Pope Francis greets crowds on his recent visit to Mauritius. Picture: SUPPLIED
Pope Francis greets crowds on his recent visit to Mauritius. Picture: SUPPLIED

A Nissan NP300 Hardbody, which infamously scored a zero star rating in a crash test, provided the basis for a unique "Popemobile" for Pope Francis’s final stop, the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius, on his three-country visit to Africa last month.

The Roman Catholic Church has been using specially built cars for the pontiff since 1965 when Pope Paul VI used one to greet the crowds in New York, but the so-called "Popemobile" complete with viewing deck has been in use since 1978. Several manufacturers have made vehicles over the years, but this was the first time the job fell to Nissan and more specifically, Nissan’s Mauritian NSC ABC Motors.

ABC Motors supplied the Nissan NP300 Hardbody, which was then sent to its subsidiary company ABC Coachworks to be modified according to Vatican specifications. Overseen by the Diocese of Mauritius, the work was a first for the company which normally specialises in coach and bus building as well as modifying vehicles for police, ambulance and fire-fighting specifications, as well manufacturing canopies for bakkies.

The NP 300 Hardbody attracted negative publicity for its zero star rating in a Global NCAP crash test last year, where it dramatically crumpled in a frontal offset collision test at 64km/h. Thankfully for the pontiff and his driver, the Popemobile travels much slower than that as he stands on the deck and waves to the crowds.

The Nissan NP 300 Hardbody, with its unique SCV1 number plates — an abbreviation of the Latin Status Civitatis Vaticanae (Vatican City State) — will be put on permanent display by the diocese as a memento of the pope’s visit to the island.