The 20ft Mercedes-Benz that conveyed the Nazi leader on a 1942 trip to Finland had a curious afterlife in the US before being restored by an ex-air force general, The Guardian reports.
The automobile in question is a 1941 Mercedes-Benz 770K Grosser W150 Offener Tourenwagen. It is among the rarest cars of the war era, and this particular one is rarer still. An important detail about this car is that it was originally built for Adolf Hitler.
Its upholstery conceals compartments for Luger pistols. Hidden below the serpentine body panels are ¾-inch steel plates that, together with the 1½-inch-thick window glass, armor the limousine sufficiently to survive a grenade blast or a jaunt over a landmine. The car’s total weight comes to five tons.
‘Once you know that Hitler rode in this car, it’s impossible not to see, literally, the devil in every detail.’ Photograph: Robert Klara [Via The Guardian]
The limousine’s bulging fenders cover the front tires like panther claws while the V-shaped chrome grille suggests nothing so much as an axe blade. The wide, sweeping running boards feature built-in mud scrapers (for jackboots, presumably). Under the hood, very heavy, the straight-8, cast-en-bloc engine is a beautiful and terrifying enterprise of chrome, black enamel, and damascened steel.
The massive steering wheel. Photograph: Robert Klara [Via The Guardian]
Even in the 1930s, one critic dismissed the 770K’s “aggressive styling and Teutonic arrogance”. But the Mercedes’s imperious profile was a perfect fit for Hitler, who proclaimed he could “not tolerate a car manufactured by another company”.
Robert Klara, author of the book entitled ‘Hitler’s limousines in America’ (due out next year being edited by Thomas Dunne Books), tells us that, according to the musty order ledgers at Daimler-Benz in Stuttgart, this Mercedes was made as a geschenkwagen – a presentation car. He reports that Hitler not only kept a fleet of Grosser 770K limousines (several of them armored) for his own use, he relished giving them as gifts to foreign heads of state.
The left front ‘suicide’ door. Photograph: Robert Klara [Via The Guardian]
Klara tells us that, One of the recipients was Finland’s Field Marshal Carl Gustaf Mannerheim. About this fact, Klara tells us that, in 1941, as he watched belligerent Soviet armies massing across the Karelian isthmus, Mannerheim decided that the only way to save Finland from Stalin was to ally himself with Nazi Germany, and as a thank-you gift, Hitler bought Mannerheim a Mercedes-Benz – this Mercedes-Benz.
The trips to and from Finland’s Immola airstrip were the only two times that Hitler ever rode in Mannerheim’s Mercedes-Benz. Nevertheless, the limousine would be known as Hitler’s car during its second life in the United States after the war. Photograph: SA-KUVA [Via The Guardian]
According to Klara, here is where the fact of Hitler’s “ownership” of the car becomes a matter of semantics. Photographs and other documents from the period, including the diary of Hitler’s own chauffeur, substantiate that Hitler inspected this car at his military headquarters in Poland and later rode in the car – twice – in June of 1942, during a visit he paid to Mannerheim near the Immola airstrip in southern Finland. Which is to say, technically, that this car did not belong to Hitler as such; it only gave him a lift to and from the airport, Klara tells us.
On 4 June 1942, Hitler flew to Finland to pay Field Marshal Mannerheim a surprise visit. The gift Mercedes then took the Führer and the Finnish president, Risto Ryti (wearing fedora), to this railroad siding, where Mannerheim’s private train waited. Photograph: SA-Kuva [Via The Guardian]
The current owner, General Lyon, 92 years old, is a man enjoying a well-earned and well-funded retirement. A pilot who flew in the second world war and Korea and later ran the air force reserve, he has loved planes and automobiles since he was a young man. This car represents the culmination of his collecting.