There are many things the men on this list are known for, but their vehicles are rarely the topic of discussion. Though their tastes and choices in most other things are – ahem – questionable, to say the least, it’s hard to deny they’ve got a certain sense of vehicular style. Along with a hunger for power and an insatiable urge to cover their chests in medals they probably didn’t earn, these dictators and dignitaries have another thing in common: an impressive fleet of cars.
Adolf Hitler: Mercedes-Benz W31 Type G4
When Germany’s armed forces needed a new staff/command vehicle in 1934, Mercedes-Benz created the W31 Type G4. The three-axle off-road auto was designed as an open seven-seat car or a closed saloon, and was primarily used by the highest ranks of the Nazi regime in parades and inspections (as it was considered too expensive for more mundane uses). Adolf Hitler and his staff used the W31 Type G4 in parades celebrating the occupation of Austria and the annexation of the Czech Republic. Hitler also gifted one to Generalissimo Franco. In total, 30 W31s were made, ending in 1939.
Josef Stalin: ZIS-115
Modelled after the ZIS-110, the ZIS-115 was the first armoured car built for the Soviet government’s elite – in particular, for Joseph Stalin himself. 32 copies were made during the year it was produced, 1946-1947, with special features designed to keep its important passenger safe. The 8+ ton car included special alarm lights, large tires, armour protection (called the “armour capsule”) and 7.5 cm-thick windows. Its 6.0 L V8 engine was impressive and reached a top speed of 120 km/h, but its fuel economy left something to be desired. Interestingly, Stalin never used any of his ZIS-115 cars for more than two days.
Benito Mussolini: Lancia Astura
Vincenzo Lancia was an accomplished racer before he stepped out of the driver’s seat and behind the scenes. His early success came with the Lambda in 1922, followed by the Dilambda in the late 1920s, and then the Artena and Astura in 1931. The latter two were introduced at the Paris Motor Show in 1931, and the Astura soon had a powerful admirer: Benito Mussolini. Determined that his government should have impressive parade cabriolets like what he saw in Germany, Mussolini tapped Lancia and Pininfarina to create a few examples (most believe six or fewer) of his special “Torpedo Ministeriales” cars.
Chairman Mao: Hongqi Red Flag
The Hongqi (which means “Red Flag”) has been China’s answer to the Rolls Royce since it was first introduced in 1958. Behind the car was First Automotive Works (now known as China FAW Group Corp.), a company founded by the Communist Party. Around 1,500 Red Flags were made for Mao and high-ranking government and Communist Party officials until the brand was discontinued in 1982 for excessive gas consumption. In the years since, several attempts to revive the Hongqi failed, until FAW received state approval two years ago to restart production.
Kim Jong-il: Mercedes-Benz 600 Landaulet
Notable names who have owned the Mercedes-Benz 600 include Hugh Hefner, John Lennon, George Harrison, Jack Nicholson, Ronnie Wood and Elvis Presley, but the only name we care about here is Kim Jong-il. Production on the Mercedes-Benz 600 began in 1963 and lasted until 1981, during which time 2,677 were built. A few were made as Landaulets – with a convertible top over the rear passenger compartment. The auto’s formidable presence and air of exclusivity cannot be denied. Mercedes itself even once claimed that, with so many options and special features available, it would be difficult to find two identical 600 Landaulets.
Robert Mugabe: Vintage Rolls Royce
Let’s just say Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe is the “go big or go home” type. On multiple occasions, he has opened an inaugural Parliamentary session by arriving in a vintage Rolls Royce, flanked by police on horseback wearing 100-year old uniforms. And let’s not forget the guard of honour, the military jets and the gun salute. “Pomp and circumstance” barely even begins to describe it. The British car is a strange choice, given Mugabe’s vehement anti-West stance and open criticism of the UK, but it appears the pull of the Rolls Royce is just too powerful to resist.
Muammar al-Gaddafi: Fiat 500
It’s not every day you hear about an oil-rich dictator with a secret passion for electric cars, but today is that day. Despite his despotic approach to government, Muammar al-Gaddafi had a surprisingly kind approach to the environment. Gaddafi’s vehicle fleet contained dozens of environmentally-friendly vehicles, the most notable being a one-off electric Fiat 500. The €100,000 custom car was built by Italian coachbuilder Castagna Milano, whose employees were kept in the dark about the identity of its mystery buyer. Amongst its special details was a logo with a black silhouette of Africa, with Libya highlighted in green, where the Fiat brand would normally be.
Fidel Castro: ZIL-111
The ZIL-111 was introduced in 1958 after unsuccessful tests with the ZIL-Moscow prototype two years before. The very first ZIL-111D – a convertible version of the limousine – was built in 1963, then given to Fidel Castro as a personal gift from Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. Castro typically stuck to a military-style jeep for his own transportation needs, but used his fleet of black Soviet cars to ferry around visiting dignitaries. These days, many of the former presidential ZIL and GAZ cars have been converted into Havana taxi cabs that ferry around visiting tourists instead.