Updated: Jun 3, 2020
Written by Elias McClellan
Leave it to Elias to remind us, it's all in the details. Don't plan the perfect crime, with the perfect characters, and then forget the small things that make the story come alive....
So, you’ve planned the perfect assassination or score for your crew to takedown and now you need a burnout buggy. But what do you choose? How do you choose? Do you go with powerful? Understated? Armor-plated?
“Well, pumpkins, it comes down to that age-old decision: style... or... substance?” Patrick Swayze, action star, (RIP).
Ferrari or Lamborghini? Well, it’s complicated. Exotic cars—like most sexy beings—are notoriously temperamental. Less commonly known is that both are also notoriously cramped. So, unless your crew is one-and-a-half Tom Cruises, no model of exotic will work. At the opposite end of the spectrum, a minivan—practicality, gas mileage, and cup-holders aside—will never do, either. You could walk faster than they drive.
No, as the man said, “Porsche—there is no substitution.” Okay, the man who said that was probably your Uncle Filbert who drives a Neon. But okay, sure, Porsche at least has a sedan and two SUVs; all with powerful engines and race-track-ready suspensions. Now that it’s settled, how would you like to pay?
Maybe you’re bold enough to rent, like the legendary Polo Shirt Bandit, (local hero, yo). He used cash and/or stolen credit cards to rent trucks, (lightweight, powerful engines) for his robberies. Or, maybe, you’re lucky enough to have a cousin named “Cootie” who has a chop shop/illicit cargo business. Cootie will sell you your pick of get-gone wagons, cheap. Like 40 to 50 percent off of Bluebook.
What? Don’t side-eye me like that, I have a cousin.
But even with a family discount, you’re still looking at dropping several thousand dollars for a car—if your cousin doesn’t rip you off or if the cops don’t make your stolen car two blocks from the chop shop—that you’ll ditch at the first opportunity.
No, there’s a reason that traditionalists from Bonnie and Clyde to the Lufthansa heisters stole their own cars: certainty. If you know how to boost a car, you can choose (almost) any make, model, and/or color you need or want. Which brings us back to what to choose for your naughty boys/girls?
Capone favored Cadillac, as did Mafiosi for decades after. They appreciated the powerful engines, solid chassis, and cabs that could take a beating. Cadillac became especially popular after developing a 16-cylinder engine when prevailing wisdom equated more cylinders with more power. For contrast, most cop cars of the day had 4-or-6-cylinder engines. But I hear you. “Some black-and-white movie villain liked GMs, but what about current events?”
Station wagons ~yawn~ right?
Thomas Harris tapped FBI research when he wrote his narco-gang using a Buick Estate Wagon to blaze through a DEA shootout. According to the feds, gangs prefer the wagons for powerful engines, rear windows that roll all the way down, (drive-by shootings) and the number of ways to get in/out quickly. Larry Phillips and Emil Matasareanu chose a station wagon for their ill-fated North Hollywood bank score. Don’t get me started on the prevalence of Impalas among SERIOUS baddies like cop-turned-bank-robber David Mack. Does GM have a monopoly?
“Nothin' will outrun my V8 Ford.” Chuck Berry, father of Rock ’n’ Roll, heister.
Ford Motor Company has a mad-bad-and-dangerous-to-know rep going back to the previously mentioned Bonnie and Clyde. Bugs Moran, (Capone’s arch-nemesis) preferred stalwart Lincolns, as did Murder Incorporated—especially after the gearheads figured out that an 8-or-12-cylinder engine provides just as much high-end horsepower without the weight, timing, and cooling issues of a 16.
How esteemed were the blue-oval mobiles? Clyde Barrow wrote a fan letter, (on display at the Ford Motor Company Museum) praising the V8 Ford and its ability to outrun anything the cops had. A further testament of Ford’s virtue as a get-away car (and Barrow’s skill behind the wheel) is the fact that Frank Hammer’s ambush hinged on a ruse to get Barrow out of his Ford.
Meanwhile, writers and fans took notice. Ford’s legend permeates pop-culture, from Steve McQueen’s GT in Bullitt to Clarice Starling’s Roush in Hannibal. It’s part of the criminal pedigree carried over to Neil McCauley’s get-away Lincoln in Heat. George Pelecanos has written lovingly of his 2001 Bullit special edition.
Ultimately, Fords and GM’s are the default among villains for simple reasons: availability, accessibility, and utility. People with Porsches and Ferraris tend to park them behind gates, in garages, or in valet-controlled lots. They also tend to have LoJack installed, which is just no fun at all. Or, you know, so I’ve been told. Folks who own Fords and Chevys park them at shopping malls, movie theaters, and suburban driveways. They tend to install scented air fresheners and rely on factory alarms.
As for accessibility, well, neither Ford nor GM has changed their ignition designs in well over 30 years. A thief can boost either—and defeat the alarm—with a screwdriver and rudimentary knowledge of fuses. Again, so I’ve been told.
Utility drove preferences then and now. John Dillinger wouldn’t touch a Focus or MKZ with someone else’ ten-foot pole. But I bet he’d boost a Lexus or BMW in a heartbeat. Utility should also drive your baddies’ motivation. If you want your villain doing the do in Bill Harrah’s Jerrari, have at it—as long as it meets: need, availability, and accessibility, (good luck).
Just remember the most important bad-man axiom: nobody does heavy business in a Prius.
Elias McClellan is an accountant for a state agency never to be named but aspires to commi—write, write crime. You can find him on Twitter at @TuttleNTexas. But why would you want to do that?