The shadowy provenance of a wartime German limousine and the dizzying succession of owners over decades afterward.
Historian Klara (The Hidden White House: Harry Truman and the Reconstruction of America’s Most Famous Residence, 2013, etc.) first became entranced by the story of the massive Mercedes Benz Grosser 770K limousine, which had made its way to America after World War II, as a young boy in the 1970s when “Hitler’s touring car” was displayed in a county fair in upstate New York. The author does an admirable sleuthing job in debunking some of the myths surrounding this legendary car; it was part of a fleet of similar Grosser armored limousines custom made in the late 1930s and early ’40s for the Nazi leadership. Two cars, in particular, have traceable genealogies. One, purchased by a Chicago exporter, Christopher Janus, from a Swedish company to settle a debt in June 1948, was touted as Hitler’s private car and arrived shortly thereafter by ship to New York City, followed by enormous public curiosity. Janus planned to drum up some money for charity by touring with the car, banking on the public’s fascination with its original owner. What Janus chose to ignore was that his car was actually a gift given by Hitler to the Finnish president, Carl Gustaf Mannerheim, for allowing the Nazis to stage the attack on the Soviet Union in 1941 from Finnish soil. The other limousine of note became a war trophy of U.S. Sgt. Joe Azara, an amateur mechanic who managed to steal away with the massive limousine at Berchtesgaden until it was “borrowed” by a superior and became the “Göring Special,” a kind of party car that was displayed and then warehoused in the U.S. for years before finding its way to the Canadian War Museum. Myths surrounding the cars escalated, and at an auction in 1973, “Hitler’s car” was sold for a whopping world record $153,000.
An entertaining story of the irresistible cult of a creepy car.