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2nd-hand Popemobile, also used by Neil Armstrong, for sale

Pontiff-tastic bubbletop limo carried many Apollo 'nauts

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A remarkable car which was used by Pope Paul VI during visits to New York and Bogotá and which carried Apollo moon astronauts including Neil Armstrong is to go on sale later this week.

The modified stretch Lincoln Continental was produced by Chicago custom firm Lehmann-Peterson in 1965 at the special request of the Vatican to convey Pope Paul VI through New York to address the United Nations on World Peace. It is a cool 13 feet four inches wide [correction - that's the wheelbase - ed] and 21 feet long, and originally had various special features including "exterior step plates and handrails for security, additional interior seating for aides and prelates, a raised seat for the Pontiff, supplemental interior lighting, public address system [and] auxiliary power from a bank of seven batteries".

The mighty Pontiff-mobile apparently performed flawlessly during the Papal visit to New York. It was then lent to the city of Chicago, where it was used during parades for visiting celebrities and dignitaries (though the bubble top and special Pope chair were removed).

Then in 1968 the Vatican called the car back into service at short notice for the Pope's visit to Bogotá for the 39th Eucharistic Congress, causing something of a panic as the special papal fittings had been damaged by a roof collapse while in storage in Chicago. However a crash effort saw the holy roller restored to Pontiffical configuration and modified to deal with the 8,600-foot altitude of Bogotá: the latter issue required "extensive engine modifications, aviation gasoline from the Colombian Air Force and a comprehensive kit of tools and spare parts". Again the massive car performed flawlessly.

Back in Chicago the Continental achieved perhaps even greater secular glory as it was used to carry astronauts from the Apollo 8, 11, 13 and 15 missions. These included first man on the Moon Neil Armstrong and (twice) Jim Lovell, who served as Command Module Pilot on Apollo 8 and (most famously) as commander on the ill-fated, almost disastrous Apollo 13 mission.

Since retirement from service as a special-uses vehicle, the car has been kept in a variety of collections. It goes under the hammer with auctioneers Bonhams in California tomorrow, with all of its special pope gear included, and is expected to fetch between $250-300k.

Details are available from Bonhams here, and Gizmag has a good photo collection here. ®

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