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Rolling gunships: Eight vehicles packing firepower

  • Quick on the draw

    Whether it's the Green Hornet’s Black Beauty fitted with pop-up Gatling guns or the hidden .30-calibre Brownings of James Bond's silver Aston Martin DB5, the idea of cars packing firepower has always captured the imagination of movie-goers. However, what of the real-world armed car? Here is a look at eight machines featuring some rather explosive upgrades. (Photo: General Dynamics)

  • 1898 Simms' Motor Scout

    Little more than a four-wheeled frame with a Maxim machine gun affixed to it, the Motor Scout is nonetheless important for being what is considered the first armed motor vehicle. A simple shield made of plate steel provided almost no protection for the driver of the adapted De-Dion Bouton donor vehicle, and the extremely modest horsepower rating of 2¾ made for slow escapes. It was not widely favoured, but British inventor FR Simms took the lessons he learned from his prototype and created a subsequent properly armoured car, much like an early tank. (Photo: National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

  • 1914 Armoured Rolls-Royce

    Initially, Rolls-Royces found use in combat rescuing downed pilots in World War I. Much of the officer class in the Royal Air Force came from the aristocracy, and officer-owned private cars were soon armed and armoured for dangerous rescue operations.

    The armoured Rolls would become a feature of a number of theatres of war, with Lawrence of Arabia calling his nine combat-prepped Royces “more valuable than rubies” in his guerilla campaign against Ottoman forces in the Middle East. Far from the sands of Iraq and Syria, armoured Rolls-Royces were a central part of the Irish Civil War. One named Sliabh na mBan, after a revolutionary song cited around a Tipperary mountain, still survives and is widely believed to have been escorting Irish Republican Army general Michael Collins when he was ambushed and killed in 1922. (Photo: Keystone/Getty Images)

  • 1940s Chevrolet 1½ tonne

    On the other side of the war in the desert were the tough soldiers of the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG). Of these, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel would later say they “caused us more damage than any other British unit of equal strength.”

    The LRDG and similar groups such as the early Special Air Service owed their success in guerrilla tactics to a high level of mobility. While quarter-tonne jeeps were used, the backbone of the small army was the Chevrolet 1½ tonne truck, modified for desert combat. Several different armaments would be used, from anti-tank rifles to anti-aircraft machine guns, and the iconic top-fed Vickers machine-gun. The trucks also carried enough supplies for several weeks, and had an operational range of over 1,000 miles. (Photo: Government of the United Kingdom)

  • 1940 BMW R-75 with sidecar

    Perhaps most famous for the chase scene in 1989’s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the tough, boxer-engined BMW motorcycle played a part in the German Army's World War II successes. With a sidecar-mounted machine gun, it was fast and agile, providing roving suppression fire.

    Later models had the dreaded MG-42, an air-cooled machine gun capable of a high rate of fire. Over 16,000 such BMW motorcycles were built over the course of the war, many of them armed in this fashion; they were present on all fronts, from the frozen steppes in the east to high-speed desert combat with the Afrika corps. (Photo: Galerie Bilderwelt/Getty Images)

  • 1956 Vespa 150 TAP

    At first glance, this comical-looking machine appears to be a Vespa with a bazooka mounted on it. As it happens, that's exactly what it is.

    A spectacularly bad idea, the Vespa TAP (for Troupes Aéroportées) was built in France as a cheap, air-transportable anti-tank solution for French paratroopers. It saw action in the Franco-Algerian War, where two-man teams would scoot into battle aboard the noisy two-strokes, and then set up the recoilless rifle on a tripod. The second scooter carried ammunition, and the bazooka was never meant to be fired unless detached from the scooter (though it seems certain that such a stunt was tried at least once). (Photo: Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)

  • Toyota technicals

    Time magazine memorably called it “The Great Toyota War”. Between 1978 and 1987, Libya fought a series of conflicts in the northern part of Chad. The Libyans and their allies had MiG fighter jets, T-62 tanks and over 8,000 troops. The Chadian fighters had Toyota pickup trucks.

    Outfitting their battered trucks with anti-tank missiles and machine guns, the Chadians overwhelmed the superior firepower of the Libyan forces with speed and numbers. The Toyotas were unstoppable in the sandy conditions, and could attack from multiple sides at once. The first assaults of Libyan positions occurred in January 1987, and in nine months, Col Muammar Gaddafi was signing a ceasefire. (Photo: John Cantlie/Getty Images)

  • Dillon Aero

    The Dillon Aero M134D Gatling gun is one of the most fearsome machine guns ever created, capable of spewing forth 3,000 rounds per minute from its six electrically spun barrels. Most commonly used for suppression fire aboard military helicopters, it can also be easily adapted for use in wheeled vehicles.

    A mount exists for military applications such as the bed of a Humvee (above) or the central section of a Land Rover Defender, but there is also a more stealthy civilian option. Reportedly already in the hands of several VIP clients, Dillon Aero also makes a specially adapted GMC Yukon XL with a hidden turret. Upon deployment, the gun operator emerges from a bisected hatch to discourage (or obliterate) any would-be attacker. (Photo: Dillon Aero)

  • Light Strike Vehicle

    Essentially a desert-specialised vehicle called a sand-rail, the Flyer Advanced Light Strike Vehicle from US defence company General Dynamics is a highly mobile all-terrain runabout that can be transported easily by helicopter or cargo plane. A favourite of US Special Forces, this four-wheel-drive four-seater gives up armour in exchange for agility. Its 150-horsepower 1.9-litre diesel engine gives it a top speed of 85mph.

    Armament is most often a light machine gun, although an anti-tank missile launcher can often be mounted. The tube-steel structure offers little in the way of protection from the elements or the enemy, making this modern armed car not dissimilar from the century-old Simms' Motor Scout of 116 years ago. (Photo: General Dynamics)