At $60,000, a bulletproof Mercedes 450 SEL may seem a bit steep for the average executive.
"But they get a lot cheaper when someone's shooting at you," explains Melvyn Miller, president of the Protective Materials Co., purveyors to the world of lite italics - cars and curtains, brief cases and bomb containers, athletic supporters and vests.
Miller is convinced that the armor market is booming in this country. And the company has responded with guarded chic: not only Mercedes literally built like small tanks, but also armored Burberry trench coats and armored golf jackets.
"You'd be amazed," says Miller, "how many people get shot on golf courses. Where else would you look for rich executives?"
Even as he deadpans like a Borscht Belt comedian. Miller is demonstrating some of the James Bond-ish features of this fortified Mercedes.
"These are your arming devices," he says, flipping plastic covers away from toggle switches that start red lights flashing on a control panel. "Hit that button and you'll fire tear gas and a smoke screen. This switch gives you an anti-bootlegging turn. Those bells and whistles tell you that you're about to do a 180 in one car length at 70 or 80 miles an hour. This turns on some intense lights that will blind anybody behind you for 30 seconds."
Another feature is the car's master override switch, which is designed to foil treasonous chauffeurs. This item allows the passenger ("principal" in armor lingo) to control the car despite the driver's machinations to go directly from the Fiat factory to the secret lair of the Red Brigade.
Faithful drivers may be rewarded with a $3,000 NI-Tec nightscore, which allows James to navigate after dusk without headlights.
"We sell about 325 of these a year," explains Miller. "It used to be that all of our sales were foreign, but now we're getting more domestic inquiries. As terrorism gets more overt, more of our business is from worried executives."
Miller is in town to domonstrate his wares for embassy executives. He meets with them on a private basis, making sure that prospective customers and the press never meet.
"You understand," he says, "that these cars are sold to people who for some reason think they are not liked, which may or may not be true. Part of this business is keeping secret how well-protected you are. This car, for instance, is armored to withstand military 7.62 mm NATO projectiles. That's pretty serious stuff."
The windshield is made of plate glass several inches thick - an expensive target for pebbles thrown by dump trucks.
"We get some interesting warranty claims," Miller says. "Cars come into our regional centers with bullet holes through the glass or machetes stuck through the truck, and the owners say, "It never went out of the garage.' We don't ask questions. These people are paying plenty for the service they get."
Although cars are Protective Materials' most expensive product, the company may be best known for the 50,000 policeman's vests it turns out every year. Not to mention the PA 500 air crewman's vest so popular in Vietnam, often used in helicopters as a seat cushion.
"You wear that vest," says Miller, "and you can walk up to a machine-gunner hitting you with 30mm armor-piercing bullets, take the gun out of his hands and beat the S- out of the guy."
War, says Miller, is the great ally of the armormaker, "but I was just talking with a retired Army guy the other day, and he was saying that there's never been a time when so much armor was being bought by nonmilitary personnel. We're opening a plant in Italy, for instance. We can't keep up with the demand there. We're actually making armored knee pads for executives over there. Then again, I don't want to tell you how many vests we've sold in the Middle East."
Miller is also convinced that the armor market is booming in this country. Thus the company's armored golf jackets and armored London Fog and Burberry trench coats, for that well-protected look on the go and on the linus.
"More people should use them," says Miller, who claims that one of the company's two-pound models was in George Wallace's car truck the day he was shot.
"Every single time I get on a plane going out of this country, I wear a vest," Miller says.
"Of course, I may be a little different than the guy going to Paris to see the sights. I figure if I'm in a country where they want to see the president of my company, that's a good enough reason to wear armor."