The Devil’s Mercedes: The Bizarre and Disturbing Adventures of Hitler’s Limousine in America
by Robert Klara
It reads a bit like a who-done-it that before it’s solved has involved a nearly unbelievable group: the Larz Anderson museum, Tom Barrett, Randy Ema, Ralph Engelstad, Robert (Passport Transportation) Pass, Mike Lamm, and even the Pebble Beach Concours among the many. Then there’s the hero of the tale, a man named Ludwig Kosche with an even more unlikely-for-a-hero profession. He’s a librarian-researcher who credits his initial training and subsequently acquired skills working in his profession with enabling him to solve the mystery. When was the last time—if ever—that you read a book in which the hero of the entire tale was a researcher-librarian?
Following what can only be described as the incredibly convoluted path, with more twists, turns and several dead ends, yet relating the story in such a way that the reader is loathe to set the book aside even for a moment, is a man who describes himself as “a storyteller, nothing more or less.” The pages of this, his third book are proof that Robert Klara is indeed a storyteller as he takes the reader on a trip of discovery involving several monstrous cars—each weighing some five tons—the Mercedes-Benz Type 770 model W150 Grosser or, more commonly, 770K. Klara’s description of himself is, however, too modest in your commentator’s opinion because telling this tale also requires its author to be more than merely skilled at his craft. His words must be chosen carefully due to sensitivities surrounding the identity of the “Devil” in the title, Adolf Hitler.
Before writing, Robert Klara conducted his own careful research to find and verify the facts hidden in many false claims and stories. Klara proves himself not merely able on all counts. He excels! The story he weaves in The Devil’s Mercedes will leave you contemplating humankind’s behaviors as you read because, as the subtitle notes, it tells of The Bizarre and Disturbing Adventures of Hitler’s Limousine in America and the people who got caught up in the thrall and coveted the car.
It is a history in which those 770Ks are key because they were part of the Third Reich’s motorpool. And that makes the research-librarian hero all the more remarkable for he had been born in Germany and nearly been killed by Hitler’s Nazi forces before escaping, fleeing to Canada. There Kosche was eventually employed in the Canadian War Museum’s library where ultimately, “working alone and at his own expense, he cracked the case of a single mystery Mercedes whose presence had utterly stymied the museum” staff.
Kosche’s research only became available after his passing for while alive he’d forbidden anyone from utilizing it in any way and certainly wouldn’t tolerate anyone rewriting or rephrasing his words. As Klara observed, “Having spoken with a few of Kosche’s old colleagues, I am confident that the man would not have liked me . . . [and likely] kept his files from me.” Once he’d read Kosche’s files, which had been bequeathed to the Canadian government, Klara commented that “While Kosche was without question a fine academic and world-class researcher, his prose style had all the flavor of a radial tire.” Yet, Klara went on, “Were it not for him [referring to Kosche), this book would not exist.”
As you’ll read, Klara’s own research led him to interviewing many and visiting some collections and collectors including no less a luminary of the old car world than General William H. Lyon who had acquired The Devil’s Mercedes in the mid-1980s and a full decade later overseen what would become a two-decade-long restoration necessitated by the search for, or fabrication of, missing parts. As of the General’s 2020 passing, this particular Mercedes is still part of the Lyon collection now under the watchful eye of his son Bill. Why a decorated war combatant would want—much less invest time and money to return it to what it had been in 1941—a car that had served its Nazi owners and been ridden in by “the Devil” himself makes for fascinating reading.
We can but hope there will be more real life history stories that will intrigue and draw Robert Klara back to research and writing books again. But for now, the need to eat regularly has led to his returning fulltime to magazine work. The readers of AdWeek (print and online) are the beneficiaries of the well-crafted articles from its senior editor who specializes in the evolution and impact of brands. For now, you’re heartily commended to afford yourself of the opportunity to read his The Devil’s Mercedes as well as the two titles that preceded it; The Hidden White House and FDR’s Funeral Train.
Copyright 2023 Helen V Hutchings, SAH (speedreaders.info)