The Vatican was clearly embarrassed by reports that the pope had accepted so expensive a gift only two days before the Christmas Eve start of a Holy Year that he has asked Roman Catholics to celebrate with simplicity and aid to the poor.
Paolo Fresco, president of Fiat, owners of Lancia, and managing director Paolo Cantarella presented the prototype of Lancia's new Dialogos line to the pope Wednesday (Dec. 22) as "a tribute from the world of Italian labor."
Quattroruote, a monthly auto magazine, reported that the bulletproof limousine, 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 "erroneous information that must be corrected." He added that if the Vatican had been told in advance of the published cost, the limousine "might not have 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 series that will be produced soon. To attribute to the prototype donated (to the pope) the costs of research for the entire line is erroneous and misleading."
The spokesman did not deny, however, that the limousine has been customized to fit the pope's needs.
Seventeen feet long and weighing three metric tons, it has a black metallic finish, a top that slides forward to allow the pope to wave to crowds along his routes and a low gear that allows it to move at a walking pace.
There are two seats in front but only one passenger seat, especially designed for the pope's comfort.