rival.

Following the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI on 28 February 2013, a papal conclave elected Bergoglio as his successor on 13 March. He chose Francis as his papal name in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi.