Hitler a Gearhead?
|Notice how the rear-view mirror (not standard equipment in the 1930s) is tilted in Hitler's direction, not the driver's. That is probably the photographer's (Heinrich Hoffmann) decision, to get a view of Hitler.|
There is an entire class of odd or just unexpected pictures of Adolf Hitler driving or being around cars.
|Hitler in his Mercedes, apparently at the Berghof. Credit: C&TAuctions/BNPS.|
Adolf was a huge car guy. He was familiar with all the usual metrics such as horsepower and so forth which would become preoccupations of hotrodders in the 1950s and 1960s.
|Hitler loved to ride shotgun.|
He would have his driver race down narrow roads through rural Germany in the 1920s in a car with a rotating warning light, like on an ambulance. However, here's a factoid: Adolf Hitler, Chancellor of Germany and proud gearhead, never had a driver's license.
While Hitler himself did not drive, he didn't need to. Once he could afford a car after World War I, he always had a driver. Hitler knew cars, particularly German ones. Hitler greatly preferred Mercedes vehicles over BMWs - in fact, privately he called BMWs "junk."
In fact, while in Landsberg Prison after the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch, one of Hitler's big projects (besides writing Mein Kampf) was arranging a car loan for when he got out of jail. Surviving documents attest to this.
|1933 photo of Hitler with an unknown driver. This must have been some sort of ceremonial occasion where Hitler's usual chauffeurs were not used.|
His main chauffeurs were Ernst Johann Haug, Emil Maurice, Erich Kempka, Josef "Sepp" Dietrich and Julius Schreck.
Hitler was incredibly particular about his chauffeurs and rarely consented to be driven by anybody but the men named above.
He also remained extremely loyal to them - not only was Maurice rumored to be romancing Hitler's girl Geli Raubal, but he also turned out to be Jewish.
Despite these issues, Hitler made Maurice an honorary Aryan and even kept him in the SS with a special dispensation. This undoubtedly saved Maurice from incarceration in a camp.
|Hitler and future Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering in front of Hitler's touring car (courtesy Blaine Taylor, "Hermann Goering: Blumenkrieg, from Vienna to Prague 1938-39").|
Hitler used his cars for more than just driving. Above, he is shown with Hermann Goering in front of Hitler's Mercedes-Benz 770K Grosser open touring car. Hitler used the car as a reviewing stand on Adolf Hitler Plaza every year between 1933-38.
|Hitler enters Memel, March 1939.|
Being Hitler's driver was like being a keeper of the royal privy in the Renaissance. It was a ticket to good things and probably a thrill to be around the man who held all the power.
|This is from 1931. Just a guy in the seat ahead... but look at the rear-view mirror. Could it be... Adolf Hitler?|
Hoffmann obviously posed the picture above since the rear view mirror is tilted in Hitler’s direction.
|Here, Hitler demonstrates that he is decades ahead of his time by checking his VW for that special little emissions device. Yup, it's in there.|
Hitler, of course, is credited with coming up with the VW Beetle. Yes - Adolf Hitler literally designed the original Volkswagen Beetle. Who know that the Fuhrer was a gearhead?
|One of the very few times when Hitler is upstaged in a photograph.|
Did Hitler have a racing car? You betcha!
The racing car deal was not just for show - Hitler took a great interest in them. Hitler was always an enormous car enthusiast and his chauffeur, Kempka (shown below in the SS uniform in the middle), said, “his knowledge of car engines surpassed even that of experts.”
|Oh, how history could have been changed....|
This amazing machine below is the Formula 1 Silberpfeil (silver arrow), a Mercedes racing car.
Hitler liked Mercedes cars, and inevitably used one in parades. However, just because a company was German did not mean that he was a fan. Hitler once called BMW cars “junk.” When his architect, Albert Speer, bought one, Hitler privately sneered, but never mentioned it to Speer’s face.
Speaking of engines, below Hitler is inspecting what appears to be a BMW V-12. How many Fuhrers go on the shop floor to look at car engines?
|German car giant BMW admitted only recently to feeling “profound regret” for the “enormous suffering” it caused by using slave labor to fuel Adolf Hitler’s killing machine. The laborers built engines like this.|
Hitler liked to inspect new military vehicles, too. Below, he is getting a good look at a Schwimmwagen - an amphibious jeep. One can just read his expression as "What is this crazy thing?"
|Hitler is checking out an amphibious Schwimmwagen. He doesn't appear overly impressed.|
Below is the iconic shot of Hitler, from his Mercedes, giving the Hitler salute as he drives through crowds. This actually was a quite uncomfortable position, but Hitler literally could maintain it for hours on end.
|That appears to be Rudolf Hess in the back finding it all quite amusing.|
Hitler used cars as props constantly. When there was absolutely no reason to be in a car, when it would have been easier to just get out and walk over somewhere - Hitler would stand in the car instead, as in the shot below.
|Hitler standing in a car in Wilhelmshaven for the launching of the battleship Tirpitz, 1939. It was considered more "prestigious" in those days to sit in the back of the car, but Hitler always preferred to ride shotgun.|
Below is how you make an entrance: ranks of motorcycle cops, rows of military guys, and a red carpet to some BLM girls wiating to give you flowers. The big-ass car, of course, is the center of the entire tableaux.
|Guys, this is how you impress the ladies.|
Below is a rare shot of Hitler driving with President Paul von Hindenburg right after being appointed Chancellor.
Hitler loved toy soldiers (for real), and he also loved toy cars. It is very rare to find any photos of Hitler where he appears as gleeful as in the shot below.
|Ferdinand Porsche shows Hitler and Goering the new VW Beetle. Okay, he did dance a jig when he conquered France, but still....|
Below is another shot, apparently from the same event.
Okay, one more time. Hitler's birthday would not be complete without a visit from the car guys. Below, it is now April 20 1939, and yet, it's time to look at the VW again.
|The automobile engineer and designer Ferdinand Porsche (in suit) presents Adolf Hitler with a model car during celebrations for Hitler's 50th birthday, Berlin, April 1939.|
Below, Schreck and Hitler at the 1933 Berlin car show. Hitler attended this event every year until the outbreak of the war.
Hitler liked to go to car shows. It was a chance to review technology, it attracted all sorts of foreign journalists... and he just liked cars. Above, it is February 17, 1939 in Berlin, and Adolf has chosen to visit the Berlin Car Show. The big three of the party, left to right: Goebbels, Goering and Hitler. Viktor Lutze is on the far right. Viktor Lutze, incidentally, was the commander of the SA, the brown shirted Party paramilitary force which was marginalized after the purge of 1934. Goebbels in his diaries described Lutze as a man of "unlimited stupidity."
|A good view of Hitler in his Mercedes, September 1933.|
On May 1, 1943, Lutze suffered a car accident due to careless driving. He died during surgery the same day. Despite the weakened state of the SA, Hitler ordered an elaborate state funeral for Lutze and ordered his senior leaders to be very careful during driving. It always got back to cars.
|Hitler's arm must have hurt after giving the Hitlergruß (Hitler salute) down that long line of troops.|
Below, it is 1933 and Hitler is at... the car show. Where else?
Below is Hitler at the 1938 Berlin car show. What's fun about these pictures is seeing how poorly Goering sometimes feigns being interested when Hitler's back is turned. Incidentally, at that show, the Germans demonstrated the first helicopter, but Hitler is all abut the cars.
|Hermann Goering also liked cars, but he liked to drive them, not examine them.|
Hitler's obsession with cars could be painful. Below is a visibly sunburned Hitler in September, 1933. The day before, Hitler had stood in an open car for 3 hours in extremely hot temperatures. Leni Riefenstahl commented several times in later years how easily Hitler sunburned because of his very fair complexion. Hey, being the Fuhrer could be hard work!
|A badly sunburned Fuehrer.|
He was a backseat driver even though he liked to ride in the front seat. He usually had a map on his knees throughout all his journeys, even though (as Linge later wrote), “he knew every street and little village throughout Germany. The map therefore was superfluous.” But, it no doubt made him feel better.
|Adolf Hitler in an open car during the opening of the first section of Frankfurt / Main Heidelberg motorway near Darmstadt,1935.|
Hitler wasn't just about cars, he was also about the roads that he drove on. He did not just authorize and build the autobahns - he very ostentatiously celebrated their completion with ceremonial drives down completed sections. The people were impressed.
|Taking the King's car into the mountains.|
Hitler also knew how to impress kings with cars. Above in 1940, Nepali men are seen carrying the 1938 Mercedes Benz that Adolf Hitler gifted to King Truibhuvan of Nepal. It had to be carried to the capital by men as there were no roads suitable for the car leading to the city.
And here we take our leave of Hitler and cars with this shot of him looking in awe at the view - traveling in a cable car 5300 feet to the top of the Predigstuhl in Bad Reichenhall (near Berchtesgaden). Since its first run on July 1, 1928, the Predigstuhlbahn is the oldest large-cabin cable car in the world that is preserved in its original form and operates year-round. And Hitler rode it.