Gangsta Rides

History of the car and Gangsters

Gangsters, mobsters, mafias, bootleggers, drug lords and dictators may have different modus operandi when it comes to usurping power. One thing seems to be prevalent among them though – their love for cars. There seems to be certain cars which have been universally preferred by these bad boys. Here’s a look at some of these cars that have been made infamous over the years by the people that live in the fringes of the law.


  1. 1932-1934 Ford V8

There has always been a debate about which is the greatest love story of all time. People have had different views when it comes to this topic. Many will site that of Rose and Jack, the couple that boarded the Titanic as strangers in two completely different classes both in society and in the ship. Their love story is quite powerful and touching. Then there is Romeo and Juliet, but this one was fiction and fantasy so while people site it as one of the best love stories it is just that, a story. Our born-free, techno geeks will almost always describe Beyoncé and Jay Z as their “faves”. Then there is my personal favourite Bonnie and Clyde. In order to perfectly describe this pair allow me to borrow a word from our born-frees’ diction – They were the “baddest”.

Bonnie and Clyde

Bonnie and Clyde is a notorious- bank-robbing couple and in their crime spree robbed more than a dozen banks. Their cars of choice were Ford V8s. They did not have a specific model, they stole whichever V8 Ford was available. This usually meant a choice between the Model 18 and the Model 40 both which are cars that they drove. They preferred the V8 and praised it for being fast and allowing them to get away quickly.

A 1932 Ford V8

They liked these cars so much that Clyde wrote a letter to the creator of these Fords, Henry Ford, to thank him. That is quite absurd; a notorious felon on the run taking his time to thank the guy that created the cars that he steals and uses to commit crime. Ford himself seems to have appreciated the letter and asked his secretary to send a letter back saying thank you.  The letter can be found in the Ford Museum, it read:

Mr. Henry Ford

Detroit, Mich.

Dear Sir:

While I still have got breath in my lungs I will tell you what a dandy car you make. I have drove Fords exclusively when I could get away with one. For sustained speed and freedom from trouble the Ford has got every other car skinned, and even if my business has not been strictly legal it don’t hurt anything to tell you what a fine car you got in the V8. 

Yours truly

Clyde Champion Barrow

Bonnie and Clyde were finally shot and killed in one of these Ford V8s. The car has generated millions over the years as a display piece at various museums.

The actual car Bonnie and Clyde got shot in
Picture of the shoot out scene.
  1. Lincoln Continental

I was fascinated by the managerial skills and discipline of Mafia. They build huge enterprises (albeit illegally) and manage to keep them working under the most difficult circumstances. This led me wondering what style of leadership they employed as well as the structure of these empires.  My curiosity led me to lots of biographies about the mafia. One book I bought and read was titled The Mafia Manager and its author is V. The Gambino family members and people like Paul Castellano were mentioned several times there and are some of the biggest mafias in history.

The Lincoln Continental was a car which could be found parked in these gentlemen’s garages. The Continental’s produced from the 1940s to the 1980s truly found a home with the mafias over the years. Its big boot meant that the owner of this car could fit in several bodies in the boot and would not have to worry about driving several trips to pick up bodies and burry them in a different location and risking detection.

The presence of this car is also undeniable. It is pretty intimidating and also looks expensive and classy something that was really important to mafias was class and they hated petty thieves and felt that they lacked culture, class and style.

  1. 1928 Cadillac Town Sedan V8

One of the most infamous mobsters of all time is without a doubt Al Capone. A man that needs no introduction. In the late 1920 V8s were the car of choice for mobsters, the main reason for that was because they were faster than the 4 cylinder cars that were on offer on the day this meant that the mobsters could outrun most of the threats that faced them.  Capone took a different strategy. He customised his Cadillac and added a lot of bullet proof material making it heavy and slow. The rear window opened in order for Capone’s bodyguard to shoot at threats.

The story gets bizarre, because Al Capone’s Cadillac ended up being the president of America’s vehicle. After the government confiscated the car it was used to drive American President Franklin Roosevelt. This was because it was discovered that the armour that was added to the car made it a lot safer than the one that the president was driven in. From driving the country’s most feared mobster to driving the country’s first citizen, what an interesting journey this Town Sedan had.

Al Capone


  1. BMW e30

On a South African level, the Gusheshe is widely seen as the ultimate gangster car. Irony of it for me is that the first time I had ever had an encounter with the e30 325iS was through an upstanding citizen who was a medical doctor and bought the car brand new in 1992. Above and beyond that the people I know that own this car are far from being bad boys. Quite frankly I can’t think of any gangster that owns one. I suspect that there was a time when these were very lucrative to gangsters and a handful of them drove them. However lately the car has become more of a performer, the best comparison would be to a circus lion. It is now mostly used for spinning and drifting to please crowds. I guess a lion will still retain its reputation even when it performs in the circus. Odd.

There is however no denying the share presence of this car. It intimidates people in traffic immensely. In a traffic jam situation when you need to change lanes, hit the indicators and rev it and everyone just opens up. Magic.

Man and his e30 beast

I think much of the e30s notoriety comes from local movies and dramas. We can all name a few of our own. There are two worth mentioning the first is the maroon e30 baur cabriolet that was driven by Mazwi (a recently paroled convict) in the 1990s drama Ubambo Lwami, kitted out with the full Motorsport kit this was a beautiful example.  More recently there was the red baur cabriolet driven by township terrorizer Chester in the drama Yizo Yizo, this one wasn’t so clean.

  1. Mercedes-Benz 600

No car in the world has transported tyrants and psychopaths more than the Mercedes-Benz 600. It was available in two specifications, a short wheel base and a ‘Pullman’ long wheel base. The Pullman was further divided into a 4 door and 6 door variant.

On a local basis this is the car that carried apartheid. Yup, it was the car of choice for apartheid leaders.  PW Botha John Vorster, FW De Klerk and Marais Viljoen were all driven in this car.

In our neighbouring Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe also had one.

African dictators like Idi Amin Dada and Mobutu Sese Seko were driven in these.

Saddam Hussein also owned the very exclusive long-roof landaulet which is currently owned by the Petersen Automotive Museum and can be viewed in Los Angeles.

Pullman Long-roof landaulet

Drug King Pin Pablo Escobar also had the 6 door Pullman but it got destroyed in a fire in 1988, its remains are currently on display in a Columbian museum.

Escobar’s burnt Pullman

The list of bad boys that were driven and owned one of these is ridiculously long. Let’s briefly look at this car and why it was the car of choice for the bad boys.  Firstly it is worth mentioning that this car was extremely expensive. At one point it held the title for most expensive car in the world. Over the years we have learned that bad boys have expensive taste owing to their need to be exclusive so it was a no brainer that the price tag alone would raise their interest. The car allowed them to make a statement without uttering a single word.

I once made the incorrect assumption that these were bullet proof, which would justify the type of customers that would buy it. Only 41 had bullet proof armour from the factory the rest did not.  The ride comfort and luxury of this car was something I believe led the bad boys in its direction. But its price tag and making a statement that is possibly the biggest component that makes this the number one bad boy mobil.


Marcus Phathwa


Show More

Related Articles

Check Also