Let’s get one thing straight right out of the blocks: this article is in no way meant to be a ‘puff piece’ for the dictators listed within it, all of whom were beyond the pale, easily the nastiest, most abhorrent group of men to walk the earth in the 20th century. Without exception they were brutal, cruel, and their long-toppled regimes were corrupt, ill-conceived and self-serving.
With the above foregrounded clearly, let’s take a look at some of the coolest vehicles owned – or in many cases, stolen – by the worst dictators of the last century. Expect plenty of bullet proof glass, chintzy curtains and tiny, wing-mounted national flags from here on in. You have been warned.
Saddam & Ude Hussein, Iraq
Let’s start with one of the true petrolheads of the dictatorial community, the former leader of Iraq and a man with a penchant for automotive oddities. His own collection was stuffed with Mercedes of various types and ages, including a pre-war 500 K Special, and a car you’ll be seeing plenty of on this list, a 600 Grosser. He also owned an array of Bentleys, the odd Ferrari, turbo buggies and even a London Taxi.
A passion for petrol (burning it, mainly) clearly ran through the Hussein bloodline, with Saddam’s son Uday owning a pink Ferrari Testarossa, myriad Porsches and even a Lamborghini LM002, a vehicle subsequently blown up by the US Army following its invasion of Iraq in 2004. Best of all was Uday’s superbly eighties, magnificently over the top Gemballa 635CSi, a car since lost to the mists of time…and perhaps the Iraqi desert!
Idi Amin, Uganda
Perhaps the wildest, weirdest and cruellest individual on this list (he was certainly partial to the odd bit of hands-on torture), Idi Amin ruled Uganda for a little under eight years in the mid-seventies to the early eighties, long enough for the former British Empire soldier to destroy the nation’s economy and commit countless crimes against his citizens.
When not tormenting his citizens or driving out Ugandan Asians, Amin liked to flaunt his wealth, power and status, often by cruising about in either a Mercedes Grosser (we told you it would crop up again) or sometimes a Citroen SM. God only knows how the complex Frenchie with the Maserati heart dealt with Uganda’s so-so spares network and hostile climate.
Muammar Gaddafi, Libya
Muammar Gaddafi was weird, even by the mental standards of his dictatorial contemporaries, and this was reflected in his car collection. The Libyan dictator was in power for a long time so of course the customary collection of Mercedes (Grosser, naturally) and Bentleys made an appearance, but so too did a custom Fiat 500. The all-electric 500 was built for Gaddafi by Italian coachbuilder Castagna Milano and was littered with bespoke touches, including a silhouette of Africa with Libya picked out in green. Kind to the planet, awful to his people – go figure.
Pol Pot, Cambodia
Proving that left-wing communist regimes are as inclined to live by the very principles they espouse as right wing ones, Pol Pot and the rest of the Khmer Rouge’s ‘top brass’ liked to waft around late seventies Cambodia in, you guessed it, a Benz. It was ‘only’ a W115 LWB however, just modest enough to keep the proletariat in check, perhaps?
Joseph Stalin, USSR
In purely dictatorial terms, Stalin was the gold standard. The brutal Georgian ruled unopposed from 1922 to 1953, won a war against the Nazis, expanded the soviet state to its largest, and even managed to die in power – not exactly a common trait amongst his strongman contemporaries. Stalin was also partial to the odd luxury car, a passion supposedly kick-started after a pre-Cold War trip in an American Packard Super Eight. He liked the experience so much that he ordered the Soviet car industry to cook up a communist counterpart, and the ZiS-115 (armoured in Stalin’s case) was the result.
Ferdinand Marcos, Philippines
Proving that subtle, understated or restrained were simply not in the presidential lexicon, Ferdinand Marcos, the terror of the Philippines from 1965 to 1986, liked to tool about in this long wheel base Lincoln Town Car. It was stuffed with all the chintz, rushed leather and high-tech wizardry you’d expect of an American luxury car from the early eighties, not least a comedically bulky TV. Marcos also had a fleet of period Mercedes and, of course, a Grosser.
Rafael Trujillo, Dominican Republic
As you can probably tell from the image above, Rafael Trujillo – brutal ruler of the Dominican Republic, took his last trip in the back of this ’57 Chevy Bel Air, and in a very literal sense. The Caribbean strongman had been in power for well over three decades come the time of his death in 1961, and as the car shows, the assassins didn’t deal in half measures – over 60 bullet holes were found in total, and the rear-bench were Trujillo sat was soaked in blood.
Kim dynasty, North Korea
Mercs, Mercs and more Mercs! All three generations of the Kim dynasty have favoured Stuttgart’s finest for their dictatorial conveyance needs, with a 600 Grosser (again) and a slew of modern Pullman Guards S-Classes, the latter way, way too modern to be featured here. Best of all, the Kims seem to have a penchant for W140 generation Mercs, one of the best of the breed and still in service to this day – Vice President Mike Pompeo was even loaned one on his recent trip to the ‘hermit kingdom.’
Chairman Mao, Communist China
The Hongqi Red Flag was a Chinese built luxury car from the late seventies, and this despite looking for all the world like a mid fifties slice of Americana…which is odd when you consider communist China’s politics at the time. Mao was fond of being ferried around in the big, black Red Flag, and if its interior is anything to go by the writer of the Little Red Book was rather partial to a bit of chintz.
Fidel Castro, Cuba
Being a communist vassal state meant you were at the bottom of the pecking order when it came to communist dictatorial conveyances, which is why Cuba’s Castro wound up with a ZIL-111. The communist luxo-barge was gifted to Castro by Nikita Khrushchev around the time of the Cuban Missile Crises in the early sixties. Castro later upgraded to the Gaz Chaika M14, a fantastically massive slice of late soviet status, and a car we can’t help thinking is pretty damn cool. Gaz restomod, anyone?
Adolf Hitler, Germany
The most famous villain of them all and perhaps the 20th century’s most recognisable tyrant, Adolf Hitler and his cronies made full use of the burgeoning German car industry throughout the Nazi era, with the Mercedes Benz 770 being the most popular. It’s this car you’ll see wafting by in period footage, shuttling the very worst people in history to and from meetings, summits and war crimes. It’s not the big Merc’s fault that Hitler, Himmler, Heydrich and co decided to use it as their preferred mode of transport, though with a big, powerful ‘straight eight’ up front it isn’t hard to see why they did.
Augusto Pinochet, Chile
Whether this actually counts as Pinochet’s car is hard to gauge, what with the Ford Galaxie 500 XL having initially been bought by – wait for it – Queen Elizabeth II for her visit to Chile back in 1970. The drop-top Ford was subsequently pressed into service by President Eduardo Frei’s government before being adopted by Pinochet when he overthrew him in 1973. It remains in service with the Chilean government to this day!
Nicolae Ceausescu, Romania
It became tougher for leaders of ostensibly left-wing, communist regimes to flaunt their wealth as the 20th century ticked by, which probably explains why Romania’s Ceausescu was better known for his passion for high end ‘plonk’ than cars. But the Ceausescu did own a prized automotive possession, a 1974 Buick Electra! What’s more he acquired it from a most unlikely of sources, president Nixon. The disgraced leader of the free world opted to gift the dictator his very own slice of Americana as a show of support and also a gift, thanking Ceausescu for carrying out minor reforms. Not that it worked – Ceausescu and his family were executed by the Romanian people before the end of the eighties.
Benito Mussolini, Italy
Il Duce famously made the trains run on time (though that’s a misnomer, he actually did nothing of the sort and was far more interested in recreated the Holy Roman Empire for the 20th century), but he was also something of a petrolhead. Mussolini was regular chauffeured (by Ercole Boratto, a former Alfa Romeo test driver) in a custom Lancia Asura parade car but he was also a committed driver and something of a motorsport fan, hence the image of him at the wheel of a pre-war Alfa Romeo above. Not only that, Il Duce fancied himself as something of a designer and had the Lancia Astura Coupe ‘Aerodinamico’ below made specially for his son.