The Devil's Mercedes: The Bizarre and Disturbing Adventures of Hitler's Limousine in America
By Robert Klara
Review by David Wineberg
The Devil’s Mercedes is a bizarre, true story of the official staff car of the Nazi regime. Robert Klara saw the car at a summer fair as a little boy, and it apparently left such an impression that he has researched the entire history and presented it in an easy to read, intriguing and very descriptive book.
The car itself was an armed monster. Der Grosser (The big One) was 20 feet long, weighed five tons and seated eight. It had a six inch box beneath the passenger seat, so that when the seat was flipped up, Hitler could stand on the box and appear to be well over six feet as he reviewed the masses gathered to swoon before him. It had a 52 gallon gas tank – nearly an oil barrel – and it got seven miles to the gallon at best. The tires popped at 50 mph. It had 40 dials and knobs on the dash and there were seven steps needed to start it. The car cost the equivalent of 16 Fords.
Robert Klara is a fine storyteller. The first half of the book follows the car from its capture by a GI (Joe, in fact) in Bavaria to the USA and the various owners and how it was employed. Then the second half tells the story of several others of the same car. Turns out there were 25-30 of them, and several made it over to the USA, usually ordered by some general because it was of course forbidden to ship a 10,000 pound anything back on a troop ship. Had Klara let it be known there were so many of these things up front, the whole story would have been different, flat and boring, but he has made it fascinating. America discovered them one by one, and Klara keeps the excitement up the same way.
Tracing the provenance of the cars was no easy task in a pre-internet era. It took dedication and sleuthing. Keeping the cars running was another massive challenge. Along the way, we meet some of those souls self-charged with those tasks. The cars never stayed very long in one collection. They kept getting sold, usually to the relief of the owner, and usually for higher and higher prices. It started with $35,000 in 1948, becoming seven figures 30 years later. And just so you know, the actual Mercedes Hitler used is in the War Museum in Ottawa, Canada, where it continues to frighten today.
Editor's note: This review was has been reposted with permission of David Wineberg. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.