Pope Francis' popemobile unlike any other

The history of the popemobile 01:57

WASHINGTON - The pope began his U.S. visit not in a fancy limo, but in a modest Fiat. He's driven to humility.

For centuries, popes were carried on the shoulders of the faithful. Pope Paul VI complained that the swaying motion made him seasick.

It was Pius XII who added motorized vehicles to the papal fleet -- in 1930, Mercedes-Benz gave him a converted limousine. A Lincoln Continental was used for the first papal visit to the U.S. in 1965.

But after the assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II in 1981, everything changed.

Andreas Widmer was a member of the Swiss Guard which protects the pope.

"The immediate reaction was to close. They put the armored vehicle, glass around the popemobile and everything," Widmer told CBS News.

Pope Francis arrives in U.S. 07:30

Pope John Paul didn't care for the name "popemobile," he thought it "undignified." But soon wherever the pope went, you'd find a popemobile. And popes have often chaffed at the security measures.

Pope Francis has called the popemobile "a glass sardine can."

"The security for the pope needs to to optimize his security while not hindering his ministry. Because if you don't let the pope do his ministry, he's not the pope anymore," Widmer says.

So the popemobile Francis will use on this trip is much like another he used in Ecuador earlier this year -- a specially-built Jeep Wrangler -- open and unarmored.

That might keep security officials up at night, but not the pope. He told an interviewer "it's true that anything could happen." But added, "Let's face it, at my age, I don't have much to lose."

  • Bill Plante

    Bill Plante is a CBS News Senior White House Correspondent