Jeepney Popemobiles


This page picks up after the story of The First Popemobile, a CJ-3B used by Pope Paul VI in Bombay, 1964 (and a Jeepster Commando in Colombia in 1968.)

Pope John Paul II in the Philippines, 1981

During the February 1981 visit of Pope John Paul II to the Philippines, one of his popemobiles was a classic Filipino high-hood jeepney. (See also Jeepneys of the Philippines on CJ3B.info.)

John Paul II was head of the Roman Catholic Church from 1978-2005. From Poland, he was the first non-Italian pope since 1523, and became the most-travelled pope ever, making 104 foreign trips including two to the Philippines, in 1981 and 1995.

Baguio CityThis great photo taken by an unknown photographer in Baguio City, Philippines during the visit of 17-21 February 1981, shows John Paul II riding in a customized example of the classic Filipino jeepney.

Flying the Filipino and Vatican flags (1) and with the words Mabuhay ang Papa ("Long live the Pope") painted below the windshield, this was the second popemobile to be based on the high-hood flatfender Jeep design. (The first was the 1964 CJ-3B popemobile in India.)

Papal Politics

The biggest news story of the 1981 visit was the pontiff's statement about the importance of human rights, made in a country which was suffering under the Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos dictatorship.

Hugely popular among Filipinos, John Paul II was welcomed by massive crowds wherever he went. The Marcos family, facing public unrest after years of corruption and human rights abuses, sought to position themselves alongside the beloved pope. But His Holiness declined to stay at the ostentatious palace which Imelda had had built expressly for his visit. And in a speech at Malacañang, to Ferdinand Marcos' face, he made a pointed reference to the state of human rights in the Philippines.

Of course it was not just in the Philippines that there was unrest. In the Pope's native Poland, Lech Walesa had founded the national union group Solidarity, which called for workers' rights. Years later, Walesa would declare that John Paul II helped to topple the Berlin Wall. And many believe that his words in the Philippines hastened the end of the Marcos dynasty.(2)

Photo by Art TibaldoThe last day of John Paul II's visit began in Baguio City with a mass for indigenous tribes, after which the pontiff travelled back to the capital Manila, for farewell ceremonies at the airport.(3)

Here's another exceptional photo of the jeepney popemobile on that day in Baguio, taken by Art Tibaldo and courtesy of Images Philippines.

See also a wider view taken seconds earlier (110K JPEG).

John Paul IIThe vehicle was provided by Sarao Motors, the largest builder of jeepneys in the Philippines at the time. Although the high-hood design is popular, jeepneys are typically built from scratch. This photo taken at the Sarao plant suggests that this popemobile was a customization of an existing small jeepney, and when the picture was taken some details such as the text on the windshield had not yet been changed.

John Paul IIThe only rear view I have seen of the Sarao popemobile comes from a scrapbook page (130K JPEG) posted online. It reveals John Paul II's coat of arms painted on the rear passenger door, which is a standard jeepney feature.

The End of a Popemobile Era

Vatican museum FiatA month after returning to the Vatican from the Philippines, John Paul II was shot four times by a would-be assassin, while riding in this open Fiat Campagnola in St. Peter's Square. The Pontiff lost a lot of blood but survived, and the event is seen in the photo posted behind the vehicle, on display in the Vatican Museum. Photo by Jebulon.(4)

The attacker was sentenced to life in prison, but the motive was never clearly established. One theory is that it was a KGB plot to assassinate the Pope because of his support of Poland's Solidarity movement.(5)

1980 MercedesThe May 1981 assassination attempt had an immediate effect on papal security, both at the Vatican and on foreign tours. In motorcades around the world, His Holiness would now be behind glass. A Mercedes-Benz 230G with a removable plastic canopy for bad weather, which had been on loan from Daimler for a 1980 tour of Germany, was refitted with bulletproof glass. Finished in mother-of-pearl paint with gold accents, and a white wool and leather interior, it was presented to the Vatican in 1982.(6)

Range RoverFor John Paul II's summer 1982 tour of the United Kingdom, two Range Rovers were converted with bulletproof canopies and armor plating. One of these also came back to the Vatican to join the papal fleet, and was reportedly still in occasional use in 2013.(7)

Philippines 1995His Holiness returned to the Philippines in 1995, and the locally built popemobile this time was a heavily-armored four-wheel-drive truck produced by Francisco Motors, another jeepney manufacturer. As of 2011 it was still used for processions by churches in the Philippines.(8)

An unusual touch for a popemobile, is John Paul II's large coat of arms on the doors, featuring a "Marian Cross" (with "M" representing the Virgin Mary.)

Toyota 1976Gone were the days of popes riding in open vehicles such as a Toyota Land Cruiser, seen in use by Paul VI in St. Peter's square in 1976.(9) This Land Cruiser, also in the Vatican Museum, is often referred to as the first of the "Jeep-type" popemobiles, but readers of CJ3B.info know that in fact the first two were actually Jeeps, a decade earlier.

Back to Basics, 2013

Pope Francis was quoted in 2013 as saying it pained him to see priests driving flashy cars, and told them to pick something simpler. "A car is necessary to do a lot of work, but please, choose a more humble one. If you like the fancy one, just think about how many children are dying of hunger in the world," he said. The Pope's car of choice for moving around the walled Vatican City was reported to be a compact Ford Focus.(10)

MercedesIn 2014, Pope Francis told a Spanish newspaper that he prefers not to use a bulletproof popemobile despite the dangers because it is a glass "sardine can" that walls him off from people. "It's true that anything could happen, but let's face it, at my age I don't have much to lose," he told Barcelona newspaper La Vanguardia.(11)

Francis is often seen in an open Mercedes G500 Cabriolet. "SCV" on the license plate is an abbreviation of the Latin name for Vatican City, Status Civitatis Vaticanae.

BrazilAs of 2014, the latest Mercedes popemobile was a sleek, armored M-class hybrid (150K JPEG). But when possible Francis seemed to like to use the older G-wagen. As seen here in Rio de Janeiro in July 2013, there is a removable bulletproof roof, and in fact the vehicle can be completely enclosed if necessary.(12 )

Another Jeepney!

Manila, 2015A new jeepney-inspired popemobile was one of several locally-built vehicles used on Pope Francis' January 2015 visit to the Philippines. Six million people saw him arrive to celebrate Mass in a Manila park, in this popemobile built on a brand-new jeepney chassis with a diesel engine and five-speed manual transmission. It carried the papal coat of arms on the hood and sides, but surprisingly also had on its roof a large advertisement for the armored vehicle manufacturer, ECTK. (13) Photo courtesy AFP.

Pope Francis in Ecuador, 2015

Quito, EcuadorFor his 3-hour parade through Quito, Ecuador on 6 July 2015, Francis rode in this converted Wrangler Unlimited. No word on whether this vehicle will be used again by the Pope; he appears to have been in a Toyota Land Cruiser during other stops on his Latin American visit in July.

Update: Washington DC, 2015

It finally happened in 2015: the Pope was back in a Jeep-brand popemobile, for the first time since the 1960s, when the concept of the open popemobile was first introduced by a Mahindra CJ-3B in India. (It's too bad that the historic First Popemobile has been missed in most popemobie histories, such as "Higher horsepower" in The Washington Post.)

The Toledo Blade had announced in August that Pope Francis will ride in a Toledo-built Jeep Wrangler when he visits Washington, New York, and Philadelphia in September 2015. The Blade lamented that the "Pope Motor Car Co." (whose automobile plant in Toledo was sold to John North Willys in 1907 and later became the Willys Jeep factory) was no longer around to build the popemobile.

MotorcadeIt was a pretty impressive motorcade that carried Pope Francis through Washington on Wednesday, 23 September, after leaving a private audience with the President at the White House. The Wrangler is just visible in the center of this photo (courtesy AP.)

Security on this American visit is tighter than on any previous papal trip, although Francis is open to the crowds on both sides in this popemobile, with bulletproof glass only above him.

Wrangler side viewSimilar modified Jeep Wranglers will be used for processions throughout this trip to the United States, although the Pope's current favorite vehicle for appearances back in Vatican City is a Hyundai Santa Fe, according to the UK's Daily Mail.

The only decorations on the white Jeep are the Vatican City flags and Pope Francis' coat of arms. (Photo courtesy EPA.)

FiatWhen he is not greeting crowds, Francis has been calling attention to the need for fighting climate change, by travelling in a tiny Fiat 500L, the Jeep's cousin in the Fiat Chrysler family. The Fiat was dwarfed by its security vehicles as it travelled from the airport, with the Pope's window open (photo courtesy WUSA 9.)

President Obama traveled in a separate motorcade in "The Beast", his 7.5-ton bomb-proof General Motors Cadillac with eight-inch-thick armor plating on its doors.

Wrangler front viewOne Jeep for each of Washington, New York, and Philadelphia, plus a reserve, were in the hands of the Secret Service for a month prior to the visit, according to the International Business Times. They are not identical to the Jeep used by Francis two months ago in Ecuador (below). The Jeep logo has been removed from the front of this Wrangler (photo courtesy EPA.)

See some photos from Philadelphia in The Popemobile at Night on CJ3B.info.

Update: Colombia, 2017

Pope Francis may have ended up wishing he was back in a Jeep Wrangler popemobile, on his tour of Colombia, 6-11 September 2017. Although Willys Jeeps are practically a national symbol of the country, General Motors got the Vatican nod this time to provide the transportation for the pontiff's public appearances, so the Jeepmobile of Francis' visits to the Americas in 2015 was consigned to history.

Surely the Wrangler used in Ecuador in 2015 could have been brought up to Bogota, but maybe someone thought that the sight of the Pope riding in a Jeep would drive the Colombian crowds into too much of a frenzy? That did seem to happen back in 1968 when Paul VI appeared in a Jeepster Commando near Bogota. (See a photo of this second popemobile in The First Popemobile on CJ3B.info.)

Chevy Traverse GM opted to modify a Chevrolet Traverse SUV by cutting down the back and adding a square canopy that looked like the bulletproof popemobiles of the past. Possibly there was a Vatican decision to go bulletproof front and back for the Colombia tour, coming on the heels of a fragile peace agreement between the government and the FARC rebels.

But the big problem with the Traverse was that the sloping windshield put the front glass panel only inches in front of the Pope's handrail, rather than leaving a comfortable space as seen on the Wrangler in 2015.

Crowds Predictably, the crowds were large and ecstatic, and in Cartagena on the last day of his visit, when the Chevy was forced to stop suddenly, Francis struck his head on the panel (14), leaving his face cut and bruised (40K JPEG). A sad footnote in popemobile history!

Update: Chile, 2018

Wrangler There was at least some good news from Chile regarding the controversial 15-18 January 2018 visit of Pope Francis to that country. According to the trip's website, two Jeep Wrangler popemobiles built in the U.S. in 2015 were shipped to Santiago to be used by the pontiff (as well as a Toyota pickup truck version, brought from nearby Bolivia to the northern city of Iquique.)

There was no statement of whether the return to the Wrangler was due to the injury sustained in the new Chevy in Colombia or a gesture toward sustainability by re-using vehicles. But it was revealed that Francis did not want to re-use the popemobile built in Chile in 1987, now in a museum. That vehicle is fully glass enclosed and armored, rather than open and accessible like the Wrangler. It also does not have UV protective glass, now felt to be necessary for a summer visit.

On the final day of the Chilean visit, a mounted policewoman's horse was frightened by the Toyota pope-truck and threw her to the pavement, knocking her unconscious briefly. Francis stopped the motorcade to get out and comfort her before an ambulance arrived. See a video at The Independent.

Thanks to Federico Cavedo, and to the photographers. -- Derek Redmond

See the Mahindra CJ-3B First Popemobile used by Pope Paul VI in Bombay, 1964.

See also photos of Pope Francis in The Popemobile at Night on CJ3B.info.


  1. Flag of Vatican City at Wikipedia.
  2. 'One can never justify any violation of rights': John Paul II stands up to a dictator by Barbara Marchadesch, at GMA News.
  3. Pope John Paul II's visits to PH at Inquirer.net.
  4. Photo by Jebulon, 21 August 2013, under Creative Commons.
  5. Pope John Paul II assassination attempt at Wikipedia.
  6. 1980 Mercedes-Benz 230 G popemobile at boldride.com.
  7. Popemobile turned 'Saint' car By John Gunnell at Old Cars Weekly.
  8. Revered popemobile to make the rounds of PHL churches by J.M. Tuazon, GMA News.
  9. Photo copyright L'Osservatore Romano, 1976. RNS photo courtesy Vatican Museum.
  10. What would Jesus drive? Pope tells priests to buy "humble" cars, 6 July 2013, at Reuters.
  11. Francis ditches bulletproof popemobile, says 'at my age I don't have much to lose'by Laura Smith-Spark, 14 June 2014, at CNN.com.
  12. Photo by Victor R. Caivano, Associated Press, 23 July 2013.
  13. Tale of four popemobiles, 21 January 2015, at Inquirer.net.
  14. On last day in Colombia, Pope Francis carries on at LA Times.

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Last updated 22 January 2018 by Derek Redmond redmond@cj3b.info
All content not credited and previously copyright, is copyright Derek Redmond