In this 420-hp Suburban gunship, forget about RPM unless you mean rounds per minute.
BY JOHN PHILLIPS
Roger Harrison's hair is pure, unalloyed silver -- filaments of diplomatic audacity. It matches a flawlessly trimmed Niven-esque mustache tucked beneath an Ivy League nose. He looks like he was assembled at Turnbull & Asser. If it weren't for his blue-jeans, you'd swear the guy maybe just chaired a National Security Council meeting for both Brent Scocroft and the president.
Which, of course, is ridiculous. Roger Harrison hasn't been in the Oval Office with Scocroft since 1990.
Harrison, 52, is pals with former presidents Ford (who seldom fell face down in front of him) and Bush. Bush appointed Harrison as ambassador to Jordan seven days before the Gulf War broke out, not a notably charming assignment. Still, Harrison's many diplomatic missions in the Middle East exposed him to business opportunities. Here is one: "I'd see government security agents driving worn-out Ford LTD wagons, trying to keep up with presidents or kings or sheiks who were in V-12 Benzes. I asked, 'Hey, why don't you guys drive Suburbans, like America's Secret Service agents?' And that's when King ------ approached me. [Name deleted at the government's request; also, the king owns the lethal vehicle you see here, so we're predisposed to obey.] The king replied, 'Well, Roger, if you build beer-bahns [that's how folks in the Middle East pronounce it], then I will buy them.'"
Thus was born Specialty Vehicles International and the SVI Raptor, a Suburban-based cruiser intended to shield limousines carrying VIPs. The Raptor is fitted with a supercharged 454-cubic-inch V-8, a 4.11 rear end, a mean exhaust, heavy-duty radiators, Bilstein shocks, Michelin LTX tires, a lowered suspension, and a four-foot-long quick-release fiberglass sunroof.
Two odd things happen within about five seconds of opening that sunroof, not necessarily in this order: First, bystanders stop whatever nefarious acts they're contemplating and give you their undivided attention. Second, up through the roof rises a deeply ominous 48-inch-long gun that swivels in a 360-degree arc.
No. That's not exactly right. Describing what emerges from the Raptor as a "gun" is like describing napalm as charcoal starter.
The weapon in question is a GAU-17, built by General Electric. Unless you are a friendly foreign government, you cannot buy one. It is the six-barrel Gatling-type minigun made famous by Jolly Green Giant helicoptor gunships in Vietnam. When it is fired with tracers, there is a single, unbroken shaft of horrifying yellowish light that extends from the gun's revolving muzzle to whatever happens to have just been cut into several thousand tiny pieces. This weapon helped launch the motto, "Death from Above." (We considered commissioning patches that said, "Death from Suburban Traveling Southbound on Hogback Road," but, well, there was all that stitching involved.)
In the SVI Raptor's case, Harrison has dialed back the minigun's ferocity by 50 percent, to a mere 3,000 RPM -- or rounds per minute. Thus, a cranky gunner who holds his finger on the trigger for an extra nine seconds won't accidentally cut in half the Taco Bell in, say, downtown Beirut. Of course, if you fired the whole 1250-round belt that is inserted in the gun, plus the two extra belts tucked in boxes at the base of the four-point rollover bar -- a total of 360 pounds of 7.62-caliber NATO rounds--you'd be up to your crotch in spent shells. Plus a few unspent shells, because roughly three out of every 100 rounds misfire and may potentially "cook off" at your feet.
To avoid ammunition exploding inside either your shiny new Suburban or your loafers, there's a 300-pound steel grate inserted where the truck's floor used to be. The spent shells fumble through the grate, then into two funnels that dump them on the tarmac beneath the Raptor. (This, actually, is littering. But exactly who is going to tap on your window and effect a citizen's arrest?)
This vehicle is intended to carry four agents. There's a driver, plus a "commander" who rides in the front passenger seat, and two gunners who ride in a pair of jump seats without seatbelts. (Belts would slow them down.) When trouble erupts, two persons on board must agree before the gun can be fired. First, the front-seat passenger inserts his personal key into a command module. Then the "Denial," or master switch, must be toggled upward. This allows current to flow to a second command module mounted above the gun itself, where the gunner must also flip his "Denial" switch upward. At this point, both electric motors that feed ammo into the minigun are operational. Now the backup gunner slings open the sunroof, the spring-loaded GAU-17 pops skyward, and the Raptor's commander yells something inspirational, like, "Everyone down front for the Hawaiian dance number!"
If the gunner is in a dark funk, he can fire continuously for 25 seconds before politely requesting a reload. (Harrison did this once and knocked down a cinder-block wall.) We tried it, too, blasting the dickens out of a pile of dangerous-looking sand at the Naval Surface Warfare facility in Crane, Indiana. We had hoped to intimidate some Saddamites or Hizballah, but Indiana was all out of them that day.
Copyright © 1995, Hachette Filipacchi Magazines
Reprinted by the Seattle Washington Autoduel Team, June 2000 and April 2010.