Pope Francis’ Fiat at the Orange County International Auto Show

Pope Francis’ Fiat at the Orange County International Auto Show October 17, 2015


It’s not every day you get to see a car that carried a pope — or at least the same kind of car.

I spent the morning tooling around the Orange County International Auto Show in Anaheim, California, not far from Disneyland. Among the exhibitors was Italian automaker Fiat, currently a subsidiary of American car company Chrysler.

When Pope Francis arrived in Washington, D.C., for his U.S. visit in September, he wasn’t picked up in a stretch limo or an armored SUV. Instead, he left Joint Base Andrews in a black Fiat 500L, with a special license plate that read SCV 1, for Status Civitatis Vaticanae, the Latin for Vatican City State.

And, by the way, the car’s name is perfectly Biblical.

From NPR:

Just look at the name, he said. The word “fiat” appears in the Bible.

It appears in Luke 1:38 after the angel Gabriel tells Mary that she will conceive and give birth to Jesus. Mary responds, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word.”

In Latin, fiat translates roughly into “let it be done,” and for Catholics that line has become known as Mary’s fiat.

Here’s an ABC report on the pontiff’s arrival:

I had a chat with the product specialist on hand, and she said that several car-show attendees had come to the Fiat area, looking for the “popemobile.” It’s probably too early to know if the Vatican’s “fiat” to Fiat means increased sales of the model, which the specialist said the EPA actually classified as a “large” car, even though it doesn’t appear especially big from the outside.

Look up top for my shot of silver model on hand — which has a base MSRP of $19,345 — and here’s what the pope may have seen as he got in the backseat (probably with different-colored upholstery).


This isn’t the first time Fiat has made the Vatican connection.

Late last year, at the Los Angeles Auto Show, I saw an artist reproducing the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel on the inside of the roof of another Fiat 500L. Click here for the whole story from USA Today, and here’s a shot I posted to Instagram at the time, captioned “Detail of Sistine Chapel #FiatMasterpiece painted by Nicola Verlato on a Fiat car roof at The #LAAutoShow.”

Sistine Chapel Fiat

The Fiat wasn’t the only car the pontiff used in the U.S. He also waved to crowds from a modified Jeep Wrangler (also made by Chrysler) with open sides. Here’s a regular one from the show.


It’s quite a change from the days when popes rode inside bulletproof bubbles atop armored vehicles, in the wake of the assassination attempt on now-Saint Pope John Paul II. Early this year, I went to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, for a temporary exhibit by the Petersen Automotive Museum. It included a car built for JPII’s visit to Mexico, which was never used because of the security risk. Click here for the whole story.


The Orange County International Auto Show continues through Sunday, Oct. 18. Click here for details.

Images: Kate O’Hare

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