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The new Popemobile represents a significant trade-up for His Holiness, who has been riding in the back of the customised G-Class that was originally built for his predecessor Pope John Paul II in 2002.

Daimler chairman and head of Mercedes-Benz Cars, Dr Dieter Zetsche, handed over the keys to leader of the Catholic Church, continuing a partnership between the German car maker and the Vatican that spans nine decades.

“It is an honour for Mercedes-Benz to be accompanying His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI on his future journeys with our new Popemobile”, Zetsche said at the handover ceremony in Rome.

“For more than 80 years now, popes have been able to rely on the quality, safety and comfort of our Mercedes-Benz vehicles.”

Taking nine months to go from concept to production, the new M-Class Popemobile features a more spacious dome with a new throne, along with larger bulletproof glass panels and illumination in the roof lining to improve onlookers’ view of the Pope.

The dome is now easier to enter and exit and boasts a taller internal standing height despite the overall vehicle height being lower to aid its ease of transportation by air. Like the trade-in model, the new M-Class Popemobile is finished in diamond white paint and features the Pope’s coat of arms inside and out.

The first Mercedes-Benz used by a Pope was a Nurburg 460 Pullman Saloon, which was provided for Pope Pius XI in 1930. Other models charged with the task of transporting the Holy Father over the years have included a 300d Landaulet Cabriolet, a 600 Pulman Landaulet and a 300 SEL.

Retired Popemobiles are displayed at the Vatican and in Mercedes-Benz’s museum in Stuttgart.