Notorious Nazi Hermann Göring came to the end of the road in 1946, committing suicide right before he was to be hanged for crimes against humanity. But his specially designed car, a 1941 Mercedes Benz 540K Cabriolet B, traveled on — all the way to North Carolina, where it was recently discovered.
The vehicle, now owned and being restored by High Velocity Classics of Pompano Beach, Florida, is considered a trophy celebrating the Allied victory in Europe. The US Army’s 7th Infantry captured the car at Hitler’s villa at Berchtesgaden on the last day of the war in May 1945. After it was painted OD Green with the Army star on the hood, it became the personal vehicle of Colonel John A. Heintges, the 7th Infantry commander. Toward the end of the US occupation of Germany, the car was sold as surplus to a US Army staff sergeant who had it shipped to Texas. A few years later, he sold the Mercedes to North Carolina resident Richard Taylor.
The car has been with Taylor ever since, but not exactly in one piece. An aborted attempt at restoring the car in the 1970s left it partially disassembled. High Velocity partners Steven Saffer and David Rathbun discovered it with the chassis, seats and engine intact, but with the remainder of the car in boxes.
Saffer and Rathbun owe their discovery of the historically significant automobile to serendipity. “Steve was having dinner one evening, and he ran into someone in the car business who told him the car was in existence,” Rathbun told The Times of Israel. “We knew we had to follow up on this extraordinary piece of history.”
Following two and half months of difficult detective work, the partners located the car and were able to verify its authenticity with Mercedes Benz. Amazingly, much of the car’s original documentation was with Taylor, despite so many years having passed.
According to Rathbun, only three Third Reich cars are currently in North America: Another one of Göring’s is at West Point, and one of Hitler’s is at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.
While another Göring car recently went for £16 million ($24.55 million), Rathbun said he doesn’t think this car, a lower-end model, would fetch such a high price. Still, it is the last of its type ever made (regular production of the model ended in 1939), and was one of the best and most powerful vehicles in the world at the time of its manufacture.
The High Velocity Classics partners view the car differently from any other. “We are motivated by the thought that we have found a piece of the war that has been buried. We saved it, and we want to put it into the right hands,” Rathbun said.
“We’ve consulted with the rabbi [Leonid Feldman] at Temple Beth El in West Palm Beach, and following his recommendation, we are going to see if the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington or Yad Vashem in Jerusalem would be interested in it,” Rathbun shared. “We’d need a donor to come forward to help us with that,” he continued.
They’d also consider selling the car to another museum, or to a serious collector, so long as the recipient understands the artifact’s historical significance. “We will not let it be abused,” Rathbun emphasized. The fact that both Saffer and Jason Wenig, who has been hired to carry out the restoration, are Jewish lends an additional layer of sensitivity.
“Whatever profit we make, we will give a significant portion to a Jewish cause,” Rathbun said.