CENTERVILLE — Celebrities are the newest customers for a Utah company that builds armored vehicles for corporate executives and government officials around the world.
Windows that can withstand a direct hit from an AK-47 assault rifle, run-flat tires and a combination of ballistic steel and synthetics that encase passengers in a bulletproof safety cocoon are part of the upgrades International Armoring Corp. builds into about 225 vehicles every year.
CEO Mark Burton said those cars have gone to more than 40 heads of state around the world and executives from multinational corporations. The armored cars are designed to look no different from their stock origins and often are models chosen to blend in with the traffic around them — like a Toyota Landcruiser he points to that is waiting to be shipped to Egypt, where it will protect crews in an international news organization.
But two of the more than a dozen cars currently in the company's Centerville shop would not blend in on city streets and are not for a government official. One is a sleek, 470 horsepower Aston Martin DB9 worth about $200,000; the other is a Mercedes on steroids — a half-million-dollar V-12 Maybach 62.
Both belong to well-known American celebrities, a category of customer Burton said has been growing during the past several years.
Protecting the wealthy and powerful from threat of assassinations, kidnappings and random acts of violence has been the backbone of the privately owned business, which has customized more than 7,000 cars since its launch in 1993.
What kinds of threats are celebrities concerned about? The answer to that question rests between the customer and their checkbook. "They have a desire to be protected," Burton said. "If they perceive a threat, we can provide protection." He said privacy prevented him from revealing their identities.
Each customer decides how much protection they want to pay for. Work on the two exotic vehicles in Burton's care will cost their owners $90,000-$95,000 apiece.
Burton said his work comes with a two-year warranty, and that he hasn't lost a single customer of the 250 vehicles his company built that have been attacked by everything from assault weapons to roadside bombs.
Vanity may play into some of the celebrity work.
In Brazil, for example, having an armored car has become trendy, "like having a certain brand of jeans," Burton said. More than 100 customizing shops there are armoring cars to the level they can withstand high-powered handgun attacks. "We pulled out of Brazil because it had just become a commodity."
International Armoring Corp. is the only custom armoring company operating in some other countries, where cars are shipped from the company's facilities in Hong Kong, Great Britain, South Africa and the Philippines. International Armoring moved its world headquarters from Ogden to Centerville Jan. 1.
Time will tell whether the celebrity work will give clients lifesaving protection or a new kind of bragging rights in the tabloids.