(RNS) The Vatican has denied that a luxurious Lancia limousinepresented to Pope John Paul II from "the world of Italian labor" carrieda price tag of $1.6 million.

The Vatican was clearly embarrassed by reports that the pope hadaccepted so expensive a gift only two days before the Christmas Evestart of a Holy Year that he has asked Roman Catholics to celebrate withsimplicity and aid to the poor.

Paolo Fresco, president of Fiat, owners of Lancia, and managingdirector Paolo Cantarella presented the prototype of Lancia's newDialogos line to the pope Wednesday (Dec. 22) as "a tribute from theworld of Italian labor."

Quattroruote, a monthly auto magazine, reported that the bulletprooflimousine, which has a six-cylinder, three-liter engine and 24 values,cost an estimated 3 billion lire, or about $1.6 million.

Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls called the figure "erroneousinformation that must be corrected." He added that if the Vatican hadbeen told in advance of the published cost, the limousine "might nothave been accepted."

"I don't know the actual cost of this automobile," he said.

But, he said, "the automobile in question is a prototype of a seriesthat will be produced soon. To attribute to the prototype donated (tothe pope) the costs of research for the entire line is erroneous andmisleading."

The spokesman did not deny, however, that the limousine has beencustomized to fit the pope's needs.

Seventeen feet long and weighing three metric tons, it has a blackmetallic finish, a top that slides forward to allow the pope to wave tocrowds along his routes and a low gear that allows it to move at awalking pace.

There are two seats in front but only one passenger seat, especiallydesigned for the pope's comfort.