The Last Ride: Death Cars of the Rich and Famous



2017-03-07 14:14:54

Cars owned by the rich and famous have always fascinated the public. But these six celebrity rides all offer something a little more macabre..

Hank Williams's Cadillac

Hank Williams was more than just the first superstar of country music – he's one of the most important American singer-songwriters of the 20th century.

But despite selling millions of records and influencing generations of musicians, Williams died a quiet and lonely death in the back of his Cadillac at the age of just 29.

Williams was born with an undiagnosed spinal column disorder known as spina bifida occulta, which caused him lifelong pain and was exacerbated by an injury during a hunting trip in 1951.

Through attempts to self-medicate for the excruciating pain, he became dependent on alcohol and prescription drugs, many of which were prescribed to him by Horace Marshall, a former forger-turned-phoney doctor.

These spiralling addictions cost him his spot at the Grand Ole Opry, his wife, and eventually his life.

On the night of December 31, 1953, Williams was due to travel from Alabama to Ohio to perform a concert – but with ice storms grounding planes, he hired college student Charles Carr to drive his 1949 Cadillac whilst he slept in the back seat.



As they drove through the night, Williams drank heavily and took the sedative Chloral Hydrate. When the pair made a stop en-route at the Andrew Johnson Hotel in Knoxville, Tennessee, Carr called for a doctor to take a look at his passenger, and Williams received two shots of vitamin B12 that also contained morphine.

Hotel porters carried Williams back out to the car, sat him in the back seat and covered him with a blanket. A few hours later, when Carr stopped off for gas in Oak Hill, West Virginia, he discovered Williams cold and lifeless.

The combination of alcohol, morphine and chloral hydrate had caused his heart to fail, and he had passed away quietly somewhere on the road from Tennessee.

Following Williams' death, the Cadillac was returned to his family, and his son Hank Williams Jr. drove it regularly whilst at high school.

He eventually restored the car and donated it to the Hank Williams Museum in his home town of Montgomery, Alabama, where it remains a star exhibit to this day.

Tupac Shakur's BMW

On the night of September 7, 1996, rapper Tupac Shakur attended a WBA Heavyweight title fight between Bruce Seldon and Mike Tyson at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, along with Death Row Records boss Suge Knight and his entourage.

After the fight they encountered Crips gang member 'Baby Lane' Anderson in the hotel lobby, and attacked him in retribution for the previous robbery of one of Shakur's friends.

Following this altercation, the group set off for a party at the Club 662 nightclub, but by 11pm they were back out cruising the Las Vegas strip in Knight's 1996 BMW 750iL. Whilst stopped at a red light, a white Cadillac pulled up alongside the BMW and assailants opened fire.

Shakur, who was leaning out of the sunroof at the time, never stood a chance. He was shot several times, and finally succumbed to his fatal injuries in hospital six days later.

(Image: Moments in Time)

(Image: Moments in Time)

His killers were never found, and to this day theories about the murder have evolved into a thriving industry, spawning numerous books and documentaries.

Many have attributed his death to an East Coast-West Coast hip-hop war between rival labels Bad Boy Records and Death Row Records, both of which had numerous affiliations with violent gangs.

Following the investigation, the BMW was impounded by the Las Vegas PD, and was later sold off in a police auction. The car then passed through the hands of several owners over the next 20 years, most of whom knew nothing of its macabre history.

Then in 2017, following a number of high profile auction sales of Tupac Shakur memorabilia, the BMW suddenly appeared for sale through the U.S dealer Moments in Time – with a price tag of a cool $1.5 million.

Biggie Smalls' SUV

Less than six months after the death of his former friend-turned rap rival, Christopher Wallace – AKA Biggie Smalls, or The Notorious B.I.G – met an eerily similar end.

Since Shakur's murder, theories about his involvement had followed Biggie from coast to coast.

Despite witnesses claiming he was in a New York recording studio at the time of the shooting, suspicion remained that his associates including Bad Boy Records boss Sean 'Puffy' Combes may have played a role in organizing the hit.

In March 1997 Wallace travelled to L.A to promote his new album Life After Death, and to present an award to Toni Braxton at the Soul Train Music Awards – where he was booed on-stage by members of the audience due to his East Coast affiliations.

The following night he attended a Vibe magazine party at the Petersen Automotive Museum, which was soon shut down by the local fire department due to overcrowding.

Wallace and his entourage then left in two GMC Suburbans, and stopped at a red light as crowds of people streamed out of the venue.

According to police reports, a dark colored Chevrolet Impala SS then pulled up alongside Wallace's SUV, and an assailant wearing a blue suit and bow tie rolled down the window and fired several shots.

(Image: Moments in Time)

(Image: Moments in Time)

Wallace, who was sat in the passenger side, was struck four times. The fourth shot proved fatal, and despite being rushed to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center he was pronounced dead 30 minutes later.

The murder was seen by many as retribution for the death of Tupac Shakur - but just like the previous case, the perpetrators were never found and it remains officially unsolved.

After having the doors replaced, the GMC Suburban SUV was then sold at a public auction in October 1997, and spent years as a family car before the owner was told about its history by the Los Angeles Police.

It had never occurred to her that the slight damage to one of seat belts was in fact a bullet hole, but when the sale of Tupac's death car hit the headlines, she realized the car could potentially be worth a fortune.

Once again it was Moments in Time offering the vehicle for sale, and once again they valued the notorious S.U.V at $1.5 million. Also included was a letter from the vendor, stating they had politely requested the return of the bullet-riddled door from the LAPD.

John F. Kennedy's presidential limousine

By rights, President John F. Kennedy should have been the most protected man on Earth – but his car of choice made him an easy target.

The limousine, known by the secret service code name SS-100-X, was originally a 1961 Lincoln Continental four door convertible, which had been extensively modified by coachbuilders Hess & Eisenhardt of Cincinnati, Ohio.

But despite this refit costing an additional $200,000, the car was never fitted with bullet-proof armour or glass, and it remained a convertible with a removable bubble top.

So on the morning of November 22, 1963, everyone in the crowd at Dealey Plaza, Dallas, had a clear view of President Kennedy – including assassin Lee Harvey Oswald.

Following Kennedy's fatal shooting, the car was flown back to Washington D.C and returned to the White House garage, where it was examined by both the Secret Service and the FBI.

The windshield, which was struck by the third bullet fired by Lee Harvey Oswald, was removed and became Exhibit (CE) 350 of the Warren Commission report into the assassination.

The car was then sent back to Hess & Eisenhardt to be rebuilt from the floor up. This time around, new modifications included titanium armor plating, bullet-resistant glass, a bulletproof permanent roof and puncture-proof tyres.

Having been refitted and repainted, the limousine was then returned to service – and less than a year after he had witnessed the shooting from three vehicles back, President Lyndon Johnson found himself in the same car, being driven through downtown Washington along with Philippines President Diosdad Macapagal.

The limousine continued to be used until 1977, during which time Presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter all sat in its ill-fated back seat, before it was retired and placed on display at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, where it remains to this day.

The original license plate from the limousine was removed by secret service agents during the refit, and was rescued from the trash by Willard C. Hess, founder of Hess & Eisenhardt.

He kept the plates for years on a shelf between two book ends, before passing them down to his family, and in 20166 they sold at heritage Auctions in Dallas for $100,000.

Bonnie and Clyde's stolen Ford V8

Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker made names for themselves during the Depression with a four-year, five-state crime spree of robbery, murder and mayhem.

Folk heroes to some, and violent criminals to others, they captured imaginations across America - before meeting a violent end on a quiet stretch of road in Bienville Parish, Louisiana, in a stolen 1934 Ford Model 40 V-8 Fordor.

As they pair drove to a rendezvous at the family home of gang member Henry Methvin, they were ambushed by a posse of officers led by Texas Ranger Frank Hamer.

All six officers emptied their weapons into the car, riddling it with bullet holes and hitting Barrow and Parker more than 20 times each.

Following the ambush, the blood-splattered Ford was towed into the nearby town of Arcadia. Whilst the bodies were embalmed in the back of a local furniture store, thousands of people gathered to see the 'Death Car' first-hand.

It was an instant hit with the crowds, with reports claiming local vendors instantly raised beer prices, and that the town's entire supply of ham sandwiches ran out.

The car had originally been stolen by Barrow from rightful owner Ruth Warren, who fought several legal battles to have it returned to her, and it soon became a lucrative travelling exhibit at fairgrounds and carnivals.

But by then it was just one of several bullet-riddled Bonnie and Clyde 'Death Cars' touring the country, with promoters all claiming theirs to be the real deal. Most people never knew if they were seeing the genuine car or a clever fake, but they paid a dollar to sit in them anyway.

The release of the classic 1967 film starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway renewed interest in the outlaw couple, and the original car was displayed briefly at the Museum of Antique Autos in Princeton, Massachusetts.

It then bounced around a number of casinos in California, Iowa and Missouri, and today can be found on display at Whiskey Pete's Hotel and Casino in Primm, Nevada.

The car is exhibited along with the shredded, blood-stained shirt Clyde Barrow was wearing when he was killed, but the car itself is now behind a pane of glass, to stop patrons poking their fingers in the bullet holes.

James Dean's Porsche

The phrase "live fast and die young" may as well have been written for James Dean.

The iconic young actor, renowned for his roles in East of Eden, Rebel Without A Cause and Giant, was also passionate about auto racing and owned a number of incredibly fast cars and motorcycles.

After competing in the 1955 Palm Springs Road Races, finishing second in the main event, he was barred from racing for insurance purposes by studio Warner Bros. whilst filming his final movie Giant.

The ban didn't stop Dean buying himself a powerful 1955 Porsche 550 Spyder, which he christened Little Bastard, with the intention of competing in several upcoming races in between filming schedules.

On September 23, Dean met British actor Alec Guiness outside a restaurant in Hollywood, and showed him his new Porsche which was parked outside. Guinness took one look at the car and told Dean "If you get in that car, you will be found dead in it by this time next week." And he was.

On September 30, 1955, whilst driving to compete in a racing event in Salinas, California, Dean was instantly killed when his Porsche hit a 1950 Ford Tudor at an intersection on U.S. Route 466. He was just 24 years old.

Following the accident, the wrecked Porsche was acquired from a salvage yard by Dr. William F. Eschrich of Burbank, California. Having stripped the car for parts, Eschrich then sold the mangled chassis to Chuck Barris, a car customiser who would later create famous TV vehicles including the 1966 Batmobile.

Esrich installed the car's engine in his Lotus IX race car chassis, and loaned several other parts including the transmission to fellow amateur racer Dr. McHenry.

McHenry was killed on October 21, 1956, whilst driving a car fitted with parts from Lil Bastard at the Pomona Sports Car Races – and the story of the car's curse was born.

Barris exhibited 'James Dean's Last Sports Car' at a variety of hot rod shows and highway safety displays throughout California, promoting the idea that Little Bastard was indeed cursed.

Then in 1960 he claimed the car had disappeared from a sealed boxcar, whilst being shipped from Florida to Los Angeles, and it has remained missing ever since.

In 2005, on the 50th anniversary of James Dean's death, Barris and the Volo Auto Museum offered $1 million to anyone who could prove that they owned the remains of the car.

One tipster came forward, and claimed that as a six-year-old boy he had witnessed the remains of the car being hidden behind a false wall in a building in Whatcom County, Washington.

But to date, the $1 million reward remains unclaimed...

Share on social media
Write a response...

The bookmarklet lets you save things you find to your collections.

Note: Make sure your bookmarks are visible.


Click and drag the Collect It button to your browser's Bookmark Bar.

collect it