Dictators' Favorite Rides

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The fascination with power is the main attribute of a dictator, yet it is the way in which each of them choose to exert that power that made them unique. Whether we are talking about Adolf Hitler, the man who fooled the world into engaging into the bloodiest conflict Earth has ever seen, or the controversial Nicolae Ceausescu, dictators have always been the image of their respective nations.
As none of them liked being judged by what happened behind the scenes in their Utopian countries, dictators have always tried to hide the rivers of blood behind a curtain of glamor, riches and sophistication.

Combining the fact they were wealthy enough to afford luxury with the need to hide their atrocities, every single one of them chose the best items in every field, to own and impress with. Including means of transportation...

Napoleon Bonaparte

The bloodline of the dictators, if you like, was ushered by Corsican man who would soon become a cultural icon and the favorite alter-ego of the mentally insane.

Obviously, Napoleon, due to the limitations of his time, was not the owner of any car, or any motorized, self propelled vehicle for that matter. He was, however, the owner of an impressive stud, counting some 80 saddle horses.

The stud Napoleon used comprised largely of gray Arabian and Barb horses. As you can imagine, these breeds of horses were both reliable and short enough for the Emperor to be able to mount them - truth be told, Napoleon was slightly taller than the men of his time, 1,68 meters, and the height issue is just a myth started by the English in order to discredit him.

Dictators and their rides
So, the horses were not chosen due to their height, but thanks to the fact they were gentle and could handle a not so equestrian-wise Napoleon.

Napoleon's favorite horse is largely agreed to have worn the name Marengo (Napoleon's own stable records however don't mention such a name), a companion which whom he went through most of his campaigns. Due to the fact that Napoleon had a habit of nicknaming beings around him, Marengo is in fact believed to be stallion Ali, the one which Napoleon rode in the battle of Marengo.

Vladimir Ilyich Lenin

The first head of state of the Soviet Union and, according to People Magazine one of the most influential 100 people of the 20th century was, during his entire political career, a Rolls Royce man. During his reign, Lenin was the owner of no less than nine of these train/horse rivals. But, unlike his other fellow dictators, Lenin did not limit himself at owning a Rolls "as is".

Dictators and their rides
His favorite was the Tzar's Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost. Confined to the restrictions of his time, Lenin was forced to convert the Rolls and fit it with an entire array of unusual features, including modifying the car to run on alcohol (much easier to make than gasoline during the civil war). But the most disturbing modification was dictated by the harsh climate of the Soviet Union.

Since Rolls was not intended to run on snow, Lenin found himself in a bit of a predicament. Give up the Rolls and what it meant, or make it run on snow? He went for the second choice and, in what some call an act of industrial vandalism, the light gray vehicle was adapted to run on snow. The wheels were removed and replaced with skis at the front and caterpillar tracks at the rear.

Whereas for the Third Reich Mercedes-Benz was the car of choice, the Bolsheviks had a soft spot for Rolls. Inspired or not by their leader, many other important regime staff used this brand, including other government and Red Army officials. By 1919, the cars seized from the Tzar were almost destroyed and the Council of People’s Commissars ordered 70 more Rolls Royce from London...

Iosif Stalin

Lenin's successor, due to the rapidly developing automotive industry, had a few more choices when it came to his cars. Although the passion for Rolls Royce didn't exactly die out with Lenin, Stalin's collection was a bit more comprehensive: Packards, Lincolns and Cadillacs.

He's favorite, however, is said to have been a 1937 Packard V12, received as a gift from US President F. Roosevelt. The car is one of only 25 ever built and came with navy blue exterior, tan top and bright red interior.

Stalin's soft spot for Packards led to the creation of the ZIS-110 (made by Zavod Imeni Likhacheva). The 110 was a Soviet built car, reverse engineered from a 1942 Packard Super Eight. It was powered by a 6.0l 8 cylinder engine, developing 140 hp and capable of a top speed of over 140 km/h (87 mph).

Adolf Hitler

The Austrian who forever changed the world was the first dictator to create an image for himself unlike any other. Together with Italian dictator Mussolini, Hitler opened the gates for the charismatic leader, cunning, cruel, yet a social human being.

Dictators and their rides
To display his power, Hitler largely used Mercedes-Benz vehicles. The first one he bought in 1925, accounts say on credit. Reportedly, after being involved in an accident from which his car emerged virtually unscathed, he decided to stay with the brand. He owned at least nine Mercedes cars and the carmaker soon became the main supplier of the Third Reich.

For parade purposes, his favorite ride was a 1939 Grosser Mercedes 770K, powered by a 7.6l 8 cylinder inline engine, mated to a five speed gearbox (the fifth is the overdrive). It developed 155 hp at 3,000 rpm without the compressor and 230 hp at 3,200 rpm with it. It could reach a top speed of 80 km/h (50 mph) and ate up to 30 liters of fuel every 100 km (7.8 mpg) for the armor-free version and 40 liters/100 km (5.9 mpg) for the armored one.

A Hitler favorite was the 1939 Auto Union D-Type. A race fan, Hitler favored the creation of the state-sponsored motor racing program. The Type D in question is powered by a rear-mounted, 3-liter twin-stage supercharged V12-cylinder engine and was driven, back in its racing days, by Hitler's favorite driver, Hans Stuck.

Curiously enough, although a car enthusiast and the man behind the creation of Volkswagen (people's car), Adolf Hitler did not like to drive. Also driven by security reasons, he liked to use chauffeurs instead.

Benito Mussolini

"Il Duce", perhaps one of the most controversial figures on the 20th century, was a fervent admirer of Alfa Romeo vehicles. The brand was for Mussolini what Mercedes-Benz was for his German counterpart, Adolf Hitler.

Dictators and their rides
The cars owned by Mussolini prior to him being shot, kicked, spat upon and hanged upside down on meathooks have become today the pride and joy of auction houses. One of his favorite cars, a 1937 Alfa Romeo 2300 MM, was put as for sale on eBay for $1,200,000.

The car in question is enough of an example on Mussolini's passion. Not only did he liked cars, but he also knew a bit more about them than, for instance, Hitler and Stalin. The pure breed Italian racing blood ran through Mussolini's veins. The 1937 Alfa was raced in the notorious Mille Miglia by Mussolini's own racing team, led by his personal chauffeur and cousin, Ercole Boratto.

Off all the other dictators you are reading about here, Mussolini was the most automotive-literate. The state-owned Alfa Romeo was his personal playground, building bespoke vehicles with Touring of Milan or Pinin Farina bodies for the wealthy.

Nicolae Ceausescu

The Romanian dictator, among the few of his breed to be eventually caught and executed by his own people, was more known for his passion for wine than for cars. His most prized possession was a 1974 Buick Electra. Confined to the strict requirements of the communist regime he was leading, Ceausescu found it difficult to own and travel in expensive, people defying vehicles.

Dictators and their rides
That's until 1969, when things began to change. It was the year when, for the first time since Yalta, in 1945, an American President visited a communist country. Later, as a token of appreciation for Ceausescu's understanding of the world's problems, President Nixon made him an expensive gift: the 1974 Buick Electra. It came equipped with features Romanians didn't even dream of owning in a personal vehicle, including air conditioning and leather upholstery. The car's fuel consumption rating stood at some 40 liters/100 km (5.9 mpg), but fuel wasn't a problem for the dictator.

Meanwhile, Romanians were given Dacia, a local brand that many decades later, lacking any major upgrades, became one of the most loathed vehicles in the world. On weekends, cars were allowed on public roads depending on their license plate numbers: one week even numbers, one week uneven ones...

Idi Amin

Idi Amin, Uganda's common man, has turned out to be one of the most cruel leaders the world has ever known. Oblivious to the some 400,000 people killed during his eight year presidency, Amin cared little, after he got to power, on how the public perceives him. As did Saddam Hussein, Amin owned countless vehicles, most of them left-overs from the 80,000 Asians who were driven out of the country in 1972.

Such was the extent of his newly acquired car park, that Amin found it useful to give cars away as gifts. Military generals in Uganda were given, as a token of appreciation, luxury cars, together with properties and businesses.

He apparently had a soft spot, as any self-conscious dictator, for Mercedes Benz. Amin's passion for cars, however, benefited little car manufacturers worldwide. Instead of purchasing them, he liked better stealing or receiving them as gifts.

Dictators and their rides
Apart from the countless vehicles seized from the deportees, Amin reportedly received a Mercedes-Benz 300 Coupe from Al-Qadhafi, and a Cadillac Eldorado Convertible as a bonus when he purchased two new 707 Boeing and a Lockheed Hercules C-130. He also owned a convoy of Mercedes-Benz 240 and, some say, seven Citroen SM and, of course, the all mighty army Jeep...

Saddam Hussein

Among the few dictators to have shamed themselves by being caught by the enemy, the Iraqi dictator is the definition of luxury-at-all-expense. When it comes to cars and the size of his personal fleet, Saddam Hussein is unrivaled. To this day, the exact extent of his car pool is still unknown.

Initial estimates say Saddam was the proud owner of at least 60 luxury vehicles, ranging from authentic London cabs to Rolls Royce Silver Shadows. Most of the 60 vehicles are said to have been destroyed by war, fire or Iraqi looters.

Most of the vehicles owned by Saddam had under 2,000 km on board (1,242 miles). According to the findings of the coalition forces, all vehicles had the keys in the ignition. In an ironic twist, given the country's 3rd place in the OPEC proven oil reserves chart, almost all of them were nearly on empty.

It's very difficult to say exactly which car was Saddam's favorite. He was the proud owner even of Packard "woody" station wagon and petrol-powered buggies...Make your pick.

Kim Jong-Il

The former ruler of the now single, Iron Curtain-like communist country on the planet was, a 100 percent Mercedes Benz fan. In a country with great roads, yet almost no privately-owned vehicles, Kim Jong Il liked to go about his business in a Mercedes-Benz SEL 500...

Well, not quite going about his business, as the car is reported (by the handful who managed to enter and, more importantly, EXIT the country) to be on display in the Mansoosan Memorial Palace.

Back in 1983, his father Kim Il-sung went out of his way and country to provide the son with an exquisite gift. He bought 99 specially designed Nissan vehicles (40 minibuses, 50 wagons and 9 special vehicles) to be used in the ceremonies scheduled for Jong-Il's 42nd birthday.

To make sure it will not be his last birthday, Kim Il-sung requested the special vehicles to be converted as follows: one four-seat, computerized, bullet-proof sedan for Jong-Il, two armored cars for his bodyguards, two dining vehicles, two kitchen vehicles and two camping vehicles...In all, the North Koreans have reportedly spent 2 million British pounds for these vehicles... in 1983.

Muammar al-Gaddafi

The Libyan dictator (established in 1969) did not have a favorite car. He created his favorite cars. Every once in a while, Gaddafi came into the spotlight with his own designs: best, strongest, safest, estests...One of his last achievement was called the Libyan Rocket .

Dubbed, in Gaddafi's language, Saroukh el-Jamahiriya, the five-passenger saloon was a car like any other, in terms of looks. Except for the fact that it boasted rocket-like front and rear ends (hence, the name). Its purpose was not to kill infidels, but to help the Libyan road death tall go down. It was the result of long, hard thinking on how to "preserve human life all over the world," as Dukhali Al-Meghareff, chairman of the Libyan Arab Domestic Investment, the company which build the prototype, said at the time.
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About the author: Daniel Patrascu
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Daniel loves writing (or so he claims), and he uses this skill to offer readers a "behind the scenes" look at the automotive industry. He also enjoys talking about space exploration and robots, because in his view the only way forward for humanity is away from this planet, in metal bodies.
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