4-Car Top 10 Notorious Cars

Many cars are remembered not for what they were but for the dubious events and people they were associated with – death, murder, famous larceny and any number of unsavoury accidents. Fast cars and the rich and famous have not proven to be a good combination over the years, particularly in an age before seat belts, air bags and strict drink-driving laws. The American stars always did it with the most panache – James Dean is still the ultimate celebrity death crash victim – where as in Britain famous people tended to meet there end in more tedious vehicles: rocker Gene Vincent died in MkII Consul Taxi, Marc Bolan in a Mini Clubman. Here we present some of the some memorable – and maybe not so memorable – cars that have play their part in head-line hitting world affairs of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, a rogues gallery of automotive bit-part players who had a moment of fame in sometimes unhappy circumstances.

1. Lord Lucan: Ford Corsair
The Corsair’s association with the 1974 Lucan murder case is probably the only thing most people can remember about this most forgettable of Fords. Although he owned a Mercedes Lucan borrowed the car off his friend Michael Stoop several days before it is alleged he killed his Children’s nanny, Sandra Rivett, in the belief it was his estranged wife Veronica, in the basement of their Belgravia house. The car was found later in the channel port of Newhaven covered in bloodstains inside. In the boot was the most damning piece of evidence against Lucan – a sixteen inch long piece of lead pipe bound with surgical tape that was identical to the weapon that had been used to murder Rivett. Lucan has never been found.

2. The Great Train Robbery: Land Rovers
Although it had been suggested MkII Jaguars with their rear seats removed should be used to transport the mailbags to the robbers’ hideout in the aftermath of this most legendary of modern crimes in the end the felons used an ex-Army Austin lorry along with two Land Rovers. These vehicles, stolen from central London, had identical registration plates (BMG 757A) so as to confuse the police. The Land Rovers were discovered at the gang’s hideout at Leatherslade Farm in Buckinghamshire and one of them still exists in the hands of an enthusiast.

3. Ava Gardner: Mercedes 300SL
The film star Ava Gardner, who by her own admission was a terrible driver and often ‘over refreshed’, famously crashed her Gullwing Mercedes in Spain. She lost it on a curve, mounted an embankment and rolled it twice before coming to rest on its roof. She was pulled from the wreck by farm workers who had to take her out through the smashed windscreen as the doors wouldn’t open when the SL was inverted, for obvious reasons. Many owners subsequently carried hammers just in case they did the same thing. Ava paid tribute to the cars ‘solid steel framework’ in her autobiography. She was in good company when it came to having ‘moments’ in a Gullwing. Even Stirling Moss was wary of its handling and its propensity for unsettling lift-off oversteer thanks to the unruly camber changes of its high pivot swing axles. He crashed one into an Italian army truck laden with explosives while on a training mission for the 1955 Mille Miglia.

4 John F Kennedy: Lincoln Continental X100
This specially modified – by coachbuilders Hess and Eisenhardt – Lincoln Continental toured the world with President Kennedy. Sadly it was also the car in which he was shot in Dallas in 1963. It was a major piece of evidence in the Warren Commission’s investigation – its cracked windscreen still sits in the American National archives – but amazingly it was put back into service after a complete re-fit which included extensive bullet proofing that added a ton to its weight. Presidents Johnson, Nixon and Ford used the car until it was finally taken out of service and returned to its owners, Ford, in 1977 (they rented it to the White House for $500 a year). You can see it in Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.

5. Albert Camus: Facel Vega FV
The Algerian writer and philosopher Albert Camus was killed when the Facel Vega Coupe in which he was travelling hit a tree in January 1960. Camus, the front seat passenger, died instantly when he was thrown through the rear screen. His publisher Michel Gallimard was driving the car and was blamed for the crash, although it seems likely that there was a mechanical fault. The unfinished manuscript of his last book, Premier Homme, was in his bag in the car but would not be published for another 35 years.

6. Sammy Davis Junior: Cadillac Convertible
Driving his Cadillac to Los Angeles in November 1954 the entertainer Sammy Davis crashed the huge convertible into on-coming traffic in an attempt to avoid a car that was making a U-turn directly in front of him. In the ensuing collision his head hit the steering wheel and he lost his left eye on a piece of ornamental chrome that was sticking out of the centre of it.

7. Princess Grace of Monaco : Rover 3500
On September 13, 1982 Princess Grace and her daughter Princess Stephanie were involved in an accident when their Rover 3500 careened off one of the winding roads leading to Monaco. Princess Stephanie was able to get out of the car when it finally stopped rolling but suffered a few injuries. Princess Grace wasn’t so lucky. Unfortunately, the 52-year-old former Hollywood film star had suffered a very mild stroke which caused her to lose control of her vehicle. After the Rover had stopped rolling down the cliff, Grace was found unconscious. She died in hospital the next day.

8. Montgomery Clift: 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air
Montgomery Clift was a sensitive young heartthrob in the James Dean mould who by the age of thirty was one of the most sought-after talents in Hollywood who counted Elizabeth Taylor among his best friends.  It was when returning from a dinner part at Taylor’s house, driving down a steep twisty decent towards Sunset Boulevard, that he lost control of his Chevrolet on a dangerous curve and hit a telegraph pole. Clift was found slumped under steering wheel his face hideously lacerated, his jaw broken and choking on his two front teeth which had been knocked down his throat: Elizabeth Taylor saved his life by pulling them out. The doctors did what they could with his battered features but the left side of his face was frozen. Already unstable and moody his career, and his health, went into decline in an avalanche of pills and booze and he made only a handful of films before his death in 1966.

9. General Charles deGaulle; Citroen DS
On August 22nd 1962 terrorists of the OAS – the Secret Army Organisation – made an attempt on the life of the French leader President Charles deGaulle. They believed deGaulle had betrayed France by yielding Algeria to the Algerian Nationalists. As dusk fell deGaulles black Citroen DS was speeding down the Avenue de la Liberation in Paris at 70mph when 12 OAS men opened fire on the car. However, in seeing the open-fire signal too lake most of their bullets hit the Citroen from behind, bursting its tyres and causing it to go into a front-wheel skid. Some shattered the rear window as the Chauffeur Marroux held wrestled with the wheel and accelerated out of the skid, deGaulle and his wife emerged unscathed by keeping there heads down and thanks to its hydropmeumatic suspension the DS was able to limp safely to Villacoublay where a helicopter was waiting to take the deGaulles to their country retreat. These events were the basis for Frederick Forsyth’s book (and subsequent film starring Edward Fox) The Day of the Jackal.

10. Mike Hawthorn: Jaguar 3.4
In a wet and windy day in January 1959 world champion racing driver Mike Hawthorn crashed his Jaguar in a fatal accident that has never been fully explained. Driving his modified 3.4 saloon along the A3 Hoggs back Hawthorn encountered his friend Rob Walker driving his 300SL, registered ROB 2. An impromptu race ensued as the cars accelerated down the rain soaked hill together up to 100mph. Hawthorn over took the Mercedes in a left hand curve as they passed on John Coombes garage and then going into the right hander that followed the Jaguar suddenly started to slide, spun then careered backwards across the carriageway disappearing from Walkers view. It then clipped a traffic island and a truck before coming to rest wrapped around a tree as it disappeared in a cloud of mud ands water. The car was almost split in two and Hawthorn died after a couple of minutes as a result of a fractured skull.  There has been much speculation about the cause of the crash. Some said Hawthorn, who had Kidney problems and would not have made old bones, had suffered a blackout. Others that the cars diff’ had locked-up, that a brake had seized on or that some part of an alleged non-standard hand throttle had failed and allowed the engine to over speed.

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