Leyland Trucks spent six weeks on Popemobile

The late Pope John Paul II in the Leyland Trucks vehicle in 1982
The late Pope John Paul II in the Leyland Trucks vehicle in 1982

In the wake of John Paul II being declared a saint on Sunday, Leyland’s British Commercial Vehicle Museum is offering visitors the chance to stand in the same spot as the late Pope when he visited the UK in 1982.

The ‘Popemobile’ vehicle, which ensured the safe transportation of Pope John Paul II when he visited Britain for his five-day Pastoral Trip between May and June in 1982, is on show at the King Street museum.

Museum manager Keith Moyes said: “The Popemobile is a popular exhibit at the museum, both with school children and adults.

“Visitors are amazed that they can stand in the actual spot in the Popemobile vehicle where Pope John Paul II stood in 1982.

“It is wonderful news that he has been declared a Saint and we hope more people will now visit the museum to experience the vehicle.”

Popemobile, or Papamobile in Italian, is an informal name given to the specially designed motor vehicles used by the Catholic Pope during outdoor public appearances.

The Popemobile was purpose built by Leyland Trucks, and designed by Ogle Design of Letchworth.

Their brief was that the Pope should be clearly visible to very large crowds of up to one million plus.

The Popemobile weighs 24 tons, it has bullet proof glass and under-floor armour and the body design incorporates low ballistic material, which will repel small firearms.

The Leyland Constructor Chassis was chosen for it’s renown ‘off-road’ capability and acceleration, if an emergency arose.

Roger Bullough, a volunteer at the museum, worked at British Leyland and oversaw the build process of the Popemobile in the Leyland factory.

He said: “The whole project was completed within six weeks and to a very tight schedule with workers at Leyland Trucks working 24 hours a day for seven days a week.

“The cost of the project, to the best of my knowledge, is unknown.

“There were many people involved in the project and they came from different areas of the industry, including pattern makers, fibre glass moulders, upholsters, decals makers and the design team.

“The vehicles were operated by the Home Office Special Branch during the Pope’s four day visit but were transported around the United Kingdom to the Pope’s venues by Leyland Trucks.”

There were actually two Popemobiles constructed on truck chassis, that were built to cover the logistics of the Pope’s visit to the UK in 1982.

The Leyland museum houses the best preserved Popemobile as part of its popular public historic vehicle collection, while the other has had a very checkered history, travelling to Africa, and being sold and resold, and repaired.

Pope John Paul II’s visit to the United Kingdom in 1982 was the first visit to that country by a reigning pope.

He visited nine cities, and held five large open air masses in London, Coventry,Manchester, Glasgow, and Cardiff.

He died in April 2005, aged 84.