Cadillac Al Capone Town Sedan
At first glance, this ex-Al Capone Cadillac is much like any other sedan, but the differences are cleverly hidden. It was painted green with black fenders, the same as the 85 Cadillacs that were also supplied to Chicago police and city officials. Similarly, it was also fitted with flashing red lights behind the grille, a regulation police siren, and the first known police-band radio receiver in a private automobile.
It may also be the earliest surviving “bulletproof” car, fitted when new with heavy glass measuring nearly an inch thick and completely lined with 3,000 pounds of steel armor plating. Heavy spring lifts permitted the side windows to operate, while the rear window was rigged to drop quickly, allowing occupants to fire upon would-be pursuers.
In December 1931, Capone loaned his car to Edward Evans, a private investigator, and prison Warden Moneypenny to carry them to a hearing on behalf of Frank Bell, a death row inmate and Capone associate. The press learned of the incident and a scandal ensued. There have also been persistent reports that Capone’s car was seconded to the White House to protect President Franklin Roosevelt. In one account, the car was used for a trip to Georgia, where authorities feared an attempt might be made on his life. However, the Secret Service apparently felt that it was degrading to have the U.S. President riding in a gangster’s car, and on December 1st, 1939, Ford Motor Company delivered an extended-wheelbase Lincoln to the White House.
The known provenance of the Cadillac is extensive and dates to 1933, when it was purchased for display at an amusement park in London, England. It has been known by enthusiasts for many years as formerly having belonged to Al Capone, arguably the most famous mobster and bootlegger in U.S. history. While incontrovertible evidence of Capone’s ownership is not known to exist, the car is extremely well known in collector car circles and has always been known as such.
According to a notarized statement, Mr. Harry E. LaBreque owned the Capone Cadillac when it was shipped to London, England. When questioned by Detective Lieut. John Treacy on May 8th, 1933, he confirmed that he was the owner of “a bulletproof 1928 Cadillac Model 341 Town Sedan, engine and serial number 306449, for which he had paid $1,500 that day from Mr. Patrick Moore of 37 Grove St., Rockville, Connecticut.” In answer to the detective’s questions, he indicated that his occupation was “Showman” and that he intended to ship the car immediately by rail to New York, to be loaded on a ship bound for London. Upon arrival, he planned to exhibit the car at Southend-On-Sea.
In fact, according to later accounts, LaBreque was acting as agent for Capt. de Forest Morehouse, who is reported to have been the principal of the Southend-On-Sea amusement park. A photograph published in the May 13th, 1933 New York Daily News shows the Capone car loaded in a sling and prepared for loading on board a ship bound for England.
In a Letter to the Editor of Esquire, a later owner, Harley Neilson of Todmorden, Ontario, explained that after several years of exhibit at Southend-On-Sea, the car was displayed at the Blackpool Fun Fair in Manchester. He also states that in 1939, the U.S. government asked the British government to intervene and take the car off display because of the “poor public relations it could cause by pointing up American Gangsterism.” It is thought that the car was hidden away in a secure location at the onset of World War II.
The Capone Cadillac reappeared in a teletype news bulletin dated February 23rd, 1958, relating that dance-hall owner Tony Stuart had purchased Al Capone’s car for $510 at auction in January near Manchester. According to the same article, prior to the auction, the car was confirmed to have been exhibited in Manchester until U.S. authorities protested. “Since then it was the property of Belle Vue Zoological Gardens, which put it up for auction.” How the Zoological Gardens came to own the car is not known, although speculation suggests that it was left to them by Capt. Morehouse.
On April 15th, 1958, a photograph published in the Toronto Globe and Mail shows the Capone Cadillac being prepared for shipment to Canada after its purchase by Harley Nielson, a Toronto-area businessman and car enthusiast. Although solid and virtually complete, the car had not run in years, so Neilson undertook a comprehensive restoration. Most of the heavy armor plating was removed, but other features, including the bulletproof glass and drop-down rear window, were retained.
Neilson retained the car for several years before selling it to the Niagara Falls Antique Auto Museum in the mid-1960s, where it remained until November 20th, 1971, when the museum was liquidated by public auction with nearly 50 cars sold. Among them was the Capone Cadillac, which drew $37,000.
The buyer, as confirmed by a 1973 Ontario registration, was Peter Stranges of Niagara Falls, Canada, who co-owned the Cars of the Greats museum. In February 1975, they offered the car at auction in Atlantic City, New Jersey, reportedly turning down $81,000 and insisting they wanted closer to $100,000 before selling. Stranges then arranged to have the car shipped to Chicago for the launch of the movie Capone on April 14th, 1975, where it generated national publicity. Finally, on January 13th, 1979, the “Cars of the Greats” collection was sold and B.H. Atchley, owner of Tennessee’s Smoky Mountain Car Museum, purchased the Cadillac.
Atchley freshened the restoration, and since the original glass was heavily crazed and deeply yellowed, a specialist supplied replacement glass of identical size and thickness. In early 2006, the Cadillac was again sold and joined the collection of the late Mr. John O'Quinn.
The provenance file associated with the Capone Cadillac is extensive and includes numerous newspaper and magazine articles, correspondence and promotional material. With continuous history from the early 1930s to the present, as well as the evidence provided by the car itself, there is little doubt that this car is one of the most historically significant prewar American cars.
This car was auctioned off by RM Auctions in August of 2010 at the Portola Hotel & Spa and Monterey Conference Center, Monterey, California and in July of 2012 at The Inn at St. John's, Plymouth, Michigan.
90 bhp, 341 cu. in. L-head V8 engine, three-speed manual transmission, beam front axle and full-floating rear axle, and four-wheel mechanical drum brakes. Wheelbase: 140"
Source: RM Auctions
Photo Credit: Copyright ACME Photo and Theo Civitello