October 31, 2005 What would you drive if you knew that the bad guys were coming after you? For many wealthy businessmen across the planet, assassination and kidnap are real possibilities. It’s why the American military built the Smartruck and Smartruck III, and why Labock built the Rhino Runner. Now there’s a new vehicle targeting this niche, designed to transport VIPs in luxury and safety both on- and off-road. The Combat T-98 is the fastest armoured 4WD in the world, and was built from the ground up to be the most capable non-military armoured luxury vehicle in the world. The 8.1 litre 340 bhp Vortec V8 can push the T-98 along at over 180 km/h, and in addition to sumptuous leather and woodgrain fittings, you can order almost any level of active safety feature, from gun ports to a full roof ring to carry a machine gun. In the protection area, you can specify an additional layer of ceramic armouring between the double steel layer monocoque chassis. Even the electric windows are 50mm thick and capable of stopping an armour-piercing bullet . Prices start at US$138,000 for the base model, and you can spend an extra US$100,000 just improving the grade of armour to anti-tank level. If the security of the occupants is paramount, this little baby will ensure they reach their destination in comfort, regardless of whom or what they encounter en route.
“The project began in 1998,” says Dmitri Parfenov, owner of the Combat group. “It was a simple concept – to produce the best non-Military armoured vehicle in the world.”
The St Petersberg-based Combat company is a long time manufacturer of armoured vehicles for the Russian military, armoured car, bank and security industries.
“We began producing armoured vehicles initially for government use,” says Parfenov. “Traditionally this has been done by using regular vehicles and adding armour plating and bulletproof glass because there has been no choice.”
“But this results in an inferior vehicle as every part of the standard vehicle is designed for the original weight. You can’t fully protect the passengers because you are just inserting armour in the most logical places. It is far from a perfect job and the resulting vehicle is always a compromise because it cannot perform like it did originally, and the suspension is always a compromise and so the handling of the vehicle is terrible.
“In 1998 we considered the marketplace and decided that we would build a vehicle from the ground upwards that would offer proper armouring because it was designed that way – not just to put armour in a few obvious places and leave a vulnerable vehicle where it couldn’t be armoured properly. The idea was to produce a vehicle wholistically designed to perform properly when it is fully armoured and that vehicle eventually became the T-98.
“In 2000 the first prototype was completed and we started manufacturing in 2003 for specific customer orders. These vehicles are not produced on a production line because it is not our company’s main business – they are hand-built to perform a specialised task and to perform in fully-configured specification.
“Our company makes armoured vehicles for banks and we also we do engineering work for the military and produce some light armoured vehicles for the military and we make prototypes for other companies and set up the manufacturing process for them.
“Now we manufacture the T-98 in several different styles, as both a hard top design and a utility version, and we have four levels of armour which we fit to each.
“The Combat T-98 is still produced to customer order only. This year we have produced just 20 units and all of them were for the personal use of VIPs. In 2006 we already have 60 orders for the utility so we will increase production next year.
“We have sold vehicles into the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Estonia and now to USA.
“Our customers for the T98 are usually very wealthy business people and they are fitted out with luxury interiors and full armouring. The utility is finding a market with customs, security, police elite specialty military units and tends to be built to different level of specification altogether – a durable, workinginterior, diesel engine , with gun ports and roof gun ring the extra heavy duty suspension.”
Prices start at around US$138,000 for the standard luxury vehicle with the basic level of protection which includes specifically being able to stop a 357 Magnum. Though the word basic is used to describe the package, it’s far from basic with multiple airbags, ABS, dual-zone climate control, cruise control, a computerised driver information centre and a custom leather interior with power-operated seating with eight different adjustments, posotion memory and heated seats. There’s all the expected luxury entertainment features including CD changer, and … well, everything you could want. Unless you’re a President. The Presidential interior adds another US$36,000 and we can only imagine that’s much better again.
Of course, you’d never have the Presidential interior with the lowest level of armouring, and the costs rise steeply as you move from stopping a relatively harmless Magnum and move into anti-anti-tank territory.
The next step is H.Pro level of protection, which will stop bullets from 7.62 calibre Kalashnikov’s and costs US$168,000, with the third tier costing US$217,000 and the full-on highest B7-level of armoured protection costing US$247,000 before further optional extras are added.
These prices are all based on the utility version with a 400 bhp GM Vortec 8100 V8 engine, though any performance level required can be fitted, with a 320bhp Duramax diesel V8 for an additional US$7,200, or you can have a tyre-screeching 550bhp Vortec engine for an extra US$14,400. The Passenger Wagon costs an extra US$6,000 over the utility and you can order a long wheelbase version (wheelbase 3630 mm) for an extra US$11,500.
The list of extras goes on and reading the specs, you get the impression that this is a very special vehicle. Buy a T-98 with the lot and the armour plating includes a special version of the monocoque chassis with the double steel sandwiching a ceramic layer. The tyres are naturally run-flat tyres which means they can’t be rendered unusable by bullets. The windows of the car are 50mm thick – that’s the length of a box of matches – and they work with a quiet and reassuring hiss and can stop an armour-piercing bullet.
Amazingly, a T-98 with the lot weighs more than 5000kg, yet handles like a car half that weight, capably tackling water, snow, rugged terrain and the bad guys and whatever they can throw at it.
That such a vehicle exists is remarkable in its own right.