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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.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand

Archduke Franz Ferdinand

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.

Franz Ferdinand's Graf & Stift Double Phaeton on display

Franz Ferdinand’s Graf & Stift Double Phaeton 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.

James Dean and his Porsche Spyder

James Dean and his Porsche Spyder

The story is already tragic enough but it is with the acquisition of the wreckage by George Barris that the story takes a turn for the bizarre. From the very beginning, the wreck caused misfortune, reportedly falling and breaking both of a mechanic’s legs as it was being moved. Barris then went on to sell some of the parts from the car, with the engine going to a Californian physician named William Eschrich and the drivetrain going to a Dr. McHenry. Eschrich put the engine in a Lotus chassis and while racing the hybrid in Pomona, California, the car suddenly flipped over, inflicting serious injuries on the physician. Dr. McHenry was even more unfortunate, when, in the very same race, he careened into a tree and died after the engine of his car suddenly and inexplicably stalled. After that, the legend of James Dean’s cursed Porsche started to take off, spawning various other stories involving misery at the hands of the automobile as well as other weird phenomena associated with it. In one story, a would-be thief is said to have severely cut his hands while trying to steal the steering wheel from the wreck. In another incident two tires that had been sold to another driver allegedly simultaneously burst and caused the car to crash.

Barris would go on to loan the wreck to the California Highway Patrol to be put on display as a safety warning to drivers illustrating the disastrous consequences of careless driving, but whatever enigmatic, malevolent force was inhabiting it refused to stop. Within days of being exhibited at a garage, a major fire broke out that destroyed every vehicle stored there except Dean’s Spyder, which strangely came out of the accident remarkably unscathed. As the wreck was being hauled off to be put on display at a high school, the Spyder broke free from the tow truck and caused a deadly accident. Later, the Little Bastard went on to be displayed in Sacramento and promptly slipped from its stand to break a person’s hip. As it was being moved yet again, the driver of the flatbed truck that was carrying it, George Barkuis, was involved in an accident and thrown from the vehicle. As he laid reeling in pain upon the pavement, the Spyder fell from its trailer and onto the hapless driver, killing him instantly. In 1960, after seeming to sow mayhem wherever it went, the Spyder was on its way to Los Angeles after a safety exhibit in Miami, Florida, when it allegedly disappeared without a trace from the truck that was carrying it and to this day it is unknown just what happened to it or where it is.

James Dean in His Porsche Spyder

The stories surrounding the supposedly cursed Little Bastard are so numerous that it is sometimes hard to tell which may have actually happened and which are more in the vein of urban legend. To be sure, Barris himself has been accused of concocting many of the spooky tales in order to make a profit off of the wreckage, but this has never been proven. Whatever the case may be, the legend lives on, and the story of James Dean’s apparently evil car is still certainly eerie.

While the Little Bastard may have been evil, it is possibly overshadowed by yet another mysterious car which is so pervaded by sinister stories and menace that it is sometimes referred to as “the most evil car in America.” The car in question is a 1964 Dodge 330 Limited Edition which is simply referred to as “The Golden Eagle.” The vehicle apparently began life as a police car at Old Orchard Beach, Maine, and quickly amassed for itself a rather ominous and unsettling reputation. Supposedly, three officers were in possession of the car during its years of police service, and every single one of them went on to brutally murder their families before killing themselves. Subsequent owners of the car reported all manner of strange occurrences and inexplicable, possibly life threatening malfunctions, such as the engine stalling without reason, the steering wheel jamming, the brakes giving out, or the doors suddenly flinging themselves open while the vehicle is in motion. However, this was nothing compared to the wrath seemingly incurred by those who would vandalize the car.

Allegedly in the 1980s and 90s, a series of would-be vandals met a variety of horrific fates, ranging from being struck by lightning to dying in terrible car accidents, with one even apparently beheaded by a semi. Even more disturbing are the stories that at least two children were hit by cars in the vicinity of The Golden Eagle and their bodies flung through the air to come to rest on either the bumper of the hood of the car. One story from 2007 claims that one child who touched the car went on to kill his entire family and burn down his house, although this seems to smack of urban legend. The car’s sinister reputation grew to the point where in 2010 some local churches became convinced that it was inhabited by a demon and had it dismantled and the parts scattered in far-flung places. The car’s current owner, a writer and publisher by the name of Wendy Allen, went about tracking down all of the pieces of the car and was able to salvage enough lost parts to reconstruct it. It is a move which has caused some church groups to label her “The Sea Witch of Old Orchard Beach” and accuse her of using the evil car to cast dark spells. Allen for her part has said:

I say, it’s just a car that’s been passed down in my family for years, and people are reading too much into the things that have happened to people around the car, because: look at me, my family, my friends, we are fine, aren’t we? If the car was hell bent on killing everyone, well, why isn’t everyone dead?

The Demonic Golden Eagle

The Demonic Golden Eagle

America does not have the monopoly on possessed cars, and there are other countries that have stories of cursed, demonic vehicles that are just as strange. Moving over to the former Soviet Union, we come to the menacing tale of what is known as the Black Volga. During the 1960s and 1970s, an intimidating jet-black Volga limousine with white rims, tinted windows, curtains, horns on its rear-view mirrors, and often described as completely spotless or with the ability to accelerate way faster than a normal car, was said to roam about all over the Soviet Union and in some cases even Belarus, Ukraine, Poland, and Mongolia, terrorizing locals wherever it went. The tale goes that the phantom Black Volga would appear from seemingly out of nowhere to pull up to people, mostly children, and abduct them. Anyone who tried to interfere in this dark business or to even come too close was said to either drop dead on the spot or within 24 hours of the encounter, making the mysterious vehicle a sight that instilled great fear in anyone who laid eyes upon it. In some stories the car is said to be impervious to damage as well.

Throughout these spooky incidents, no one was ever able to see who was driving the car or cars, and this led to rampant speculation over who could possibly be behind the wheel. Some theories claimed that the victims were killed so that their organs could be sold on the black market. Others pointed to a shadowy group trying to sow social unrest, while others blamed government agents, or Satanists or some other dark cult. Many locals went as far as to claim that the Devil himself was driving the Black Volga. In recent years there have even been suggestions that it was none other than the men in black themselves on some nefarious, no doubt UFO related mission. Considering that the Volga was an extremely expensive luxury vehicle at the time, it was thought that whoever was in there was wealthy and/or well-connected. After the 70s, accounts of the mysterious Black Volga drop off considerably, so it is hard to ascertain how much truth any of the eerie stories hold, if any at all.

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Now, normally I wouldn’t have included a phantom car driven around by mysterious agents in an article about possessed cars if it wasn’t for one particularly strange account concerning it. One 1960s report from the Ukraine told of the mysterious black car pulling up to two young girls, after which the doors opened and the two were seemingly sucked into the vehicle as if it were a vacuum cleaner. The witness, a middle aged man, ran to their aide and pried the driver’s side door open, notably not dropping dead like the lore suggested he should. When the door was open, the witness was able to see that indeed there was no one behind the wheel at all, and that the front of the car was completely empty. That was about all that he was able to ascertain before there was allegedly a blinding white flash and the man woke up 24 hours later with a terrible headache. What was the Black Volga? Was it some possessed car powered by a mysterious force, a secret organization, the men in black, Satanists, demons, or was it merely an urban legend? No one really knows.

Not all possessed cars are necessarily evil and threatening. Some of them are just plain bizarre. In 2004, a family in Cape Town, South Africa had a decidedly odd problem with their car. After dinner with some out of town guests, the family had gone to bed as if it was just any other usual night, but their sleep would be interrupted by a thunderous roar and crash from outside. The startled family ran to their back yard to find their Renault Megane roving and hopping around the yard smashing into bushes, trees, and fences, all the while making a horrific roaring noise. It seemed to obviously be an attempt to steal the car, but a look into the driver’s window soon showed that there was no one behind the wheel. When the car stopped as suddenly as it had sprung to life, it was found that there were no signs of break in, the widows were intact, the doors were still locked, and even the parking brake was still engaged.

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The perplexed family decided to call the police anyway, just in case, and when officers arrived they found no sign of anyone tampering with neither the vehicle nor the perimeter of the house, and indeed there was no trace of anyone who could have been driving it. As they listened to the family’s frantic description of what they had seen, the skeptical police began to believe that the whole thing was just a big joke. However, just when the officers were about to leave, the car in question suddenly came to life and proceeded to bounce up and down up a hill until it smashed into a tree to a stop, presumably leaving everyone in the vicinity utterly speechless. When the family contacted Renault, the company was very suspicious of the story and didn’t believe a single word of it. The technical coordinator of the car company even went as far as to suggest that they had been drunk or were hallucinating. An examination of the car turned up nothing really out of the ordinary, but the family was told that a rusty starter cable may have caused the car to turn on by itself. How that would cause it to drive and leap around by itself or emit roaring noises is anyone’s guess. The case of the Jumping Car of Cape Town, as it came to be known, is interesting in that apparently two police officers and seven other witnesses all saw the car start on its own and hop around the yard, and the whole incident was widely covered in the news. Rusty starter cable, or something more?

What do we make of these cases? Are these just spooky coincidences or is there something darker and more sinister at work here? It seems that if it is true that spirits or demonic influences can attach themselves to places or people, then it only follows that they should be able to inhabit objects as well if they so wish. Is that what was happening in these accounts or not? It is hard to say, but if there is any grain of reality to any of this, then it is rather hard to look at our primary and usually mundane mode of transportation quite the same way again.