The World Health Organization predicts that by 2030, road traffic injuries will become the sixth leading cause of mortality [source: ASIRT]. Every day, around 3,300 people die in automobile accidents around the world. But, we are more likely to take notice when one of these individuals is a head of state, rock musician, movie star, or other celebrity.
When Princess Diana died on August 31, 1997 from injuries sustained when the automobile she was riding in with Dodi Fayed collided with a concrete pillar in a Paris underpass, people throughout the world were startled and devastated [sources: CNN, Bailey].
Nonetheless, Diana’s passing made her one of several celebrities who have died while traveling. Many people have been murdered in wrecks, including painters Jackson Pollock and David Halberstam, as well as New York Yankees manager Billy Martin and actresses Grace Kelly and Jayne Mansfield [source: Bailey]. Others, such as Archduke Ferdinand of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and President John F. Kennedy of the United States, were assassinated by gunmen while riding as passengers. And some, such as country music superstar Hank Williams, have passed away from other reasons while in vehicles.
But even as we contemplate the deaths of great people who were killed in automobile accidents, there is another issue to consider. What became of the vehicles in which these renowned people perished?
In some instances, it is unclear what happened to these tragic autos. In 2005, the U.K.’s Metropolitan Police reexamined the Mercedes in which Princess Diana died as part of a re-investigation of the accident [source: Met Police]. The Sun, a British newspaper, said that the vehicle had been repatriated to France and was being held in a shipping container outside of Paris [source: Wilkins and Sloan]. A second newspaper, the Mirror, indicated that it was in France, albeit its exact location was uncertain [source: Myers and Bishop]. The French authorities did not respond to email enquiries, and the press office of the royal family declined to comment [source: KP News Office]. And the wrecked sports automobile in which actor James Dean was killed in 1955 supposedly vanished in 1960 while being moved from Florida to Los Angeles, and has not been seen in public since [source: Phelan].
Below are five death automobiles for which the locations and tales are known, along with their locations.
5: Archduke Ferdinand’s Convertible
The 28th of June 1914 was a crucial day. Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and his wife, Duchess Sophie von Hohenberg, were assassinated by Gavrilo Princip, a Serbian assassin, in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914. The incident sparked a series of events that led to the outbreak of World War I [source: HGM Museum].
The black 1910 Graf and Stift double phaeton in which the couple traveled was a product of former Viennese bicycle manufacturers the Graf brothers. Count Franz von Harrach, an officer in the Austrian army, loaned it to the archduke for his visit to Sarajevo. Over the years, a curious legend arose, according to which the reportedly cursed automobile was responsible for the deaths of a number of its owners, including a doctor who was flung from the vehicle during a road race and a man who perished in a head-on accident. These myths were debunked in a 2013 Smithsonian article [source: Dash].
Now, the automobile in which the Archduke and his wife were assassinated is on exhibit in Vienna’s Museum of Military History, along with his bloodstained blue military uniform and the chaise lounge on which he died [source: HGM Museum].
4: The Bonnie and Clyde Ford
In 1934, a Topeka, Kansas couple paid $700 for a Ford Deluxe Fordor automobile with a powerful V-8 engine and Cordova Gray paint [source: Cummins]. But, they only owned the Ford for six weeks before bank robber Clyde Barrow, who was looking for a getaway vehicle, noticed it in their driveway [source: Phillips]. Barrow was obviously a Ford enthusiast. He and his accomplice, Bonnie Parker, are depicted in photographs with two more stolen models from the factory [source: Strohl].
A few months later, on May 23, 1934, Barrow and Parker stopped at a café in Gibsland, Louisiana, for coffee and doughnuts, then drove directly into a police enforcement ambush, which neither survived. Hundreds of bullets tore the two criminals apart, and the Ford automobile was riddled with bullet holes. [source: Phillips].
It was towed to nearby Arcadia, where souvenir seekers chipped off glass pieces and attempted to take other parts until the sheriff fenced it in [source: Phillips]. Finally, a federal judge restored the bullet-riddled and blood-splattered automobile to its rightful owners. It is currently on display at Whiskey Pete’s Hotel and Casino in Primm, Nevada [source: Primm Valley Casino Resorts, Cummins].
3: Hank Williams’ Cadillac
On December 30, 1952, country music legend Hank Williams departed Montgomery, Alabama in a baby blue Cadillac convertible with a 17-year-old college student he had recruited as his driver to accompany him to engagements in Charleston, West Virginia, and Canton, Ohio. Despite having a lovely new car, the singer was in poor health. In an attempt to revive his career, Johnny had transitioned from performing at the Grand Ole Opry to playing in tiny bars. Physically, he was in bad condition, requiring morphine injections for back surgery-related discomfort and chloral hydrate as a sleep aid. He was drinking as well [source: Tharpe].
In the early hours of January 1, 1953, in Oak Hill, West Virginia, Williams’ driver pulled over to check on his passenger, who had been silent for some time. The musician was subsequently brought to a local hospital, where he was confirmed dead at the age of 29. Officially, the cause of death was heart failure [source: Tharpe].
Currently, Williams’ automobile is on display at the Hank Williams Museum in Montgomery, Alabama, among a collection of artifacts that includes his 1937 Gibson guitar and the microphone and stand from his final performance [source: Hank Williams Museum].
2: The JFK Lincoln Continental
On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy rode a modified dark blue Lincoln Continental convertible through the streets of Dallas. The vehicle, code-named X-100 by the Secret Service, was the most technologically advanced presidential limousine ever built, equipped with a pair of radio telephones, spotlight-illuminated flagstaffs on the fenders, and a rear seat that could be raised 11 inches (28 centimeters) to make it easier for spectators to see the president [source: Freeman]. But the open car also rendered the president vulnerable to attack, as was demonstrated when assassin Lee Harvey Oswald allegedly shot and murdered President John F. Kennedy from a sixth-floor window of the Texas School Book Depository.
One may assume that following an assassination, a presidential limousine would be retired. Instead, the X-100 was redesigned for $500,000 with bullet-resistant glass, a roof, and 1,500 pounds of armor. In addition, it was black [source: Freeman, Associated Press]. Further modifications were made to the vehicle in 1967, and Presidents Johnson, Nixon, Ford, and Carter utilized it until it was withdrawn in 1977. It is currently shown in the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan [source: Henry Ford Museum].
1: The Tupac BMW
Tupac Shakur and Suge Knight, the then-CEO of Death Row Records, attended a Mike Tyson fight in Las Vegas on September 7, 1996, before driving in a leased black 1996 BMW 750iL sedan to a nightclub that Knight controlled. Along the route, a white Cadillac came beside them, and an unknown assailant opened fire, hurting both men, but Shakur more severely [source: Zekan]. Six days later, Shakur passed away in a hospital in Las Vegas [source: Scott]. The murder is still unsolved.
The BMW was reportedly detained by Las Vegas police following the shooting and eventually sold at auction [source: Wade]. One of its following owners restored and repaired the vehicle [source: Celebrity Vehicles]. The vehicle was apparently acquired in 2017 by Celebrity Cars of Las Vegas, and was featured in a 2018 episode of the television series Pawn Stars [source: Cooke, Pawn Stars]. The BMW was advertised for sale on its website in April 2019 with an asking price of $1.5 million. The seller claims that the vehicle has been repainted and refurbished, and that it is in pristine condition. There is still a “small depression” where one of the gunshot holes may have been [source: Celebrity Vehicles].