To become famous, you need to be associated with something really good; to become infamous, you have to be connected to something really bad. Endless lists count down history’s favorite vehicles — the cars that changed manufacturing (Ford Model T), that became icons (Volkswagen Beetle), or thatstarred on TV or in the movies (the General Lee, Herbie the Love Bug). Few media outlets have dared to explore the dark side of our automotive past, to find those cars and trucks that have participated in some of the most notorious events in modern history. Here are our picks for the 10 most ill-famed machines ever to (dis)grace the asphalt.
#10 1911 Gräf & Stift Double Phaeton
Event: Assassination of Franz Ferdinand
Believe it or not, the gunshots fired by Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip that killed the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Franz Ferdinand, and his wife, Sophie, were part of the second assassination attempt on the archduke that day. Earlier, one of Princip’s fellow plotters hurled a grenade at Ferdinand’s car, but it bounced off his drop-top Gräf & Stift and blew up under another car in the motorcade. Only later, after the archduke’s driver made a wrong turn on the way to visit those injured in the earlier blast, did Princip stumble across his victims, shooting them both with a Browning pistol and starting a political chain reaction that resulted in World War I.
#9 Bugatti Type 35 or 37 (or Amilcar)
Event: The death of Isadora Duncan
Considered by many to be the first great lady of modern dance, Isadora Duncan became famous by performing improvisational dance routines in flowing gowns and bare feet, shaking the traditions of classical ballet. It’s unclear exactly what vehicle Duncan was in when she died. Bugatti’s company history claims it was either a Type 35 or 37, whereas other sources claim it was a vehicle from a now-defunct French manufacturer called Amilcar. Regardless, the great irony of Duncan’s end is that it was caused by one of her famous flowing garments. The 50-year-old dancer’s scarf became entangled in the rear wheel spokes of the vehicle she was riding in, snapping the dancer’s neck and violently yanking her from the car — making her last move the least graceful one of her life.