Beginning in 1982, The Great Race has promoted cross-country car races with the original stipulation being that all of the entries were pre-WWII manufactured cars. Each year, antique cars in various condition, some pristine and others held together with hopes and dreams, come to compete.
The route usually takes the cars from west to east, with the inaugural race stretching from L.A. to Indianapolis, Indiana. The 1987 route was special, however, extending from Anaheim, California’s Disneyland, all the way to Disney World in Orlando, Florida.
The locations were exceptional enough, but arguably just as interesting was one of the entries that year: the mechanically-restored death car of the infamous crime duo, Bonnie and Clyde.
Bonnie and Clyde were a pair of Depression-era criminals guilty of numerous murders and robberies, active from about 1929 until the pair were ambushed and killed by law enforcement officers in 1934.
The car they died in was a Ford Fordor Deluxe Sedan, a vehicle preferred by other criminals at the time, such as the Dillinger Gang. The reason for the car’s popularity was how common it was (thus making it less likely to stand out), as well as the V8 engine. Many of the law enforcement officials at the time were driving less powerful cars, so the 1934 Fordor stood a significant chance of outrunning any pursuit.
Unfortunately for Bonnie and Clyde, they decided to drive the car they stole (the latest in a long string of car thefts) out of the state they’d found it in, and the out of state tags attracted police attention.
This was, after all, the Depression, and very few people had the money to drive long distances. Police followed the vehicle, and at a roadblock in Louisiana, the pair (and the car) were ambushed.
Fearing they would escape if warning was given, officers simply shot the pair and their car until there was no more movement. In 1987, when Ginni Withers decided to race the car, the bullet holes were still apparent.
Specialists had taken the time to match up the bullet holes found on the car with those in pictures to authenticate it, and the car was mechanically restored for the purposes of The Great Race. The shattered windshield was also replaced for safety reasons, and Ginni herself had the seats temporarily covered so as to preserve the faded blood stains.
The Life & Demise of the Notorious Crime Duo, Bonnie & Clyde
The Los Angeles Times reported that, initially, Ginni was frightened by the car and the things that had taken place in it, but decided to go through with the race. “It’s taken on a different flavor for me,” she said. “I see it not as a sinister car but as an opportunity to get a good message across.” That message, according to Ginni, was a simple one: Crime does not pay.
Though the engine was powerful and the car’s entry attracted a great deal of attention, it did not win the 1987 Great Race. That honor, instead, went to Alan Travis and Wayne Stanfield, who drove a 1916 Mitchell across the finish line. After the race, the car returned to its owners, and the death car of Bonnie and Clyde now sits in the Whiskey Pete casino, in pride of place in the lobby, for all to see and admire.
The Great Race continues to this day, having just finished its 2018 course from Buffalo, New York to Halifax, Nova Scotia on Canada Day, with Jeff and Eric Fredette taking the prize. Some things have changed: Cars made as recently as 1972 (no newer) may compete, and the course no longer keeps strictly within American borders.
Other things have stayed the same: the race is still devoted to showcasing antique cars, and in 2011 a 1911 Velie won the race. Unless the infamous car of James Dean is ever entered, however, it is unlikely that the race will ever host a more famous (or infamous) car than the Bonnie and Clyde vehicle in its competition again.
Ian Harvey is a freelance writer and journalist and has contributed to various magazines and news websites.