Budda…budda…budda…budda…budda the sound of slow revving engines of heavy motorcycles. Poorly dressed crowds waving national flags, thronging both sides of a wide avenue and cheering on a cue. Military Policemen in ceremonial uniform on heavy bikes, aka Harley Davidsons lead a cavalcade of black cars decked with national flags. The leader in exotic military uniform bedecked with medals stands in his landaulet with the rear roof folded down, waving to a crowd going berserk. Not for their love for this man, but for the fear of the lurking secret police man in plain clothes. These were common scenes across Africa, Asia and South America during the 1960s and 70s when the cold war rivalries were at peak. Occupants of these long black cars were either extreme right dictators supported by the USA or comrade communist dictators supported by the USSR. The list read out the who’s who of the world of tyrants, Idi Amin Dada, Muammar Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein, Kim Jong Il, Robert Mugabe and Pol Pot to name a few.
These dictators had very varied world views but they had many things in common, military background, power through coup, brutal control over their people, secret police, torture and the uber luxurious Mercedes 600 Pullman. The commonality of the Mercedes Benz 600 intrigued me. Their universal love for the Mercedes 600 Pullman got me thinking, what were the other cars that these brutal, unforgiving men drove or were rather driven in?
I decided to start my study with the father of all modern tyrants, yes the old buddies Adolf Hitler and Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini, and the man standing against them Josef Stalin. These men represented countries which were technically advanced and had their own industry. Germany and Italy both had a thriving automobile industry and so it was but obvious that these men were seen in cars built specially for them by companies from their countries.
Adolf Hitler was seen in two cars, the Mercedes Benz W31 G4 and the Mercedes Benz Grosser 770. The W31 G4 was a six wheeled mammoth which had excellent off road capabilities. This car is also considered as the spiritual precursor of the current iconic off roader from Mercedes, the G Wagon. These cars were produced by Mercedes from 1934 onwards as the command and staff cars for the senior officers of the German Army, the Wehrmacht. They were either touring (open) cars or sedans. However, they were only used by the senior hierarchy of the Nazi party being too expensive for the German Army. Initially these cars were painted a glossy gray with black fenders but the colour scheme changed to matt black or camouflage as the war progressed. Some of them had strong rear facing spotlights to blind any enemy vehicles following them. Hitler’s G4 had windows that were 20mm and a windshield that was 30mm thick. These could certainly stop bullets if fired upon. The seatbacks along with the doors were reinforced with 8mm steel. The floor plates and driver’s legroom were equally protected making the car bulletproof against handguns and rifles. The tyres were made up of 20 different cells most certainly bulletproof but Hitler had them removed because he had an oversensitive stomach.
The Mercedes Grosser 770 was a heavy car which was the direct ancestor of the car that all our later tyrants loved, the 600 Pullman. The 770 was built between 1930 and 1943. These cars were used as state vehicles by the Third Reich. All villains of World War II, Adolf Hitler, Hermann Goering and Reinhard Heydrich were seen in these cars. But so were Emperor Hirohito of Japan and Pope Pius XI. These were large heavy cars powered by big engines and capable of speeds in excess of 160 km/h. Hitler personally used a 770K. The car had thick bulletproof surrounds and 20-cell tyres. Hitler’s seat and footrest were raised 13cm higher than the other seven seats in the car. It used aluminium parts to lighten the overall weight. It had a strategically positioned spare tyre and cover to protect the engine, electromagnetic circuit blocking doors, manganese-treated armour, 300-liter petrol tank and nickel-silver radiator.
Though Mussolini and Hitler were allies, his Italian pride prevented him from using a German car. Mussolini was known to use three cars as his official transport, these were the Fiat 2800 Limousine, Lancia Astura and Alfa Romeo 6C 2300B. The Lancia Astura was usually used for parades. However, his favourite was the Alfa Romeo. Mussolini, after escaping the gallows with help of German special forces was trying to escape to Switzerland along with his girl friend Clara Petacci in this Alfa Romeo disguised as a Swiss diplomatic car when he was caught at the Swiss border.
Their main rival, another tyrannical leader of the USSR was Josef Stalin. Comrade Stalin was earlier seen in a Packard Super 8 gifted to him by President Roosevelt. He developed such a liking for this car that the Soviets developed the ZIL ZIS 110 and ZIS 115 based on the Packard 180. These cars were manufactured from 1946 to 1958. They were available as four door sedans, convertibles and surprise, surprise, ambulances. The ZIS 115 was armoured version of the ZIS 110 and was specially built for Josef Stalin. The armoured car weighed well over four tons with each 7.7 cm wide window weighing 200 kgs and requiring hydraulics to operate them. Stalin being the communist comrade only ordered some basic luxuries like air conditioning, silk rugs, leather seats, central heating etc in his car.
To be continued…..