For the V.I.P. on the Move, An Armored Automobile Is the Safest Kind of Car Insurance

updated 02/28/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/28/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

Ronald Kimball's cars are designed to steer clear of trouble. To the untrained eye, they look like ordinary automobiles. But look again. Those windows are made out of a bulletproof composite of plastic and glass. Fitted with special metals, plastics and fabrics, the body can withstand an armed assault. Even the car's gunports are standard equipment, but because they are hidden near the door armrests, they are not detectable from the outside. As president of Executive Armoring Corp. in San Antonio, Kimball, 38, is the driving force behind the latest vehicles against terrorism: electronically sophisticated armored cars. For the beleaguered South American strongman or Arab oil sheik who wants to arrive alive, Kimball's products are well-protected investments.

His cars have put Kimball on the road to riches. Begun in 1981, Executive Armoring was profitable in 60 days, says its president. Cars are custom-ordered with payment up front, so there was no time lag between investment and return. With a staff of 30 and annual sales of $2 million, the company now produces at least five cars a month. In one week last December, Kimball delivered four Cadillacs, a truck, a Mercedes and two BMW sedans to a single client in the Middle East. Unstable political situations are the company's bread and butter. "Anytime there's more unrest," he notes, "the market increases."

Creating an armored car can take up to three months. At Kimball's manufacturing plant, workers strip down an existing vehicle. Seats and carpeting are removed, and layers of armoring metals are laid in. The overhaul is a weighty enterprise: The car is 1,000 pounds heavier when it leaves the plant. Kimball's charges range from $52,525 to refurbish a standard Chevrolet to $82,350 for a Mercedes-Benz—not including the cost of the car.

Optional features can run up the cost, since Executive Armoring offers extras that would make Agent 007 envious. If frequent getaways are in your future, you might consider a dual ram bumper ($695) to crash through roadblocks, an oil slick system ($750) or a smoke-screen device ($650) to throw pursuers off your trail. For more expensive tastes, there is a remote starter and bomb scan ($1,075), a siren/ intercom system ($950) or, in case of unruly crowds, a device that charges the vehicle with an electric current of up to 70,000 volts ($850) and a system that fires tear gas from all four corners of the car ($1,250).

Most of Kimball's customers are politicians or businessmen south of the border. "The No. 1 buyer is a foreign government," he notes. Three-fourths of the company's sales are in Latin America, the rest in the Middle East. But Kimball expects that the latter market has bigger growth potential. Example: A pair of Syrian brothers, who recently purchased two burgundy-and-gold-colored Cadillacs, want eight more. His clients can be tough customers, though; an Arab recently ordered a Mercedes-Benz, which he plans to attack with high-powered weaponry in the desert. Only if the car survives the assault will he order more. Thus far Executive Armoring has never lost a customer. Observes Kimball, "Some 80 percent of terrorist kidnappings in foreign countries happen when the victim is in a vehicle. So an armored car is the first line of defense."

Kimball is well acquainted with the perils of political unrest. While a student at Brigham Young University, he spent two years in Argentina as a Mormon missionary. Later, for four of his six years with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, he was assistant attaché to the ambassadors in Costa Rica and Ecuador. His early contacts have proved useful in his business, which is financed in part by a silent partner. Kimball, who is married and has six children, worked four years for another San Antonio security and armored car firm that went bankrupt before he started Executive Armoring.

No man to rest on his success, Kimball is making ambushes more thorny all the time. "I want to keep the cars as defensive as I can," explains Kimball, who has "no doubts whatsoever that terrorism is on the increase. I don't want any of my cars used as offensive weapons," he adds. He is currently researching such potential new options as a deafeningly loud sound device and a laser shock system that can be aimed from inside the auto. With Kimball at the wheel, Executive Armoring should never have to worry about competition.

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