Shaq’s size 12s
The Continental HSR/HDR tires standard on new Ford F-550 commercial trucks are pretty big hunks of rubber, approaching waist-high at 32 inches in diameter and some 60 lbs each.
But they look comically tiny sitting underneath the massive police-blue armoured personnel carrier (APC) I’m staring down, kinda like Shaquille O’Neal with a size 12 shoe on instead of his usual 22s.
“That one’s still got the stock tires on it, not ours,” explains Philip Daskal, vice-president of international sales for INKAS Armored Vehicle Manufacturing, makers of the truck I’m looking over. “I’ll send you a photo of one with the right tires.” (That’s it, at right.)
We’re behind INKAS’ headquarters-slash-assembly facility in Toronto, in the lot where they park just-completed cars before shipping them out all over the world. There are more than two dozen armoured vehicles back here, from discreet black stock-appearing Toyota Camrys to hulking Cadillac Escalades and Mercedes-Benz G63 limousines. The APC dwarfs them all.
“Of course,” I reply. But the visual drives home how absolutely huge this truck is. It makes heavy-duty truck tires look like shopping cart wheels. Which in turn gets across this point: INKAS Armored Vehicles doesn’t mess around.
INKAS’ armored personnel carrier (APC), which is, believe it or not, even bigger than the LAPV described above
In an industry rife with competition, INKAS doesn’t try to undercut rivals’ prices, they beat them out in quality. They don’t just go big, they go smart, constantly innovating and using the most advanced new armouring technologies. They have, as a result, built up a world-class reputation and a very long list of clients. That’s right—the largest armoured car maker in North America is based right here in Canada.
The bullet-proofing process
INKAS is, perhaps surprisingly, not the only major armoured car manufacturer in Canada, or even in the Greater Toronto area. While you might not go so far as to call us a global armoured car hub, more of these companies call Canada home than you might expect.
Streit Manufacturing, which has some 18 production facilities around the world, is based just an hour north of Toronto, where they were founded in the ‘90s. Closer to the city there’s Magna-owned Terradyne Armored Vehicles, founded 2011, and Conquest, who make the Knight XV, a luxury variant of Terradyne’s LAPV.
But none of the hometown competition’s Canadian facilities churn out as many vehicles as INKAS does—the 200 employees at their 200,000 sq.-ft. Toronto shop average 45 to 50 per month, says Daskal, ten times as much as they did just seven years ago.
And they make them fast.
“I’d say 80 percent of our clients needed their cars yesterday,” Daskal says. While roughly a third of their customers are private individuals – CEOs, athletes and celebrities – the majority are police forces, government officials or ambassadors in places like Africa or the Middle East who will be almost guaranteed to test the bullet-stopping power of INKAS’ vehicles during regular use.
The armouring process INKAS has mastered so efficiently involves, in the case of production vehicles, stripping the interior of the vehicle out; reinforcing the entire “perimeter” with steel plating and bulletproof glass; refitting the interior to OEM spec; and finally adding run-flat technology to the wheels and tires.
Door hinges and suspension components are also beefed up, since the armouring – more specifically the ballistic glass, which often weighs more than the steel – can increase the vehicle’s curb weight by as much as a third, Daskal explains during our tour of the facility.
We stop near what appears to be a stock Toyota Camry, and he gets me to open the door—it feels like it’s got the weight of a vault door. Our vehicles may be tough, Daskal says, “but they don’t look like a tank, and they don’t feel like you’re driving a tank.”
Not far away is a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van that’s been similarly fitted to withstand, if it has to, a barrage of AK47 rounds, but is much better equipped to simply outrun an assault thanks the use of a new extremely light armour (that costs about 16 times as much as usual).
The inside of the Sprinter is replete with cream-coloured leather and real wood trim, all cut and sewn and finished in-house.
While many armoured car makers do military-grade armouring and security features – rival Terradyne’s vehicles boast central tire inflation systems; fire suppression systems; and remote weapon stations, plus the ability to withstand a torrent of up to 60 armour-piercing rounds with zero penetration – INKAS is one of the few that also excels when it comes to luxury. Many of their clients request the use of the finest materials and options like TVs and PlayStation consoles. After all, what’s the point of protecting a life you’re not going to enjoy, right?
Made in Canada
Of course bullet-proof glass, run-flat tires and PlayStations come at a cost. “The rule of thumb is double the [stock car’s] sticker price,” Daskal says. The unassuming Camry I checked out earlier retails for about $105,000; a Mercedes-Benz S63 might be around $400,000; an armoured Benz G63 limo – INKAS did them first – is up near the $600,000 mark.
INKAS was the first armourer in the world to offer an armoured Mercedes-Benz G63 limousine
And an APC like the one I snapped earlier, built entirely in-house on a Ford F-550 commercial chassis? Expect to put down roughly $240K for one of those.
All of that represents a pretty big boon for the Canadian economy. But what is it that draws an industry like armoured vehicle manufacturing to Canada anyway, a country without a real market for the things?
“Canada is a very multicultural country, with a lot of experience – including military experience – from people who moved here from overseas,” says Daskal. (INKAS itself was founded in 1996 by Russian-born David Khazanski, who started out making cash-in-transit vehicles for banks.)
“It’s a very peaceful nation, and people like that because it makes it a great place to come and raise a family. So they come here and they bring their knowledge with them.”
Lucus Witzke, sales manager for Terradyne Armored Vehicles, agrees that it’s Canada’s global reputation for craftsmanship that makes buyers of their LAPVs really feel safe.
At the end of the day, you simply can’t outsource Canadian talent, engineering and innovation, something INKAS’ clients apparently understand and are willing to pay a premium for. When they sign for a made-in-Canada armoured vehicle, they know they’re getting their money’s worth—they know they’re getting Shaq with his 22s on.