Despite being real figures in history, many notorious gangsters, crooks, and criminals seem to be almost mythological in proportion. Popular culture has given us a morbid fascination with the lives of murders, con men, and drug traffickers; and that includes their iconic cars. Naturally, some of these wealthy folks had a lot of cars, acquired with the money they gained from extortion plots, bank robberies, and heists, but each of these cars are pivotal in the lives of these almost superhuman figures, iconic for their involvement in high-profile crimes or simply just as an inseparable representation of the person driving it.
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The Zodiac Killer, known for sneaking up on young couples in secluded areas and murdering them, didn't leave many witnesses. One of the two who was able to survive an attack from this legendary killer — who to this day hasn't been caught — was able to identify his vehicle: a light brown, 1963 Chevrolet Corvair. In 1969, when Zodiac was terrorizing the California Bay area and sending cryptic letters to San Francisco newspapers, this car was a central part of the frantic — and ultimately unsuccessful — manhunt.
As one of the most notorious and feared gangster's in history, Al Capone knew he was living with a target on his back. Why else would someone have their late 1920's vehicle outfitted with an armor-plated exterior and inch-thick bullet-proof glass? It does make sense, though. He drove an iconic car, even for back then, and he knew he was making himself a target. To its credit, the precautions he took were effective: he lived long enough to die of cardiac arrest at the age of 48.
Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar was one of those criminals who stockpiled cars, but one of his most iconic was a slick race car, previously driven by Brazilian racing champ Emerson Fittipaldi. Escobar was known to enjoy racing through the streets of his hometown of Medellin in his youth, and it seems that when he curated money and fame, he used it to purchase a vehicle worthy of a true street racer. There are even pictures of Escobar posing with the car in a racecar driver's uniform.
This car was involved in what was perhaps the most infamous car chase in American history. Belonging to Al Cowlings, a former NFL star, the real story was who he had in the car with him — former NFL legend and all-around divisive character, OJ Simpson. After Simpson was accused of murdering his wife and a man who was suspected to be her lover, the Bronco was featured on live news broadcasts as it swerved around the LA freeway network as its driver — Cowling — tried to evade police with a reportedly suicidal Simpson in the vehicle.
There are few cases in which car and crime are melded that are quite as notable as Bonnie and Clyde's spree in 1934. They stole a brand-new Ford and took it on a 2,500-mile trip, robbing, murdering, and stealing as they traveled. What's more, the car played a major role in their ability to make it as far as they did. At the time, the V8 engine was still relatively new, and they used its significant upgrade in power to outmaneuver the authorities.
In 1963, in perhaps the most notable heist in history, Bruce Reynolds and his gang of outlaws famously held up a train, and Reynolds made his getaway in a new Ford Lotus Cortina. The choice in vehicles may have made more of a difference than expected. Reynolds was one of the few involved in the heist who was able to escape in the immediate aftermath. The Lotus Cortina was unique, a collaboration between Ford and Lotus, and the British manufacturer stopped production in 1970.
In 2004, Marvin Heemeyer, Colorado mechanic and welder, turned an ordinary bulldozer into a killing machine with reinforced armor and mounted guns on the outside. He drove through his small town of Granby, CO, shooting and leaving destruction in his wake. Reportedly, he was aggrieved by an unfair zoning decision that the town government made, and had simply had enough. Although we certainly think there are better ways to settle these issues. After Heemeyer was done, it took officers hours to access his reinforced cab.
When your cult hideout is in the middle of an arid desert, you might think you need durable vehicles to get to and from where you want to go. And you'd be right. Charles Manson was known for many things — most notably, his urge to start a race war, his hate for police, and the many murders that happened under his direction, but behind any effective psychopath, there's one or more iconic vehicles. Apparently, Manson and his "family" were known to drive the aptly named Dodge Power Wagons to and from their Death Valley ranch.
Some criminals become rich due to their enterprises and some who live more modest lives. Ted Bundy was one of the latter. Through his entire spree of murdering young women in Oregon and several other states, he drove the same tan, 1968 VW Beetle. Ironically, it was this car that led to his initial arrest — when it was searched, authorities found victims' hair and several tools that matched descriptions of many of his reported attacks in the vehicle.
"Killer Clown" John Wayne Gacy's ride wasn't as notorious as Ted Bundy's, but it was believed to be just as prolific. His 1979 Oldsmobile Delta 88 was the car he drove as he performed as a clown at children's parties, another chilling aspect of the idea that anyone — in any car — can pretend to be something they aren't. This particular car was lost to time after its owner was put to death in 1994.`
Rolls Royce has always staked their claim in making the best car in the world, and that started with the AX 201 series — known as the iconic "Silver Ghost." One of these was famously owned by Atlantic City ex-sheriff and notorious crime boss, Enoch "Nucky" Johnson. Johnson was known for his extravagance, and that shined through with his car — in 1920, he bought it for a price of $14,000, just under $180,000 in today's dollars.
Still missing, this car is now as mysterious as the events that involved it in 1996. Suge Knight, whose label Deathrow Records had signed Tupac Shakur, was driving Shakur back from a Mike Tyson boxing match when an unidentified car pulled up and shot through the side of the vehicle, killing the legendary young rapper. Due to its involvement in the tragedy, Knight's 1996 BMW 750iL has been depicted in numerous re-enactments from that night.
This story of a criminal's car is a change of pace — it's not notable because the car is iconic — rather, that authorities were hunting for the wrong one. In 2002, the D.C. area, including Northern Virginia and Maryland were shaken by a spree of seemingly random shootings, using a high-powered rifle. Witnesses were rare, so when one bystander said that they saw a white van drive away after one of the murders, police seized on the opportunity. In the end, it turned out that the actual car wasn't a van at all — the killers were driving a 1990 Chevrolet Caprice.1
Some criminal's cars are modest, and others are extravagant — but some are ruthlessly practical. In 1995, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols rented a Ryder moving truck and filled it with a highly volatile mixture of diesel fuel and chemicals. He drove to the front entrance of a federal building, lit a fuse, and then exited the scene. A few minutes later, the truck detonated, killing 168 and injuring almost 700 others.
The infamous murder of John Dillinger was perhaps FBI director J. Edgar Hoover's most high-profile win. Dillinger was a major figure in the Chicago underworld, and his 1933 Essex Terraplane was almost as famous as its owner. The two even met their demise around the same time, with the car finally being abandoned in April 1934, and Dillinger meeting his end in a high-profile shootout with federal agents only a few months later in July.