For a few minutes on Saturday morning, Feb. 17, Jessi Sites, who lives in Medina and was driving home from errands, couldn’t help but notice the unusual, shiny, deep blue, almost black, vehicle parked right there on the street.
It’s been called one of the most historically significant cars ever made, embedded in our collective memory from numerous images. And so perhaps that’s what made Sites take particular notice.
Unloaded, parked on the street, with no special security, worth at least $7 million, was one of the mammoth, armor-plated Mercedes-Benz 770K Grosser parade cars used by Adolf Hitler.
The license plate read, “IA 148 461.”
You’ve seen the images — Hitler standing inside one of the 5-ton, armor-plated vehicles with hidden compartments for Luger pistols, right hand up in the Nazi salute, being driven past crowds responding with the same salute. For security, it was armor-plated and had bullet-resistant laminated glass for the fixed windscreen.
Only 88 were ever produced of one of the largest, most luxurious limousines in the world. Just a few remain — at three museums and a few with wealthy car collectors.
In one image, one of the Mercedes bearing this same license plate is shown carrying Hitler and Benito Mussolini in 1939 in a parade through the streets of Munich. They could sit on glove-leather seats stuffed with goose down.
In another image, the same Mercedes is shown carrying Hitler in Berlin on July 6, 1940, on another parade.
Says Sites about what she saw, “It was unloaded from a truck. I snapped some pictures.”
She drove past it near Saint Thomas School on the 8300 block of Northwest 12th Street. Sites says she sees the spot used other times when trucks are unloading a big object, and has seen other collector’s cars unloaded there.
The Mercedes’ monster 230-horsepower engine, described as a “7.7 litre inline eight-cylinder” with “overhead-valve architecture,” had been fired up. The car could go over 100 mph. The “Grosser” in Mercedes-Benz 770K Grosser literally translates to mean “large.” The “K” stood for “Kompressor,” as in “supercharger.”
“It was loud, sounded like an old car, kind of sputtering,” says Sites.
She also noticed another vehicle, covered up, in the back of the truck. Two guys were dealing with the truck, just a couple of guys both wearing the same kind of black jacket, like they worked for the same company.
The next time she drove past, the Mercedes was gone and the truck was heading back out to the freeway.
You know what happened next. It’s what we do these days when we get curious. Sites Googled.
And there it was, the same Mercedes with the same license plate.
On Jan. 17 it had been up for auction by Worldwide Auctioneers in Scottsdale, in what was billed as “Arizona Auction Week 2018,” featuring seven collector auctions of some 1,700 vehicles. Those sold unofficially brought in a total of $248 million.
Promotion for the Mercedes — as a “surviving symbol of Allied triumph over evil” — said that 10 percent of proceeds from the sale would be donated to The Simon Wiesenthal Center that teaches about the Holocaust.
But “Hitler’s car,” as these vehicles have come to be known, was not among those then sold. It got up to a $7 million bid and didn’t meet the anonymous seller’s undisclosed minimum price.
Ownership of the car had passed through several individuals. It had been captured by American forces and placed under the control and use of the U.S. Army Military Police stationed in Le Havre, France, according to research done by Worldwide Auctioneers.
The firm said the Mercedes subsequently was featured in several displays, parades and museums across the United States until ending up in private hands.
In November, 2009, the German newspaper Express quoted Michael Froehlich, a Düsseldorf vintage-car dealer, as saying that he had arranged for “a Russian billionaire” to buy six of the 770K Grossers that were stored in a garage near the city of Bielefeld, including this particular one.
“For several million euros, the highlight of the collection, the Hitler car comes to Moscow, “ Fröehlich was quoted.
The next time the Mercedes with license plate IA 148 461 was in the news was in Scottsdale.
So how did it end up in Medina?
“The night of the auction it did not change ownership,” says Rod Egan, one of the principals at Worldwide Auctioneers. “But shortly after that there was a deal pending.”
He says he can’t discuss the price or who bought it “because of the nondisclosure agreement.”
Was it sold to someone in Medina, home of numerous wealthy types?
No, he says.
“The end destination is not in this country,” says Egan about the Mercedes. “It’s far, far away.”
Maybe, he says, the Mercedes was unloaded from the truck so the second vehicle in the rear could come out, and it was that vehicle that was destined for Medina.
Sites does wonder about how a $7-million-plus piece of equipment was so unguarded — “just a couple of guys.” That’s another unanswered question.
There aren’t that many possibilities for where the truck then went to — either to Canada and farther from there. Or more likely, to the Port of Seattle.
But, wonders Sites, why the Port of Seattle, which is 1,400 miles and 22 hours away from Scottsdale, when the Port of Los Angeles is 400 miles and six hours away from Scottsdale?
Wherever it ends up, it’s a historic artifact that fascinates us with its monstrous patron.
Robert Klara wrote a book about the Grosser 770K, titled, appropriately, “The Devil’s Mercedes.”
He concludes, “It was a machine designed not just to elevate its owner but also to subjugate and intimidate his subjects, and the 770K accomplished this work with the same steely efficiency with which it whisked Hitler and his henchmen … The 770K was a frightening car suited to a frightening man, and was also his perfect, mechanical surrogate.”
And for a brief time, there it was, a couple of guys handling it as if it was another AAA tow, just parked on a street in Medina.