First, let me say that I would not be writing this story if I had not first heard John Batchelor on his late night radio show interviewing an author on this very subject. That author's comments jogged my memory so that I can now tell the Chattanooga story in greater detail...
Back, soon after World War II ended, there were several memorable things that happened in town about the same time - and one of those was a special display of Hitler's personal limousine.
It was at a time when Chattanooga had a great many passenger trains coming through town every day, and so the great limo had a car of its own and was diverted to a sidetrack just off Market Street, not far north of Terminal Station, (now known as the Chattanooga Choo Choo). The townspeople flocked to see it in great number.
It had been touted to be Hitler's private auto, and it certainly seemed to be fitted out for use by someone of great importance. There was bullet-proof glass that looked to be about two inches thick, oversize headlights which shone forward, plus a special "air-raid" lighting system which shone downward so as to light the ground for only a few yards ahead of the mighty vehicle.
Old photos always show Hitler standing inside the vehicle so as better to salute his watchers, and be saluted by them, as the limo slowly drove by. A special retractable platform provided the extra height to make the Fuehrer appear taller. Those same photos also seem to show that Hitler was in a different car for each shot. This would indicate that Hitler had many cars at his disposal...and this has created puzzles and problems for archivists of later date, as they attempt to decide which was really "Hitler's car".
In the interview I heard, it seems that soon after the war's end, an American Technical Sergeant was investigating a former Nazi train yard and suddenly came upon a flatbed car which contained a huge limo, approximately 20 feet in length, and was immediately taken to be "Hitler's private limousine", which had been designated for shipment out of Germany and Hitler's presumed secret retreat. Obviously that did not work out, and the U.S. Army claimed the car as "their own". Apparently, there were no restrictions at that time on who could claim what, so the limo belonged to the U.S. Army for a long time following its confiscation. Eventually, that car wound up in a Canadian museum, (the Canadian War Museum) where it remains to this day, and is well cared for.
However, there were many other "Hitler cars" - some of which Hitler had personally ordered for favorite Generals - and all of them made, apparently, at Stuttgart, indicating manufacture by Mercedes-Benz (or Mercedes Grosse). Data is still trickling in to the different archives where study is done on such matters as these.
For all the expense and extravagance of these vehicles, they were susceptible to all the problems of other more ordinary cars of the day - plus some extras. For one thing, they weighed about 10,000 pounds - FIVE TONS - (according to the interview I heard) which meant they could only operate on paved streets and highways, as any muddiness of a country road could not support the great weight. Also, mechanics outside of Stuttgart did not know how to work on them, and they got GALLONS TO THE MILE instead of miles to the gallon! Even so "ordinary" a thing as a blown tire could foul up the works as with any other car.
The interview I heard told how all the various "Hitler cars" had been restored to a greater or lesser degree. That one in Canada has probably had the best restoration job of all - even down to the paint job. Great pains were taken to get every detail right. Other cars have suffered from rust and pitting of the chrome, but the one in Canada is supposedly the best, most authentic, example of all.
There is no way to say at this late date, which of the Hitler cars actually came to Chattanooga. The very sight of it is known to have sent chills up and down the spines of many who saw it; the very thought of the World's Most Evil Person having once ridden in that huge vehicle now standing directly before their eyes - of Jew and Gentile alike!
As mentioned above, Chattanooga used to be a great hub of many railroads: witness the number of railroad crossings you encounter today as you drive north, south, east or west in our city! Many of the old crossings, no longer used, have been permanently closed, but many still remain. John Wilson, Publisher of this on-line newspaper has written a fine new book about them, and it is profusely illustrated. When the old passenger trains were around, pulling into Terminal Station or Union Depot with a special display of some type was easy, and so we benefited by having visits such as those described above. Another special exhibit train (about 1948) was the so-called "Freedom Train" which brought the great "Documents of Freedom" from Washington, DC, through every region of the land - including Chattanooga. Those documents included both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. Lines were long to see them here, as everywhere, but we did not go, as we had seen both those main documents only a few years before during a stop in DC on our visit to the New York World's Fair of 1939.
But the mental images I still have of that infamous "Hitler car" remain with me to this day, having left an indelible impression on the mind of a young teen-aged boy.
(Chester Martin is a native Chattanoogan who is a talented painter as well as local historian. He and his wife, Pat, live in Brainerd. Mr. Martin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org )