Oh, if only cars could talk. What stories this one could tell.
Its modifications mark it as something truly special. Based on a seven-passenger Imperial Sedan by Fleetwood its doors are reinforced with ¼ steel armor. All the glass is 5-ply laminated. The side windows have round ports cut in them, and theyre not for ventilation. A police band radio nestles under the dashboard conveniently above the front seat passengers feet.
It might be a good guys car, except that the good guys in the Thirties couldnt afford such luxury, performance and protection. Neither did they have much fear of assault by heavy weapons. It was the bad guys who needed this level of protection, but even at that few sought such an ostentatious and easily spotted mobile fortress.
One who demanded this level of luxury, who needed this level of protection, who could afford it and who was not concerned with notoriety, being the most infamous man in Chicago if not in the world, was Al Capone, head of the legendary gang known as The Outfit.
While Capone is most famous for rubbing out competitors, he was even more of a realist. He preferred a reasoned understanding with mutual benefits to a messy execution and constantly negotiated with the many other Chicago gangs to minimize violence and its attendant bad publicity. Typical of his measured, reasoned attitude was his decision to move The Outfits headquarters to the southwest Chicago suburb Cicero, Illinois in 1923 to greatly expand his business empire.
Capone worked his way up through the Torrio organization after moving to Chicago in the wake of the Eighteenth Amendments prohibition of alcoholic beverages. For Capone and other intelligent mobsters it was a gift, especially in Chicago with its large immigrant population whose cultures had embraced liquor, wine and beer for centuries. A popular product and all the business of making, distributing and selling it had been wiped out overnight, but not the acquired taste, cultural history and thirst of millions of potential customers.
Chicago, it must be said, had never been about temperance. Illegal brothels and gambling parlors operated openly within a web of bribery and intimidation. Rival gangs of which there were no fewer than ten when Capone arrived in the early Twenties constantly maneuvered to expand their territories. The smart ones paid off their competitors; the brutal ones killed them, and were killed in retaliation.
In 1925 Capones mentor Johnny Torrio barely survived a bloody assassination attempt in retaliation for ordering the death of rival Dion OBanion. During his recovery he turned leadership of his South Side gang over to Al Capone and eventually retired to Italy. The transition marks the beginning of an escalation of inter-gang violence which would turn Chicago into the nearest thing to a war zone in America.
In 1926 Hymie Weiss deployed a caravan of ten cars to cruise by Capones headquarters in the Hawthorne Hotel in Cicero, riddling it with bullets. Unlike Capone, whose hit jobs were precisely planned and coordinated, Weisss use of brute force proved completely unsuccessful at killing or even significantly injuring anyone they were after. Capone retaliated with a hit on Weiss. The sequence of violence and retaliation continued through 1927, 1928 and 1929 until it culminated in the St. Valentines Day Massacre in which seven of Bugsy Morans operatives were gunned down in a carefully planned but excessively violent attempt to assassinate Moran, who was late for the party.
The public revulsion and nationwide publicity turned up the heat on Capone.
He affected fine suits, elegant overcoats and dapper fedoras, lived in luxury in the Lexington Hotel surrounded by bodyguards. He often vacationed at fine resorts or one of the many homes in the country at his disposal accompanied by a retinue of gunsels, thugs and advisors. Despite his care and a convoy of bodyguards his cars were frequently targeted for assassination attempts and he is known to have had earlier Cadillac V-8s armored for protection.
At the peak of his power, notoriety and success but bedeviled by determined adversaries intent upon ending his reign the 1930 Cadillac 452 V-16 Imperial Sedan offered the ideal basis for creating a mobile haven, a cocoon of protection powerful enough to support the vast weight of armor plating and bulletproof glass, large enough to accommodate Snorky as he was known to his closest pals his bodyguards and their arsenal.
His indictment in 1931 on Federal income tax evasion charges and subsequent conviction and sentence to eleven years in Federal prison soon followed and may account for the pristine condition of the Cadillac which would have taken some time to be armored and may not even have been finished before he was released from a nine month sentence imposed in August 1929 for a minor weapons infraction, then brought up on the Federal tax charges.
Purchased by Sid Craig in 1994 from the Imperial Palace Auto Collection in Las Vegas where it had been on display since 1982, this may be the most elaborately equipped and modified Cadillac V-16 in existence. It is equipped with armor plating in the doors and sides and five-layer laminated glass windshield and windows. Despite their great weight the door windows, which have round gunports cut in them, roll down into the doors. Other defense features included a an oil slick and smoke screen system. Painted a low key black with matching black painted wire wheels, it has dual sidemounted spare tires with mirrors and a radiator stoneguard. A rollup divider window separates the privileged rear compartment with its luxurious dark brown leather upholstery and black leather door panels and headliner from the driver and front seat passenger who repose on black leather seating surfaces. A police radio could monitor the good guys activities and might also hint at the oppositions moves.
It was discovered in the 1960s by Paul R. Eakins of Sikeston, Missouri who recognized its unique features and began a long term cosmetic restoration. In 1975 it was authenticated by Morris Red Rudensky, who had been Capones cellmate at the Atlanta Penitentiary in 1932 before the mob boss became one of the first inmates to experience the newly-built maximum security prison on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay (a recording of Rudensky verifying the car as Capone's to Paul Eakins can be heard here
; a further recording of Rudensky describing his experiences with the car can be heard here
). After touring the country with it for several years Eakins sold it to the Imperial Palace Auto Collection. Repainted and the engine compartment cleaned up many years ago, it has subsequently been maintained and preserved in largely original configuration, a time capsule commemorating Americas most infamous gangster.
According to Rudensky the armoring alone cost $30,000, a massive sum at the time but not even rounding error in The Outfits estimated $100 million annual turnover.
Sidney's car was the basis for a highly detailed 1/24 scale model by the Franklin Mint, the '1930 Al Capone Armored Cadillac' (item number B11XE83).
If only it could tell us what it had witnessed.Without reserve