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Speed Demons: Tales of Possessed Cars


We sort of take cars for granted. They are the workhorses of the transportation world and pretty much everyone reading this has likely ridden in one at least once. They are ubiquitous, useful, and have changed the face of our world. However, have you ever thought if it would be possible for one to be haunted or possessed by a dark force? If we have haunted places and possessed people, then is it possible for us to have haunted or possessed cars as well? This idea has been explored in literature and in the movies, but have you ever considered that any of it could really happen? Well, if accounts are anything to go by, then indeed it could, and has. It turns out that there are a good many cars that have been deemed to be either possessed, cursed, haunted, or all of the above, and certainly tend to suggest that our favorite mode of transportation is not above being pervaded by mysterious forces from time to time.

Tales of possessed or cursed cars go quite far back into history, indeed practically back to when the first cars ever appeared. In the tumultuous days leading up to World War I, a car company in Austria known as The Graf & Stift company was widely renowned for its automobiles, and had indeed produced Austria’s very first cars. The company, which had its start making bicycles, was formed in 1897 by the three Graf brothers and their partner, Josef Stift. By 1914, the company’s cars were internationally known and considered to be luxury items that were highly sought after by wealthy businesspeople, politicians, and other prestigious people. One such notable client was the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, who in 1914 had purchased a top of the line model which was a 4-cylinder, large, red limousine with six seats and an open top called the Graf & Stift Double Phaeton and it was in this sleek, opulent car that he and his wife Sophie would make their fateful trip to Yugoslavia at a time when tensions were running extremely high across Europe.

The royal couple had come to Sarajevo in Bosnia amidst this turmoil, with the entire continent a powder keg just ready to explode at the slightest provocation. The city of Sarajevo was no different, and there were numerous dangers lurking at every corner, from revolting anarchists to Serbian nationalists, the entire Austro-Hungarian Empire was living under the specter of violence and it was probably not the best of times for the Austrian Royalty to be visiting the area. Franz Ferdinand’s trip did not go so well from the beginning. On June 28, 1914, the Archduke Ferdinand had already survived one assassination attempt in which several people had been injured in the crossfire. As Ferdinand and his wife were making their way to the hospital to comfort the injured, they approached a street corner and their brand-new fancy car stalled in front of a café. Unfortunately for them, a Yugoslavian anarchist and extremist by the name of Gavrilo Princip just happened to be at that very same café, and as he walked out he was greeted by the sight of the Archduke there in his car and basically a sitting duck. Several shots later, both the Archduke and his wife were dead and the final straw laid which would ignite World War I.

The only thing to come out unscathed from the encounter was the car itself. While it was already a little spooky that the expensive new car had inexplicably stalled at just the right moment to lead to the assassination, this would not be the end of Ferdinand’s car’s dark work, and it would go on to cause misery for a long string of subsequent owners. The first to acquire the car, an Austrian general named Potiorek, reportedly was driven insane while driving it and would live out the rest of his years in an asylum, but he got off lucky as he managed to avoid physical harm while owning it. Others were not so fortunate.

One owner was a German military officer who while driving the car encountered two peasants who suddenly walked out into the road in front of him, causing him to swerve and crash into a tree, killing him. Sadly, the two peasants were also mowed down and killed in the incident despite the officer’s efforts to avoid them. The next owner of the car committed suicide shortly after acquiring it. After that, it passed to governor of Yugoslavia, who had no end of bad luck with it. In his short ownership of the vehicle, he was involved in four separate accidents, gruesomely losing an arm in one of them. The governor would often lament that the car was cursed, which convinced a skeptical surgeon friend of his to buy it off of him in order to prove that it wasn’t. As you can probably guess, he only managed to propagate the automobile’s dark reputation when he subsequently flipped it over and was crushed to death underneath. When a Swiss race car driver bought it later, he would have a similar accident, with the car flipping end over end, killing him in the process. Another purchaser was lined up, but he was also killed when the car, which was being towed, mysteriously broke free and fell right on top of him before he had even had a chance to drive it. Even more unlucky was a Romanian owner who was driving the car to a wedding when it suddenly spun out of control and spectacularly crashed, killing him and the five friends who had been riding with him. All things told, over 12 years the Archduke Ferdinand’s car would allegedly cause 13 deaths. It’s seemingly bloodthirsty reign ended when it was donated to the War History Museum of Vienna in 1926, where it remains off the road and on display.

Perhaps the most well-known allegedly cursed car is the Porsche 550 Spyder that was owned by the American actor James Dean, and which had been christened the Little Bastard, a nickname which would actually be emblazoned on the side of the vehicle. In the 1950s, Dean was at the height of his fame, and his films Rebel Without a Cause, East of Eden, and Giant had made him into a pop cultural icon. Dean was an avid racer, and purchased the Porsche 550 Spyder, of which only 90 had ever been made, while working on the film East of Eden, going on to have it customized by none other than George Barris, the man who would later design the original Batmobile. When Dean showed his flashy new ride to the actor Alec Guinness, Guinness had reportedly had an immediate aversion to it, saying that it felt “sinister.” Guinness also allegedly warned Dean ““If you get in that Porsche, you will be dead next week.” It would be an eerily prophetic statement.

Precisely a week later, on September 30, 1955, Dean was scheduled to be in a race in Salinas, California. His mechanic, Rolf Wütherich, convinced him that it would be a good idea to break the car in by driving it from Los Angeles to Salinas and so the two headed out together in the car. After being ticketed once for speeding, the two continued on their way until a Ford Tudor suddenly made a turn into an intersection right in front of them. Unable to stop in time, Dean’s car smashed into the Ford practically head on. The driver of the Ford escaped with only minor injuries, but Dean and Wütherich were not so lucky. Wütherich was catapulted out of the Porsche and sustained numerous injuries including a broken jaw, while Dean himself remained in the totaled vehicle with grievous, life threatening injuries such as a broken neck. Although he was reported as having a weak pulse when he was pulled from the wreckage, Dean would be pronounced dead on arrival at Paso Robles War Memorial Hospital.

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