Where Are Those Famous Gangster Getaway Cars?

Al Capone reportedly had this 1928 Cadillac town sedan bullet-proofed, and that detail is enough to have it fetch more than $300,000 at auction. (Photo: RM Auctions).

One accessory that wasn’t added at the factory are the bullet holes. They’re famous getaway cars, and the amazing thing is that they’re still with us, which is more than you can say for their former owners.

Bonnie and Clyde

Probably the most famous getaway car is a gray 1934 Ford V-8, stolen by Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker and in use by them on a multi-state, 2,500-mile crime spree (leaving nine corpses) before their luck ran out at a roadblock. The moment forms the climax of the film "Bonnie and Clyde," and the more than 100 bullets tearing into both them and the car are captured in highly effective slow motion. A landmark of cinema, many say.

Bonnie and Clyde's getaway car
Bonnie and Clyde's death car is at Whiskey Pete's in Pimm, Nevada. (Photo: Whiskey Pete's)

The next time you’re in Pimm, Nevada, stop by Whiskey Pete’s Resort and Casino, because that’s where the decidedly unrestored Ford resides, looking just like its stand-in does in the movie. Pete also has the blue shirt Barrow was wearing on May 23, 1934, when the lawmen closed in. It’s a bit worse for wear, too, with several holes, but at least it appears to have been through a laundry since then. Other ghoulish “memorabilia” is promised, too.

Bonnie Parker with stogie, gun and Ford
Bonnie Parker, with stogie, gun and Ford. (Photo: Public Domain/Wikipedia)

By the way, Barrow was particular about his cars. He actually wrote a letter to Henry Ford (now in the Ford Museum) proclaiming his admiration for the quality of the man’s V-8s. Here's the full text of that letter, whose authenticity has been questioned:

While I still have got breath in my lungs I will tell you what a dandy car you make. I have drove Fords exclusivly when I could get away with one. For sustained speed and freedom from trouble the Ford has got ever other car skinned and even if my business hasen't been strickly legal it don't hurt enything to tell you what a fine car you got in the V8.

And here’s video:

John Dillinger

The Essex Terraplane is not well remembered today, but the bluesman Robert Johnson put one into a song, and John Dillinger actually bought his with cash from his bank jobs — he wasn’t a car thief like Bonnie and Clyde.

The last I heard, Dillinger’s 1933 Terraplane was at the convention center in Richmond, Virginia, following a tour of airports. It was just in Baltimore, and I saw it in Indianapolis.

John Dillinger had the keys to this Terraplane for only about a month.

The Terraplane, valued at $150,000, has a bullet hole or two, but they’re far more discreet than those worn by the poor Ford. Dillinger bought the car from the Pothoff Brothers Motor Company in St. Paul, Minnesota, in March 1934, when he had only a few more months to live. For obvious reasons, the car was registered to Dillinger’s brother, Hubert, who was with him when the pair crashed the Terraplane into a farmer’s field on April 7, 1934.

Hubert subsequently repaired the Essex, but left the bullet holes — perhaps with a thought to future value. Ol' J.D., on foot by this time, had his rendezvous with destiny at a Chicago movie theater in July of that same year. His last thoughts were undoubtedly of his Essex, which is owned by the National Museum of Crime and Punishment in Washington, D.C.

Dillinger also had a 1932 Studebaker Commander he used in 1933 to rob the Central National Bank in Greencastle, Indiana — a textbook robbery that went off without a hitch. That car is in the Volo Auto Museum. Essex was his favorite brand, though.

Al Capone

Nothing but the best for bootlegger and crime boss Al Capone. On a recent visit to Kansas City, I stopped by the Rieger Hotel, where the legendary boss Tom Pendergast held court, and a sign in the bathroom says, “This is where Al Capone urinated.” Undoubtedly he arrived in his famous armored Cadillac.

Al Capone's Cadillac getaway car

The green, four-passenger 1928 Model 341 town sedan (above) isn’t hugely impressive to look at — it wasn’t even the top of the Cadillac range that year — but the quality was built in. The mobster’s car is heavily armor-plated, one of the first cars to be so-equipped. As the video below shows, motorists who came under attack could lower steel curtains (complete with slits for firing back). A big steel plate protects the firewall. The glass is an inch thick and bulletproof. Here's video on what went into this unique Cadillac:

It’s these specific details that make the Caddy even more valuable, and it explains a 2012 auction price of $341,000. RM Auctions, which sold the car, said its provenance “has never been questioned,” but in fact it has. Capone’s ownership isn’t that well-documented, although the son of the armor plate installer said in 1933 that the car is authentic.

Another Capone Cadillac, a gorgeous 1940 V-16 convertible, is unrestored at the Collings Foundation, in Stow, Massachusetts, and can reportedly be seen there by special appointment.

George “Machine Gun” Kelly

was also a car guy. In his life of crime, he “was known to be enjoying many luxuries, including high-powered automobiles and expensive jewelry, without any visible means of support,” the FBI reported. For a famous kidnapping, he used a seven-passenger Cadillac (or Buick, the victim wasn’t sure). These days, "Machine Gun" Kelly is a rapper, and he's had misadventures with cars, too, totaling a Nissan Altima and a Ford Explorer.

george machine gun kelly

In more modern times, mobster John Gotti showed impeccable taste in cars, owning a 1972 Jaguar E-Type convertible with V-12 power. That car, which cost $7,500 new, is now at the Mob Museum in Las Vegas.