The tommy gun may have been the gangster’s best friend, but a close second had to be whatever set of wheels the outlaw used for his getaway and/or everyday transportation. The notorious gangsters and mobsters of the early 1900s were running their criminal empires in the middle of a revolutionary time for automobile performance, and they knew having the right motor or even the right bullet-proofing could mean the difference between freedom & incarceration or even the difference between life & death. Today, museums, casinos, and even airports proudly display the most famous gangsters’ cars…
Al Capone’s Cadillacs
The most famous of his cars is a 1928 Cadillac thought to be one of the first cars to implement body armor and bulletproof glass. The car even has an urban myth surrounding it… Supposedly FDR used the car after Capone was arrested. We have more on that bizzare story here… You can see the car on display at the Gangster Museum of America.
Another Capone Cadillac, a 1940 V-16, sits unrestored at the Collings Foundation in Stow, MA and is available for viewing, along with nearly 100 other cars as well as military aircraft and machinery, by appointment only with groups of 50+.
RELATED STORY: Did FDR and Al Capone share the same armored Cadillac?
John Dillinger’s 1933 Hudson Essex-Terraplane 8
According to the National Museum of Crime & Punishment in Washington, D.C., the Terraplane 8 was Dillinger’s car of choice… Not an unreasonable choice considering the car was thought to have the highest power-to-weight ratio of any production car of the time. Other gangsters such as Baby Face Nelson and John Paul Chase are also said to have favored the car. One of Dillinger’s very own Hudson Terraplane 8’s is on display right now in the Indianapolis State Museum. On loan from the Crime Museum, the car has been making the rounds, even spending some time in the Indianapolis Airport before being displayed at the state museum.
John purchased the Terraplane at the end of March in 1934 in St. Paul, MN and only used it until April 7th when he wrecked it in a field with his brother Hubert, who he signed the car’s title over to. The car’s 8 days as Dillinger’s proved to be quite eventful… Dillinger and girlfriend Evelyn Frechette escaped from a fire-fight with the police at the Lincoln Court Apartments. The car still has bullet holes from the shootout, but you’d have to climb into the car to see them, so just take our word for it.
John Dillinger’s 1932 Studebaker Commander
Terraplanes may have been his favorite, but he pulled off the biggest bank robbery ever (up to that point) with this car. It's on display at the Volo Auto Museum who had this to say about the car:
John Dillinger’s getaway car when Dillinger and his gang robbed the Central National Bank in Greencastle, IN, in October of 1933. Armed with an arsenal of weapons stolen from a police armory, they swarmed into the bank and left the getaway car at the curbside in the charge of another gang member. The getaway Studebaker was itself a stolen unmarked sheriff’s vehicle! The stolen vehicle was fitted with false Ohio license plates originally issued to Dillinger’s wife. The Greencastle robbery went off without a hitch. It was the largest bank robbery up to this point in history, totaling over $75,000.
Bonnie & Clyde’s Death Car
For Bonnie & Clyde, their last car wouldn’t be able to get them away from the long arm of the law. They met their bloody end on a rural road deep in the Louisiana woods. Texas lawmen opened fire on their stolen 1934 Ford Deluxe riddling both the car and the outlaw lovers with roughly 130 rounds. (You can still visit Bonnie & Clyde Ambush/Death Site where a small memorial marks the location.)
Today the Bonnie and Clyde Death Car sits at Whiskey Pete's Hotel & Casino in Primm, NV, but the story of how it got there and whether or not it’s really the actual death car is a whole other can of worms worth reading about...
John Gotti's Jaguar
The gangsters from the 20s and 30s aren’t the only bad boys with cars on display… John Gotti’s 1972 Jaguar XKE convertible is now in the hands of the Mob Museum in Las Vegas. Given to Gotti by Gambino family mobster Greg DePalma, the car is a V-12 with an original price of $7,500. The car isn’t always on display at The Mob Museum due to size limitations, but you can often find it sitting outside the museum or making special appearances as a traveling exhibit.
The museum itself has some ridiculous pieces of gangster history like the brick wall from the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre and the barber chair Albert Anastasia was murdered in in NYC. Visit their website for more info on their current displays.
It’s hard to explain, but for some reason gangsters and mobsters have fascinated Americans for decades, so it’s no surprise even their cars are now considered tourist attractions and centerpieces for museum exhibits.
Cover photo: Chicago Tribune