Heads turned and jaws dropped at the 2009 MuchMusic Video Awards when the popular rock band Nickelback rolled down the red carpet in a shockingly massive black SUV. A few months later, rapper T-Pain arrived at the Grammy Awards in the same monstrous vehicle, followed by a similar grand entrance by Trevor Ariza of the LA Lakers while making a special appearance at the Boys & Girls Club of Scottsdale during the 2009 NBA All-Star Game. These memorable appearances left onlookers wondering–just what was this vehicle? Was it from the upcoming Transformers movie? Was it the new Batmobile? Was it a modified Hummer?
The vehicle in question is actually the Knight XV, the flagship bespoke luxury armored vehicle by Toronto-based manufacturing company, Conquest Vehicles. Haute Living caught up with William Maizlin, President of Conquest Vehicles, and Seth Feller, VP of Communications, to discuss the vehicle that is taking Hollywood, and the rest of the world, by storm.
Conquest Vehicles founder and president William Maizlin started his career in the armory industry, where he spent fourteen years building armored vehicles for the military and law enforcement markets. It was his experience there that led him to his next venture–to create a luxury armored vehicle that would be street legal and have a ‘wow factor.’ To start his creative journey, Maizlin employed an accomplished team of automotive experts to help him bring his vision to life. “We assembled some of the most talented people in the automotive industry, from engineers to customizing specialists, to ballistic specialists,” he explains, mentioning that some of his employees have more than 30 years of experience in their field and have won some prestigious awards. He reveals that in all it took approximately two and a half years just to develop the basic concept of the vehicle, as far as the renderings, drawings, and the design, and then another six months to put it all together.
The aptly named Knight XV made its debut at the 2008 SEMA show in Las Vegas and has since garnered the attention of Hollywood celebrities and international royalty. “The Knight XV is a celebrity in and of itself…The A-lister has seemingly met his celebrity vehicle match in the Knight XV,” Feller exclaims. Several other notable individuals have jumped onto the Knight XV bandwagon including Dwight Howard of the Orlando Magic, the Black Eyed Peas, and Perez Hilton. Maizlin recalls, “At any of the [auto] shows that we’ve done, the vehicle stands out like a sore thumb. We’ve had Lamborghinis, Ferraris, and Bugattis next to us, and the Knight XV was the only one that people kept going in and out of non-stop; people were just blown away.”
In addition to being seemingly plucked out of a sci-fi film, the size alone of the Knight XV is enough to turn heads. “Whenever clients see the vehicle, many of them say, ‘the photos don’t do it justice’ because it has such a presence,” Maizlin explains. “Once clients see it, it’s almost automatically a done deal.” The colossal 8-foot wide, 20-feet long SUV is close to 9 feet tall, rises a little over a foot off of the ground, and boasts a weight of approximately 13,000 pounds! Moreover, the Knight XV has some major safety and security features. Every model automatically comes equipped with FLIR night vision cameras, a keyless entry system, and a Hutchinson Ballistic run flat system on the tires. Customers can also choose from several security upgrades from an External Listening Device to Oxygen Containment Systems.
Impressive, indeed, but it is the armory that is built for the Knight XV is perhaps the vehicle’s most remarkable feature. Maizlin explains that while many vehicles claim to be armored, they are technically only ‘discretely up-armored.’ “The difference is that those vehicles are armored after-market,” he explains. “They take them apart and insert ballistic panels inside the doors, put in armored glass, and then call the vehicle armored. If someone were to shoot into a vehicle such as an Escalade or a Hummer, the bullet would be stopped inside the door. In our case,” he continues, “we build the whole exterior out of ballistic hardened steel; a bullet would not even penetrate the exterior, just put a little dent in it.” Maizlin further affirms that every Knight XV vehicle is H.P. White Laboratory Certified, the highest authority for bullet resistant armor. Often discretely armored vehicles develop suspension and hinge problems, however because the Knight XV is built with armor in mind, both the doors and suspension chassis are specifically designed to balance the extra weight.
Inside, the Knight XV is equally impressive. With a total of 283 cubic feet, Maizlin compares the interior to that of a private luxury jet, boasting Wilton Wool luxury carpets, Andrew Muirhead leather, and ultra suede finish throughout. And because each Knight XV is hand-built from the ground up, each is designed to fit like a glove for its owner. Maizlin gives an example, “We had a client who is an NBA player who is 6’11’’, and one of his concerns was leg room; so we custom-extended the front area of the vehicle so he would be comfortable. We work with the client from the moment they engage with us to the time that vehicle is delivered.” In fact, the Knight XV boasts more customizable upgrades and design options than any other luxury vehicle in today’s marketplace. Everything down to the most minute details–the color, the type of leather, exterior and interior finishes, the type of wood–is available. “We’ve refined our process to a point where we build a vehicle around the client,” Feller explains, “Whether we need to source wormwood or find a certain type of carbon fiber as part of the design detail, whatever it might be, we deliver. And because our clients are ultra high net worth individuals, many of them have impeccable taste, and we recognize that.” The Knight XV also offers several special entertainment upgrades like an Alpine Entertainment Media System with Playstation 3 or X-Box 360 and even a TracVision Satellite Dish. Likewise, though the standard Knight XV comes with two seats in the front, and four seats in the back, clients can opt to instead have two recliner seats in the back, much like a first-class aircraft sleeper. Your wish is their command.
Conquest Vehicles continues its unequaled customer service even after delivery. Upon the Knight XV’s arrival, Conquest will fly out of their expert technicians to inspect the vehicle and to review with the owner how to operate it. “That is done with every client whether they are in China, or North America, or in Russia, we fly technicians over,” Maizlin explains.
The Knight XV, which takes approximately 4,000 hours to hand build, comes equipped with an automatic 5-speed Allison transmission and power steering, but like most other features its engine too can be customized. Clients can choose from a standard gasoline engine (GM V8 – 6.0 L), which has 325 hp and 400-ft-lbs torque, or a Diesel engine (Cummins ISB 6.7 L 6 Diesel), which offers 300 hp and 660-ft-lbs torque. Both come with an optional Performance Package upgrade, while the gasoline engine has an option to upgrade to a Flex Fuel Conversion Package that adds in an E-85 Ethanol Conversion System, makin it a “Flexible Fuel Vehicle” (GFFV) that runs on high-octane gasoline. “A common question we often get asked by clients is,
‘Is it even street legal?’, Maizlin notes. “And of course, the answer is, Yes.” In fact, he explains that every Knight XV is built within U.S. DOT (Department of Transportation) guidelines and meets California emission standards, meaning that it can be legally registered and certified in all 50 U.S. states. Environmentally wise, this also means that it meets certain fuel efficiency requirements.
What the future holds for the Knight XV is anyone’s guess. This April, it will make its European debut at the annual Top Marques Monaco, a prestigious invite-only auto show. Likewise, Hollywood production companies are starting to embrace the Knight XV, and though he can’t name specifics, Feller mentions the Knight XV is being considered by “a couple of very big directors and producers for their upcoming films…It’s just a matter of time before we make the right connection and then the vehicle will be seen on the big screen.” In addition, several video gaming companies have approached Conquest Vehicles, looking to incorporate the Knight XV into their games.
And though the vehicle is expanding its reach and visibility, Conquest emphasizes that they intend to continue to manufacture the Knight XV within its same realm of exclusivity. “We’re not producing them in hundreds or thousands,” Maizlin says. “Each one is built specifically for each client on an individual basis. We want to maintain the uniqueness of this vehicle and not flood the market. It’s similar to a Bugatti Veyron, where there are only so many produced a year.” Today, Conquest Vehicles is busy fulfilling orders for clients globally. Feller agrees, “The idea isn’t to mass-produce this vehicle,” he adds, “The idea is to create a bespoke, made-to-order vehicle where there are no robotics involved when it comes time for building it. When we say it is hand built, it is hand built.”