We’ve all seen the tall, black limousine that ferries President Obama between the White House and his various appearances, many of which seem adorably focused on picking up surprise carry-out orders from DC-area burger joints, but if you pay close attention you will notice the true size of the vehicle nicknamed “The Beast.”
It’s tremendous proportions are most obvious in photos that show Secret Service agents holding the door or walking alongside the limo, which is rumored to be based on a Chevrolet Kodiak/GMC Topkick heavy duty truck chassis and drivetrain. The limo’s roof towers over the heads of many of those agents, and the bank vault thick doors are clearly evident whenever POTUS enters or egresses.
But did you know there was another truck-based limousine that also exclusively serving members of the world’s ruling class? Yes you say? Stop lying. No you say? Read on…
The Chevy Suburban of the 1980’s was big, brash and undeniably American in virtually every way, so much so in fact, that up-armored versions could be seen in the motorcade of President Ronald Reagan and in the driveway of Rambo himself, 80’s icon Sylvester Stallone. While armoring standard commercial vehicles in the era was yet to become the mega-industry it is today, one company saw a niche for their reworked version of the standard American SUV.
Stutz, the company best known for creating America’s first sports car with the Bearcat of 1912, went out of business in 1935 but was resurrected in 1968 as Stutz Motor Car of America and set to work creating custom, high-dollar cars with novel, neo-classical designs. Despite corporate offices in the United States, fabrication actually took place in Cavallermaggiore, Italy outside of Turin. It was stated that the region was chosen for it’s link to history, an area who’s craftsmen once supplied the soldiers of medieval Italy with their armor.
Once you understand that their very first paying customer was Elvis Presley, you can begin to imagine the degree of customization, personalization, and ostentation available with these cars. Costing more than any of their contemporaries (the Royale limo would run you $285,000 in 1984!) Stutz quickly became the favored marque of Saudi Royals. Having cornered the lucrative market for open-air limos that could arguably best the Mercedes Grand 600 Pullman limo in terms of flash, presence, and cost, Stutz took the next logical step and began building armored staff cars to accompany the Royale limousines in motorcades and processions.
This new offering was called the Defender, and later Gazelle, and was not much more than an armored Chevy Suburban with a roof panel that could slide back on rails to reveal a pop-up 50-calibre machine gun. The Gazelle was far from the lean and graceful animal it’s name implied, but it served it’s purpose and became popular enough that 46 future versions were built, each featuring a full convertible roof, a functional trunk lid added over the former storage area in the rear, a combination roll bar/grab handle across the passenger compartment, and fitted with a large chrome grille in the style of their sedans and limos. Renamed the Bear, these were built exclusively for the Saudi and Moroccan Royal families. Stutz evolved the concept further still into a true “sedan” that retained the trunk concept and was essentially a Bear with a roof.
Pictured is a Stutz Bear that was spotted in 2008 in Saudi Arabia. It appears to be a decommissioned Royal Guard vehicle as the stepboards have been removed and the overall condition appears in need of a serious detail job. Does any of that make this any less desirable to lovers of “the stranger the better” type vehicles like myself? Nope, not even a little bit. I’d proudly drive this thing every day just for the stares, endless questions about it’s origins, and uniqueness of it all.
This story originally appeared on MotoArigato.com