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Al Capone's Car For Sale This Weekend

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Choose "feature Cars" and scroll down the images to lot #180.


The Ex-Al Capone, Originally Bulletproof and Only Known Example The Property of The Smoky Mountain Car Museum Model 341. 90bhp, 341 cu. in. 90º L-head V8, three-speed synchromesh manual transmission, front suspension via beam axle and semi-elliptic leaf springs, with rear suspension via live axle and semi-elliptic leaf springs and servo assisted four-wheel mechanical drum brakes. Wheelbase: 140" Automotive enthusiasts from around the world have long recognized the era of the late 1920’s and early 1930’s as the golden years of the American automobile. Crime writers have also characterized the same period as the golden age of organized crime in America. It is not surprising then that the two would be linked at some level, as gangland bosses’ penchant for high living is well known, and if you could afford any car, why not a Cadillac? The origins of the 1928 Cadillac can be traced to the enormously successful 1927 LaSalle. Styled by Harley Earl’s new “Art and Color” department, it brought a European flair to American car design – even if it did look suspiciously like the elegant Hispano-Suiza. Earl worked his magic on the 1928 Cadillac next, and the result was stunning – huge new headlights framed an impressive chrome plated grille. Sweeping fenders emphasized the new longer wheelbases, and elegant new bodies from Fisher and Fleetwood helped put Cadillac on the front line in the fine car class. Cadillac advertised “Fifty body styles and types – Five hundred color and upholstery combinations,” while the Salon catalog for 1928 boasted “Colors from Nature’s Own Studio.” The goal of allowing customers to individualize their production cars was well received, and soon Cadillac’s clientele were ordering their favorite colors and fabrics from the myriad of options available – with delivery in just seven weeks. To this day, people looking at large dark colored cars from the late 1920’s and refer to them as gangster cars. Most, of course, were nothing more than family sedans for the wealthy. A few, however, really were gangster cars – and none is more famous than Al Capone’s 1928 Cadillac. Al Capone Newspaper hero? Brilliant businessman? Ruthless killer? Devoted family man? Born January 17, 1899, in Brooklyn, New York, Alphonse V. Capone was all of these things – and none of them. A man of contradictions, he was a product of his time, his talents, and his instincts. He was in many ways like the perfect storm – he was a man who could only have existed in the time and place that he did. Life as a first generation Italian American at the turn of the century was certainly hard. Illiteracy rates were high and jobs were menial, hard to find, and low paying. Tough and proud, most persevered, finding a place in American society for themselves and their families. A few found another path to success – albeit on the other side of the law. It was here that the traditional southern Italian virtues of dedication to family and a strong sense of community would prove invaluable to the birth of an unprecedented criminal enterprise. The resulting organizations would value loyalty above all else; men were expected to be strong, dedicated to their families and loyal to the enterprise. Al Capone learned his trade early, leaving school in the sixth grade to earn his mark as a member of two gangs, the Brooklyn Rippers and the Forty Thieves Juniors. As his reputation grew, he attracted the attention of Frankie Yale, a member of the notorious Five Points gang. Soon he was proving to be both tough and ruthless, as a bouncer at a prominent underworld nightclub and on special assignments. It was during this period that he was cut by the unhappy boyfriend of a club patron, earning the nickname “Scarface.” Things got hot for Capone in New York after he was implicated in three murders and he needed somewhere to go until things cooled off. In the meantime, “Big Jim” Colissimo was Chicago’s leading underworld boss. He was involved in a wide range of businesses, including brothels, high profile restaurants and nightclubs, gambling rooms, and even opium dens. The secret to Big Jim’s success was his control of the politicians – who in turn controlled the police. He was certainly accustomed to dealing with adversaries and other threats, usually quickly and violently. In 1915, however, something happened. Big Jim fell in love with a sweet young girl named Dale Winters, a singer in his club. Overnight, he seemed to lose interest in business, and things started to slide. At the time, Big Jim’s top lieutenant was his nephew, John Torrio, an aggressive and reportedly ruthless man. As a result, when Colissimo got a death threat from “Little Jim” Cozmano, said to be the most vicious hired killer of the day, he decided that it was time to improve security. He sent Torrio to New York to recruit some help. He returned with two respected members of the Five Points gang, Frankie Yale and a new young kid named Al Capone. Yale was given a special assignment, and before long, a hail of bullets from a passing car marked the end of “Little Jim” Cozmano. Yale returned to New York, and Capone remained with Torrio and Big Jim in Chicago, starting at the bottom of the business. Torrio took a shine to Capone, and within a few years, the two were handling most of Big Jim’s business. Then one day in 1920, Big Jim was shot and killed in his restaurant – a crime that remains unsolved even today. The police rounded up several suspects from rival gangs, even Torrio and Capone, on the grounds that they had the most to gain from Colissimo’s death – to this day many believe they were responsible. Ultimately, the code of silence prevailed and the heat subsided, leaving Big Jim’s two chiefs running the show. It was just before all this – in January of 1920 – that the U.S. government created the greatest opportunity for criminal organizations in the history of the country, by enacting Prohibition. It was truly the “golden era” of organized crime, and Capone was in the right place – at the right time. Torrio and Capone acted quickly, taking advantage of the opportunity presented by the new law. With Torrio now wielding Big Jim’s political power – and cash flowing even more freely to the politicians and the police – protection from the law was guaranteed. The two found a brewer who had been forced to shut down 20 breweries. With his expertise, and their protection, they were quickly back in business, and beer trucks were once again rolling down Chicago’s streets. In the meantime, club owners were sold beer at about $50 a barrel, including protection. Of course, the protection was the most important thing, because with it, they could operate freely. Any problems were quickly “fixed” and demand skyrocketed. At about this time, Spike O’Donnell, who ran the south side of Chicago, had a lieutenant named Jerry O’Connor who was muscling into Capone and Torrio’s territory. Unfortunately for Jerry, before long, he turned up dead. This solution did not go down well with two of Jerry’s men, who began threatening to talk about who they felt was responsible for his death. Torrio’s death squad went into action again, and the two were found dead in their bullet-riddled car. Gangsters had been killed before, but these public and high profile executions seemed to fan the flames of the war. This escalating gangster violence was generating lots of publicity, and creating heat for the source of Torrio’s power – corrupt mayor William Hale “Big Bill” Thompson. The voters quickly kicked him out of office, and things started to go downhill for Torrio. He was forced to leave town for six months or so, giving Capone time to take over, which seemed to suit Torrio just fine. When he came back the two moved to Cicero, a Chicago suburb, where they were able to do the unthinkable – field a slate of candidates and get them elected! It was not without bloodshed, but the result was that Capone had a new power base and soon he was back to business. And business was good indeed. In 1926, U.S. Attorney Edwin A. Olsen estimated Capone’s annual intake from prohibition sales of liquor alone at $70 million – plus profits earned from extensive gambling and other vice interests. Most estimates place his annual income from all sources at about $100 million a year from 1925 to 1930 – while he was still in his late twenties! By 1928, one of Capone’s rivals, Dion O’Banion, who ran Chicago’s “Gold Coast,” was growing unsatisfied with his share of the market and started making unflattering comments about his Sicilian neighbors. Tensions rose, until O’Banion, whose cover was a flower shop, unknowingly greeted what he thought were customers arriving to pick up flowers for a funeral. As he extended his hand, he was cut down by a hail of bullets, after which his visitors calmly walked out, and according to news reports, climbed back into their “new green Cadillac.” Other gang killings followed – but it was the infamous St. Valentine’s Day massacre that marked both the deadly peak of mob violence and the beginning of the end for the free reign of Chicago’s mob bosses. Capone found himself and his organization locked in bitter rivalries and turf wars with other gangs, but his personal nemesis was George “Bugs” Moran. Determined to put Moran out of action, Capone’s men were watching a warehouse used by Moran’s organization to distribute liquor. When several of his men were seen entering the warehouse, the word was given. Two green and black Cadillacs – just like the police used – pulled up to the front and back of the building. Four of Capone’s men entered wearing stolen police uniforms, along with four other “detectives.” Moran’s men, thinking this was a normal police raid, expected to cooperate and be taken to the station to await bail. They were lined up against the wall, hands outstretched, when suddenly, Capone’s men opened fire. Six of Moran’s men, and one unlucky friend, died that day, February 14, 1929. Moran himself avoided the same fate by the luck of timing – he was late arriving and seeing the “police cars” outside, he drove past, thinking a bust was in process. Capone was never officially connected with the killings, although Bugs Moran was quoted as saying “only Capone kills like that.” It is startling to realize that at the time of the infamous massacre, Capone had just turned 30. Although there is no doubt that Capone was one of the most ruthless gangsters in the history of American criminal enterprise, as a man he had a strong sense of loyalty and honor. He was, in fact, the first to open soup kitchens in Chicago to feed the poor during the Great Depression, and it was reported that he ordered shopkeepers to provide clothes and food to the needy at his expense. None of this impressed the authorities, and by 1930 the U.S. Federal government was intervening heavily to clean up Chicago. Unlike the local politicians, Capone could not control the Feds. A list of Chicago’s 25 worst criminals was assembled, and Al Capone was officially named “Public Enemy Number One.” Capone himself had become a magnet for publicity, stalked by photographers and the subject of endless speculation in the daily papers. All the attention made it difficult for Chicago’s top gangster to tend to business, so he took to clearing out of town when the heat was on. He bought and fortified a palatial home in Palm Island, Florida and began spending more time there. Capone was jailed briefly on a concealed weapons charge, but while he was away his organization did not miss a beat. When Capone was released he was stronger and wealthier than ever – and with his time served, he thought he was finally free. He had always been careful to distance himself from the day-to-day activities of his “businesses,” and he became doubly careful now. Capone’s name was never listed among the officers and directors of his numerous enterprises. Instead, a web of trusted friends and lieutenants were the operators of record. Unfortunately, he did not count on the fact that Elliott Ness and his “Untouchables,” a hand picked group of incorruptible law enforcement officials, had come up with a new angle. They reasoned that if you spent money, you must have earned it. Capone had never filed a tax return, and claimed that he did not have an income – instead, he said his needs were looked after by his friends. It was one of Ness’s men, Frank Wilson from the IRS’s Special Intelligence Unit, who accidentally uncovered a receipts ledger documenting one of Capone’s gambling houses and listing his name. This became the document that proved Capone’s income. In 1931, he was arrested and charged with tax fraud, and ultimately convicted on five (out of 23) charges against him. When his appeals ran out in May of 1932, Capone was sent to the Federal Penitentiary in Atlanta to serve an 11 year term. While in Atlanta he continued to run his organization. True to form, he “tipped” his guards and the prison management until he had unheard of privileges, including a cell outfitted with a Persian carpet, a typewriter, private telephone and beautiful furnishings. Once again, Capone had pushed the limits and attracted too much attention. He was reassigned, without warning, to the Rock – Alcatraz. There he proved to have no connections and was forced to serve out his sentence, which he did, as a model prisoner. He was released in 1939, already showing signs of syphilitic dementia. He moved back to his Florida home, where he deteriorated, both physically and mentally, before dying in his own bed on January 25, 1947, just eight days after his 48th birthday. The Ex-Al Capone 1928 Cadillac Town Sedan At first glance, Al Capone’s Cadillac was much like any other. The differences,of course, were mostly hidden. Firstly, it was painted green with black fenders – exactly the same as the 85 Cadillacs that were supplied to the police and city officials (though their exteriors appeared similar, the element surprise always exists in what one cannot see, such as extra 3,000 pounds of bulletproofing hidden beneath standard body panels.) Furthermore, it was fitted with flashing red lights behind the grille, a regulation police siren and the first known installation of a police band receiver in a private automobile. Even more interesting were the car’s protection features. It may be the earliest surviving example of a “bulletproof” car, having been fitted when new with heavy glass (almost an inch thick) and completely lined with 3,000 pounds of steel armor plate hidden beneath standard body panels. Even the firewall and the fuel tank were protected. Heavy spring lifts permitted the side windows to raise and lower and a special mechanism allowed the rear window to drop out of the way quickly so that its opening could be used to fire upon a pursuing automobile. It is fortunate that the known provenance of Al Capone’s Cadillac is so extensive, dating from 1933, when it was purchased for display at a London, England based amusement park. Capone’s organization owned many automobiles, according to an account by one of the dealers who sold him cars, his cars were purchased in the name of “Mr. Brown.” In his line of work, it was understandable that he would avoid attracting the attention of the authorities. In December 1931, Capone loaned his car to both Edward Evans, a private investigator, and Warden Moneypenny to take them to a hearing on behalf of Frank Bell, a death row inmate and a Capone associate. The press learned of the incident and a scandal ensued. An article published December 22, 1931 in the Chicago Daily Times was titled “Witness Clears Warden in use of Al’s Car: Lawyer’s Sleuth says Capone only tried to aid Bell.” In it, the paper reported that the warden was not involved in borrowing Capone’s car, he just accepted a ride in it. There have been persistent reports that Capone’s car was seconded to the White House to protect President Franklin Roosevelt. In one account, the car was used for a trip to Georgia where authorities feared an attempt might be made on his life. According to an article published in Old Cars Weekly on April 19, 1984, “The Secret Service borrowed the car from the Treasury Department, which had confiscated it when Capone was arrested on income tax evasion laws (sic.). Before long, the Secret Service decided that it was degrading to have the president of the U.S. riding in a gangster’s car. The automobile industry was asked if it would supply a substitute, and on December 1, 1939 Ford Motor Company delivered a stretched wheelbase V12 Lincoln to the White House. It was christened ‘Old 99’ after its license plate number, but was later renamed the ‘Sunshine Special.’” Regardless of the extent of its White House usage, it is clear that by 1933, Capone’s car was in private hands, and in fact had been sold overseas. According to a typewritten notarized statement, Mr. Harry E. LaBreque was the owner of the Capone Cadillac when it was shipped to London, England. When questioned by Detective Lieut. John Treacy, on May 8th, 1933, he confirmed that he was the owner of a bulletproof 1928 Cadillac Model 341 Town Sedan, engine and serial number 306449, for which he had paid $1,500 that day from Mr. Patrick Moore of 37 Grove St., Rockville, Connecticut – a lot of money for a five year old Cadillac at the time. In answer to the detective’s questions, he indicated that his occupation was “Showman” and that he intended to ship the car immediately by rail to New York to be loaded on a ship bound for London. Upon arrival, he intended to exhibit the car at Southend-On-Sea. In fact, according to later accounts, LaBreque was acting as an agent for Capt. de Forest Morehouse, who is reported to have been the principal of the Southend-On-Sea amusement park. A photograph published in the May 13, 1933 edition of the New York Daily News shows the Capone car loaded in a sling and prepared for loading on board a ship bound for England. In a Letter to the Editor of Esquire magazine, a later owner, Harley Neilson of Todmorden, Ontario, explained that after several years of exhibit at Southend-On-Sea, the car was displayed at the Blackpool Fun Fair in Manchester. He also states that in 1939, the U.S. government asked the British government to intervene and take the car off display because of the “poor public relations it could cause by pointing up American Gangsterism.” It is thought that the car was hidden away in a secure location at the onset of World War II. The Capone Cadillac reappeared in a teletype news bulletin dated February 23, 1958 relating that dance hall owner Tony Stuart had purchased Al Capone’s car for $510 at auction in January near Manchester. “I hope some American will buy it” Stuart said, “and I think I can get more than I paid for it.” According to the same article, the car was exhibited in Manchester until U.S. authorities protested. “Since then it was the property of Belle Vue Zoological Gardens, which put it up for auction.” How the Zoological Gardens came to own the car is not known, although it has been speculated that it was left to them by Capt. Morehouse. On April 15, 1958, a photograph published in The Globe and Mail shows the Capone Cadillac being prepared for shipment to Canada, where it had been purchased by “Harley Nielson, a Toronto area businessman and car enthusiast.” Time had taken its toll on the notorious Capone’s car. Although it was solid and virtually complete, it had not run in years and consequently Neilson decided to undertake a comprehensive restoration. The weight of the plating had proved excessive, and since none of it was visible, most of it was removed during the restoration. The car’s other special features, including the bulletproof glass and the drop-down rear window were retained, while the car was treated to a thorough cosmetic and mechanical restoration. Neilson, a vice-president of chocolate maker William Neilson Ltd., kept the car for several years before selling it to the Niagara Falls Auto Museum in the mid 1960s. For several years, the Capone car was a featured exhibit, where it was seen by thousands of tourists. Finally, on Saturday November 20, 1971, the Niagara Falls Antique Auto Museum was liquidated by public auction, with nearly 50 cars selling. Among them was the Capone Cadillac, which was sold for $37,000 – an enormous sum at the time. The buyer – as confirmed by a 1973 Ontario registration – was the Antique Auto Museum, o/o by Peter Stranges, 4949 Clifton Hill, Niagara Falls, Ontario. Stranges and his partner, Steve Demko, owned and operated the “Cars of the Greats” museum. In February of 1975, the two put the car up for auction in Atlantic City, New Jersey, where they were widely reported to have turned down an offer of $81,000 for the car, saying that they wanted close to $100,000 before selling. Stranges then arranged to have the car shipped to Chicago for the launch of the movie Capone on April 14, 1975 – where the car received national publicity, both television and newspaper. Finally, on January 13, 1979, the Cars of the Greats collection was put up for sale and the Capone car changed hands again, purchased by B. H. Atchley, owner of the Smoky Mountain Car Museum in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Atchley, it turned out, had been pursuing the Capone car since the early sixties, after spotting a reference to it while Neilson owned it. He wrote, asking if it was for sale, only to learn that Neilson had sold it to the Niagara Falls Museum. Later, he attended the auction of the museum, but was once again unsuccessful in acquiring it. He tried again while Stranges owned it, but in the end, he had to wait until it came up for auction a second time. Upon arrival at the Smoky Mountain Car Museum Atchley treated the car to an extensive upgrade to its restoration, including a careful engine bay detailing. In addition, the original glass had become heavily crazed and deeply yellowed, and consequently a specialist was engaged to supply replacement glass of identical size and thickness. The provenance file associated with the Capone Cadillac is extensive and includes numerous newspaper and magazine articles, extensive correspondence, and a great deal of promotional material. It also includes copies of the statements taken by the police when the car was exported, as well as various other ownership and historical documents relating to the car and its nefarious owner. Copies of both auction catalogs, 1971 and 1979, are included, as is all of Atchley’s correspondence regarding the car. With a continuous history from the early 1930’s to today, and the evidence of the car itself, there is little doubt that this car is one of the most historically important cars to survive from the prewar era in America. It protected its first owner from untold perils and has earned income for virtually every owner since. It is an icon from the dark side of American history, and will be of great public interest for many years to come. For the past 60 odd years, Al Capone’s Cadillac has thrilled countless tourists, amateur historians and car enthusiasts, providing a tangible link to one of the most infamous – and one of the most the most interesting – characters in the history of organized crime in America.
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