The recent strife in Ukraine, which has seen the flight of President Viktor Yanukovych from the capital Kiev, has included a scene that is obligatory in the fall of corrupt dictatorships around the world: the revealing of a lavish presidential residence with a vast collection of cars. In the case of Ukraine, journalists found a significant item missing from the presidential car collection: a Horch 855 Special Roadster, one of only seven examples of the flagship model of Auto Union built between 1935 and 1939. Only three are known to survive.
The Horch 855 Special Roadster represented the peak of Horch and Auto Union before the Second World War, a flagship model intended to compete with the Mercedes-Benz 500K in the small and rarefied market for ultra-luxury grand touring cars. First announced in 1935, it had a 5 liter straight eight engine rated at 120 horsepower and a maximum speed of 87 miles per hour. Priced at 22,000 Reichsmarks (approximately $150,000 today), the 855 proved to be less popular than the more powerful and prestigious 500K, and Horch sold only seven from 1936 to 1939, including one to Hermann Goering.
The two 855 Special Roadsters in these photos are two-thirds of the world’s surviving examples: one in black that lives behind glass in the Audi Museum, the other in silver displayed at Meilenwerk in Berlin. The silver car had a series of noteworthy owners: originally purchased by Hermann Goering, it then went to movie director Veit Harlan, one of the leading filmmakers of the Third Reich, whose productions included cast-of-thousands war epics and an anti-Semitic propaganda film that led to him being charged with crimes against humanity after the war; then to Walter Ulbricht, leader of East Germany from 1950 to 1971.
With Yanukovych’s Horch 855 Special Roadster now disappeared, photographs of it are currently unavailable among the photographs that journalists have taken of Yanukovych’s vast car and motorcycle collection, only a fraction of which is shown in the photograph above. It includes examples of most of the products of the Soviet Union’s automotive industry, Mercedes-Benzes, a Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud, and even a 1964 Chevrolet. The presence of the Horch is known only from an empty parking space with a data plate, which misrepresents the car as being from 1935, the year that the model was first displayed at auto shows and not the first year of production. Based on a brief reference to the car in a story about a 2012 auto show in Kyiv, which does not mention Yanukovych being the owner, it is from 1938.
The provenance of Yanukovych’s Horch 855 Special Roadster is also currently unknown, but it no doubt will prove to be interesting. Originally purchased by one of the most wealthy and powerful individuals of the Third Reich, it quite likely went to the Soviet Union as a spoil of war of a top Red Army commander, such as Marshal Georgiy Zhukov or Marshal Ivan Konev, the commanders of the conquest of Berlin. It then somehow came into the possession of Viktor Yanukovych. If real life were an episode of Archer, Yanukovych would be using his prized Horch as his getaway car, but alas a conspicuous car like a Horch 855 Special Roadster is the worst possible vehicle to drive while on the run; instead, the Horch is probably in the hands of a powerful and connected person who knew about it and sent men to take it away before the press and public arrived at Yanukovych’s mansion. Its story is still being written.