James Bond, eat your heart out. You never had a chance to drive the ultimate four-wheeled, space-age, armor-plated warmobile, complete with front and rear machine guns, tear gas and foam ejectors, smoke screens, strobe blinders, sonic decapacitators, bomb scanners and night-driving television.
The latest in the business executive's antiterrorist automobile, here on a quickie exhibit for reporters last weekend, is actually a plain old '76 Chevy Nova that has been encrusted with almost every conceivable kind of armament and defensive gimmick. On the outside, it looks much like any other car on the road, except that the tires seem a bit large, the windows are all tinted and there's a small antenna on the rear hood.
But inside, the dashboard looks like a Boeing 747 control panel, with all the gizmos and doodads and blinking lights. Then there is the 12-guage riot shotgun electronically locked into the front floor, the gun ports in the doors, the door holster for a handgun, electronic scanners, a camera that rises up in the rear windown deck to photograph suspicious cars, an emergency oxygen system and dozens of other devices.
The price: $365,000 for the full customized job, plus the cost of the basic car.
Its designer, 34-year-old Canadian Valentine Elin, calls it a "tactical reaction vehicle." Elin, who runs a private security firm called Counterforce in Montreal says an upsurge in terrorism against corporate executives in the last few years has created a new market for vehicles like his. That is why he has taken his latest ware on the road, hawking his "demo model" on a tour from Florida back to his home base in Montreal.
He won't say who his customers are, but he claims to have sold about a half dozen of the cars so far: some in Latin America, on in Italy, and a couple in the Middle East.
"Everyone writes about this as a big James Bond thing," Elin complained during a stop here Sunday, "and I understand that, but it's not so simple or so glamorous." All an armored car can do is "buy time so the driver and occupants can get out of the ambush," he insists. That's one reason why the car sports a fuel-injected, turbo-charged 820-horsepower engine that can do better than 150 miles per hour.
"You can't sit there and do battle with tanks and bazookas," he adds, saying that the key to security is to have an adequate intelligence operation to be able to find out what types of attacks opponents or terrorists are planning and try to get as much warning as possible.
Elin, speaking with a vaguely European accent, claims that possible targets for assassination or kidnaping are at their most vulnerable when riding in their cars or when getting into them. That's why his car not only has a remote-controlled ignition that can be used at a range of more than one mile, but also a remote control device that automatically unlocks the doors as the driver approaches. "That's so no time is wasted [by the owner] standing still unlocking the door," Elin says. The ignition doesn't start until after a scanner has checked for bombs or other devices that might have been planted on the car in the owner's absence.
For customers who worry about unruly crowds, the car has a "pain field generator." That's a kind of sound-and-light show with one difference: the invisible lights and inaudible sound cause headaches, nausea and dizziness to anyone who comes within about 15 yards of the car. If that isn't adequate, customers can also buy what Elin calls "electrified fencing" which sends a pulsating, 7,000-volt charge through the outer body so no one will tamper with the expensive paint job.
As might be expected, Elin's past is as murky and odd as his business -- and he likes to keep it that way. He says he was born in Romania, migrated with his mother to Israel when he was three, lived there until he was nine and then moved to Montreal. He says he spent some time in California and then, after permanently dropping out of school, somehow linked up with a man whose name he won't divulge but who says he was associated with the famous "Wild Bill" Donovan, head of the wartime Office of Strategic Services, forerunner of th CIA.
It was under that man's tutelage that Elin says he first learned his trade, working on bugging, break-ins and other covert actions. He says his new hobby as a custom car manufacturer and salesman is only a small portion of his business. He won't disclose his income, saying only, "I do very well."
Most of his work, he says, is "operational," which he defines as assessing security needs and providing equipment and training for companies and countries. He says he takes 50 percent "up front and in cash" and the rest on completion of the contract.
Elin says he has often turned down offers from certain prospective customers for political and ethical reasons. "I have turned down many countries," he said."One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. Sometimes the government is the real terrorist." He says he has also rejected offers from organized crime and narcotics dealers. "I like to sleep soundly at night."