Pope Francis in Jeep
Pope Francis uses a retrofitted Jeep Wrangler during his visit to Washington D.C. Wednesday, with other models awaiting him in New York and Philadelphia. Getty Images/Allison Shelley/Stringer

During his U.S. visit, Pope Francis will be spending a lot of time in a fleet of custom "popemobiles," specially outfitted Jeep Wranglers. The Wrangler, which normally tops out at around 100 miles per hour in speed, comes without much of the bling or perks adorning other international leaders’ vehicles, or past popemobiles, including Pope Benedict XVI's, which was encased in bulletproof glass.

Pope Francis arrived in Washington Tuesday, welcomed by President Barack Obama. He is riding among various events in the capital before moving on to New York and then Philadelphia. But his transportation arrived almost a month beforehand, the Vatican said, with a popemobile in each city (plus a reserve) ready and waiting to ferry the leader of the Catholic Church through the throngs of waving fans.

The Vatican and U.S. Secret Service are keeping the exact specs of this new popemobile a secret, but you could say using this Jeep, rather than the Mercedes favored by his predecessor, is another example of the humble image Francis is trying to personify. He admonished the clergy in 2013, soon after his accession, for failing to keep their priorities in order.

“It hurts me when I see a priest or nun with the latest model car; you can’t do this,” he said, as quoted by Reuters. “A car is necessary to 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.”

Pope Francis in Jeep National Mall
Pope Francis salutes the crowd from his popemobile -- a retrofitted Jeep Wrangler -- as he cruises along the National Mall in Washington Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015. Getty Images/Chip Somodevilla/Staff

Previous Popemobiles Could Hit 160 MPH

The Mercedes-Benz Pope Benedict used when he visited the U.S. in 2008 was specially designed to drive 160 mph in the event of an emergency. But Francis' Wrangler would top out around 100 mph normally equipped; the giant pope bubble would no doubt reduce that considerably. The pope's fleet spent nearly a month being customized by the Secret Service, so it's probably safe to say that if something goes down, the pope will be ready to bounce.

Francis used a similar Jeep Wrangler during a trip to Ecuador. He's also traveled in a Kia, Hyundai, Land Rover, Isuzu and, less frequently, a Mercedes Benz during other occasions. Benedict's ride was also equipped for roadway sabotage, with run-flat tires capable of rolling if suddenly deflated at speeds up to 70 mph.

Bulletproof Glass Optional

The popemobile was traditionally an open-topped vehicle until the assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II in 1981. From then on, John Paul and his successor, Benedict, rarely made parade appearances when not surrounded by four sides of bulletproof glass, which doubled as an air purifier in the event of a chemical or biological attack.

Pope John Paul cruising in Popemobile
Pope John Paul II cruises through Rome in a bulletproof popemobile in 2005. Reuters/Tony Gentile DJM/ABP

Pope Francis has steered away from this tradition since his election in 2013. He told an Italian newspaper last year that being sealed off behind thick glass is more like being stuck in a “sardine can.”

“It’s true that anything could happen, but let’s face it, at my age I don’t have much to lose,” he said, to the sound of jaws dropping everywhere. “I know that something could happen to me, but it’s in the hands of God.”

Pope Francis is expected to travel through the U.S. without bulletproof windows on his sides, though the bottom of the car is believed to be fitted with blast-proof technology in the event of a bomb in the road. That’s still more secure than the topless Hyundai he frequently uses throughout Vatican City. And, hey, at least he’s not tooling around in his own used car, for once.

Maybe most important of all, window-free cruising also makes for a quick and easy pizza delivery:

Popemobile, Meet The Beast

The pope's ride also stands in contrast to Obama's presidential limousine, also known as the Beast, which the POTUS uses at home and on official trips around the world. The Beast looks like a Cadillac limo, but it's got the underpinnings of a GM Kodiak truck, and is armored like a tank.

The nickname fits.

Presidential Beast massive doors
President Barack Obama steps out from behind bulletproof doors that have the thickness of a Boeing 757 airliner. Reuters/Evert-Jan Daniels/Pool

A steel plate is fitted to the vehicle’s undercarriage to protect against bombs and grenades, for instance, and the front of the car is equipped with tear gas cannons and a night vision camera. Don’t forget doors that are as thick as the cabin to a 757 jet and bulletproof windows that don’t open, and its own oxygen supply to protect the president in the event of a chemical attack.

Among the other features (keep in mind that many of the most essential features remain classified):

  • The trunk contains a cache of blood matching Obama’s blood type. It also is fitted with firefighting equipment, oxygen tanks and other supplies that could mean life or death for the leader of the free world.
  • The Beast reportedly weighs 7.5 tons, thanks mainly to the 8-inch armored plates designed to stop an improvised explosive device.
  • It’s slow, reportedly maxing out at around 60 mph. Obama will be in New York for the U.N. General Assembly meeting at the same time as the pope. If any New Yorkers hear cars screeching in the middle of the night, that’s Pope Francis dusting the Beast in a drag race.
  • It’s a gas guzzler. The Beast gets roughly eight miles per gallon of diesel gas, which has a low volatility and a reduced risk of explosion.
  • The puncture-proof Goodyear run-flat tires were specially designed by General Motors. If the run-flat tires fail, the car can make a brief getaway on its steel rims. Seriously.