"Guys who use this vehicle," says Harrison, "the threat that worries them isn't a lone gunman. It's two or three vehicles that suddenly descend on the VIP. The Raptor deals nicely with that because an agent's first priority, always, is to get the VIP out of the area. Best way to do that is to divert the bad guys' attention. The minigun diverts their attention. Trust me. With this weapon, the issue is decided in the first five seconds."

The weapon at work

The Raptor is not armored, for two reasons. First, armor is heavy, so it affects both the Suburban's acceleration and its curb-hopping agility. Second, as Harrison explains, "If you're in an armored vehicle and the bad guys start shooting, you tend to duck inside rather than shoot back. Without armor, you have a strong inducement to extract the minigun and correct the situation. Makes you move quick."

Interior view from back

To assist in this quick resolution, the Raptor's engine is fitted with a twin-screw Whipple supercharger that flows 600 cubic feet of atmosphere per minute, to which a modest six pounds of boost is applied. Throughout our test drives on both street and track, we never once detected any detonation--a word, by the way, that you rarely use while straddling two camo military ammo boxes. Still, premium unleaded is the juice of choice. SVI also adds a custom Crane camshaft to keep power and torque peaks low in the rev band, and a set of chromed Doug Thorley headers.

The result is -- how's this for accessible power?-- 420 hp at 4,500 rpm and 530 pound-feet of torque at only 2,750 rpm.

Empty shells fall on pavement

What you notice first (and also last) about driving the SVI Raptor is that it is noisy--a bossy bass hot-rod humpata-whooompata that causes bystanders to ask, "How big is that engine?" The headers, combined with the straight-through exhausts, not to mention the two gaping holes in the floor that are open to the elements, create the impression you're inside a B-29 powered by four Winston Cup engines. During the long trek from SVI's headquarters in Colorado, Harrison donned Sony headphones to attenuate some of the racket.

At the track, the Toledo Scales readout said, "C'mon, one car at a time." So we shot it. (Just kidding.) The Raptor, all 7310 pounds of it, is some 1,500 pounds heavier than the last tarted-up Suburban 1500 4x4 Silverado we tested.  Part of that weight can be blamed on a backup system that ensures the gun is never powerless. In the event a bad guy blasts a largish hole in the truck's 220-amp Powerline alternator (the same alternator used on ambulances), four spare 115-amp batteries are thoughtfully tucked into the Raptor's cargo area.

The Gun Cage

Despite its heft, the Raptor squeezed off a 0-to-60 rush of 8.5 seconds -- an impressive 3.3 seconds quicker than the stock Silverado. And through the quarter-mile, it is two seconds quicker and 11 mph faster. The big block's power gushes in a steady torrent from just off idle at 1,500 rpm to its 5,500-rpm redline. Okay, so it doesn't rev like a Porsche. But neither does a locomotive. Brake-torque the Raptor and you can paint four feet of ebony stripes on Main Street -- an unseemly thing to do amid, say, a festive motorcade, but it will definitely startle the assassins.

In fact, not one of the seven sport-utes we tested last April can match the Raptor's 0-to-60 or quarter-mile times. Nor were those lighter SUVs' top speeds much better than the Raptor's 101-mph capability, which, to tell the truth, was about as fast as we really wanted to go while toting a 75-pound weapon for which we possessed exactly zero papers of ownership.

Alas, the price of mobile gunships these days is dear. First, you need a base 2500-series 4wd Suburban LT, which will set you back about $28,000. The engine tweaks run $6,500. The suspension upgrade adds $1,800. The gun's custom turret and associated firing electronics (assembled by Arms Tech, Ltd., in Phoenix) cost, ahem, $65,700. And, of course, there are a handful of fussy extras, like the Motorola police radio ($2,500), as many as four more 1,250-round ammo boxes, plus a lifetime subscription to Soldier of Fortune. All of which raises the ante to $105,000.

The Raptor we tested was on its way to JFK airport, where it would be lashed inside a privately owned 707 and flown to its Middle Eastern owner, to be followed by three more. By the end of the year, Harrison and his five employees expect to have built a total of 37 customized personnel carriers, "follow cars," and suburban gunships.

So, next time you attend a Middle East parade, smile broadly, wear no fashion ensembles that ever belonged to Muammar al-Qaddafi, and stand about two blocks away.

Back to Part 1

Copyright © 1995, Hachette Filipacchi Magazines

Reprinted by the Seattle Washington Autoduel Team. June 2000 and April 2010.