Who besides James Bond would want to drive a car that can melt bullets at point-blank range, extinguish firebombs and race off on punctured tires at 60 mph?
In Italy, where terrorism and kidnapping are as much a daily diet as the piatto di journo , the answer seems to be a lot of people - enough anyway to bring high sales figures and an international clientele to a family of body-repair artisans in this alpine city near Turin.
Fontauto, founded in 1966 by Atillio Fontan, boasts that with 180 employes it is the largest specialty garage of its kind, and with a monthly production schedule of 85 vehicles, easily the busiest.
Its specialty is bullet-proofing, or, in the jargon of the house, automotive security. "We meet individually with each customer to discuss his particular needs," said head salesman Roberto Savoini. "Then, if necessary, we give demonstrations with different firearms so he may choose the thickness of the steel."
No car short of a baby Fiat 127 is too small or modest for the security treatment. Although the firm holds exclusive rights for Rolls-Royce, the most plentiful sights around the gaarage are low-profile Fiat sedans and Alphettas. The shift to inconspicuousness has a cause: It is estimated that in Italy last year there was a kidnapping every six days.
"Right now, kidnapping prevention is the primary concern of our clients." And because many kidnappings, like that of former premier Aldo Moro, occur in the city and depend on meticulous timing, the prime defense also happens to be the simplest. Sit back and wait for help.
"Generally, if the target can survive the first few minutes in the safety of his own car, the danger passes," Savoini said. Fontauto craftsmen make this possible with almost Machiavellian imagination.
The car first is stripped of interior moldings and refitted with a stitched shell of "secret formula" steel alloy. The chassis reputedly with withstand a grenade blast. Windows and windshields are replaced by layered glass 33 millimeters thick, capable of absorbing and actually melting a .357-caliber magnum bullet fired from arm's length.
Door panels conceal horizontal bolt locks and dual steel plates designed to "trap" bullets and eliminate ricochets. Dunlap compartmentalized tires are used. To compensate for the added weight, from 300 to 700 pounds, brakes and shocks are reinforced.
After the basics come Fontauto's gadgets - the outside intercom that allows passengers to communicate in safety, the siren and an anti-fire system composed of spray valves in the motor, trunk and each wheel basin. The latter accessory was recently added to the limousine of the U.S. ambassador in Paris.
Curiously, the most effective device during attacks had proved to be the siren. "It's louder than a police siren and has a psychological effect on assailants," Savoini said. "When they hear it, they run."
For more aggressive motorists Fontauto can provide a means of counter-attack. This consists of dozens of nozzles that spray tear gas, acids or chemical solutions of the customer's choosing.
Other options include homing devices, trunk safes and pure-oxygen climate control. The company prefers not to discuss some of the extras, saying only that it will meet any request.
The finished product, which takes 90 days, is almost indistinguishable from any other car of its make, as long as the windows are up.
But safety is costly. Armor-plating for a mere Volkswagen bug, with standard gadgets, costs 15 million lire (about $17,500).
According to the salesman, it's worth it. "Our success rate is 100 percent. Which is to say, nobody has ever been kidnapped or killed in one of our vehicles."
Guarantees? A skeptic paid 30 million lire to have his Range Rover fortified and demanded a demonstration. Savoini brought him a loaded .38 and the man fired two rounds into the door of his Rover. He nodded at the damages, paid 2 million more for repairs and left a satisfied customer.