Nothing says “disposable income” like having the collected coffers of an entire oppressed nation at your fingertips. But did these strongmen have a sense of style to match? We’re taking a look at the sweet rides they cruised around in and the collections they amassed as they ran their respective countries into the ground.
Rafael Trujillo – 1957 Chevy Bel-Air
Rafael Trujillo was twice elected president of the Dominican Republic, but even when he technically didn’t hold the post, he was still the military strongman managing the puppet strings of political figureheads. Over the course of his 31-year reign, he brought some stability and monetary prosperity to the Caribbean country. The cost, however, was that most of that prosperity went to him and his family members. Trujillo spent much of his newfound wealth on a car collection that any auto enthusiast would be jealous of.
Trujillo was mostly a Ferrari man, but he was riding in a 1957 Chevy Bel-Air when his brutal reign of racially-motivated slaughter was brought to an end in 1961. The people who ambushed him on a highway and gunned him down were given government pensions and regarded as national heroes.
Idi Amin – Mercedes-Benz 600
Idi Amin had a penchant for self-aggrandization that would put any dictator to shame. He declared himself, among other things, “Uncrowned King of Scotland” and “Lord of All Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea.” He also had a love of the Mercedes-Benz 600, which you’re going to be hearing a lot about here. The 600 was the most expensive car on Earth at its time, and as such, it was sort of the go-to for dictators. Its list of fans includes Mao Tse Tung, Leonid Brezhnev, Nicolae Ceausescu, Kim Il-Sung, Kim Jong-Il, Kim Jong-Un, Pol Pot, Ferdinand Marcos, Fidel Castro, Saddam Hussein, and Donald Trump (who prefers the Mercedes McLaren but has definitely had an S600 or two).
Joseph Stalin – ZIS-115
The ZIS-115 is a reverse-engineered, armored take on the Packard Super Eight. Stalin actually had several of these, as well as the non-armored ZIS-110 and an actual Packard or two. The guy was crazy about those sleek, deco curves. Who wouldn’t be? Of course, he was also just regular old crazy, having killed millions of people.
Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier – Ferrari Testarossa
François”Papa Doc” Duvalier was a brutal nationalist who murdered anywhere from 30,000 to 60,000 Haitians. His son, Jean-Claude, had less hardened political views. He was more of a selfish, thoughtless sort of dictator. He loved fast cars, particularly Ferraris like the Testarossa and the 365 GT. He had a habit of racing around in those while his more business-minded wife focused on oppressing the country to fund it all.
Fidel Castro – GAZ Chaika
Castro loved cars, and assembled a veritable museum over his life. He originally preferred American cars, driving Fords, Chevys, and Oldsmobiles for years. After America stopped trade with Cuba, Castro went abroad – and upscale – for a series of Audis, BMWs, and Mercedes-Benzes, especially the Mercedes-Benz 600 (sound familiar?). He was also had some of those Soviet ZiLs that Stalin was so fond of, and the GAZ Chaika. The GAZ in particular became a symbol of Castro’s luxury, which made them a smash hit when he tired of them and put them into the state-run taxi fleet.
Vladimir Lenin – 1922 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost
Vladimir Lenin (of the Red Terror and “decossackization”) paid a lot of lip service to equality, while he cruised around in a car that was the height of luxury. We know for a fact that this was purchased by one of Lenin’s emissaries, and not “inherited” from Czar Nicholas. In fact, the Communist leader owned nine Rolls-Royces over the course of his rule.
Indira Gandhi – Hindustan Ambassador
Chevrolet has a long-standing history as a Bollywood status symbol, so it’s not surprising that Indira Gandhi would cruise around in a 1963 Chevrolet Impala. Gandhi’s most famous car, though, was a white Hindustan Ambassador that was famously towed by Nirmal Singh, whose supervisor Kiran Bedi became a somewhat-contentious folk hero after refusing to punish him.
Sadaam Hussein – Porsche 911
Sadaam Hussein – as well as his sons, Uday and Qusay, had a thing for car collecting. Along with some bog-standard dictator favorites like the Ferrari Testarossa (in pink) and the Mercedes S600 (hello again, 600!), they found a pink 1955 Chevy Bel Air and a couple of Porsche 911s.
Muammar Gaddafi – Saroukh el-Jamahiriya
Gaddafi didn’t spend on cars like a Castro or a Kim Jong-Un. But he did have a BMW 7 series, a Mercedes Limo, and a custom Fiat 500 that somehow cost more than a quarter of a million dollars. Still his crowning car glory has got to be the car that he designed himself – Saroukh el-Jamahiriya, the “Libyan Rocket.” It was supposed to be the world’s safest car, but it never quite came to fruition. Bizarrely, despite the “Rocket” appellation, it was powered by a puny little V6 – hardly fitting for a world leader of any sort, much less a merciless dictator.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – 1977 Peugeot 504
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was known for a lot of things – like moving Iran towards theocracy, eroding freedom of speech and assembly, and stoking rampant homohobia. He openly antagonized numerous global superpowers and more or less completely disregarded human rights within Iran’s borders. But he also pulled several charitable moves, including administering free food, and selling his white Peugot 504 for nearly $2.5 million to raise money for a housing initiative.
Adolph Hitler – Mercedes-Benz 770K
Most photos of Hitler in a car show him in the “Grosser Mercedes” – for us English speakers, that’s “the big’un.” This 6×6 was one of several custom jobs ther German company put together for the dictator – in fact he once said that he would “not tolerate a car manufactured by another company.” (Despite being a key figure in creating both the Volkswagen company and the car itself.) It’s worth noting that the Mercedes 600 didn’t yet exist, but when it came into existence, it was also known as the “Grosser Mercedes.”
Benito Mussolini – 1939 Alfa Romeo 6C2500 Sport Berlinetta
Like Hitler, Mussolini believed in supporting local businesses. He adored Alfa Romeo, having corresponded with Nicola Romeo himself to wax enthusiastic about an early model he owned. During his reign, he owned a minimum of two 6C 2300 Spiders, a 1500 sedan, a 1500 convertible, and four 1750s. He went so far as to have Ercole Boratto, a race car driver known for driving Alfa Romeos, serve as his personal chauffeur. He and his girlfriend were even fleeing Italy in a 6C Sport Berlinetta that he gave her when they were both captured and killed.
Ferdinand Marcos – Mercedes-Benz 600
As many dictators have owned the Mercedes-Benz 600, we can usually find another car to talk about instead, but Ferdinand Marcos is a special case. Marcos loved the 600. In fact, he owned no fewer than four of these cars, including a Landaulet, a bulletproof model, and a six-door version. As President of The Philippines, Marcos enacted sweeping legislation, industrialized agriculture, and massive infrastructure projects – by enacting martial law, killing thousands of people and racking up billions of dollars in debt. Maybe that’s the only way to afford one – either that, or be John Lennon.
Kim Jong-Il – Mercedes Maybach
Kim Jong-Il loved his Mercedes. His favorite was a Maybach, but he wasn’t too picky. He once spent $20 million of an $80 million humanitarian aid package on Mercedes sedans as a giant “thank you” card for a successful missile test, and after that fiasco, reportedly gave away 160 Mercedes sedans to his friends in 2010 alone. He eventually replaced his beloved Maybach with (you guessed it) – the 600, in this case the S600 Pullman Guard limo. He inherited that love of Mercedes from his father Kim Il-sung, and seems to have passed it on to his son, Kim Jong-Un, whose extravagant spending has outstripped even his father’s, so much so that it was the subject of a special U.N. report.
Pol Pot – 1973 Mercedes-Benz W115
The ruthless leader of the Khmer Rouge became infamous for “the Killing Fields,” where shackled workers were forced to dig their own graves before being buried alive, so as not to waste bullets. Such frugality afforded Pol Pot luxuries like the 1973 Mercedes-Benz W115 with a short wheel base. (And of course, the Mercedes-Benz 600.)