Hitler’s Gift Limo

It’s a warm, dry afternoon in the mountains of Coto de Caza, a gated community located an hour’s drive south-east of Los Angeles, and Major General William Lyon is showing me a used car.

“It’s wonderful to drive,” he says. “As though it were new.”

Parked in front of us is a well-pampered Mercedes-Benz: clean, low mileage, plenty of room in the back. Chromed and polished to a mirror shine, the car wears a shade of blue so dark it reads as black from a distance – and one needs to step back a distance to see the car anyway, since it’s 20 feet long.

The automobile in question is a 1941 Mercedes-Benz 770K Grosser W150 Offener Tourenwagen. It is among the rarest cars of the pre-war era, and this particular one is rarer still.

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.

This might be a good time to get one other detail out of the way: the car was originally built for Adolf Hitler.

‘Once you know that Hitler rode in this car, it’s impossible not to see, literally, the devil in every detail.’ Photograph: Robert Klara

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