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How Al Capone's Car May Have Saved FDR's Life

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On: Mon, Aug 25, 2014 at 10:35AM | By: Bill Wilson


How Al Capone's Car May Have Saved FDR's Life

This is a story about two vastly different men. One was a notorious gangster, the other an American president. Their characters and their lives could not have been more opposed. But they were linked together by something seemingly mundane: an automobile. The story behind this fact is one of the oddest in US history.

In the 1920s, no name was more feared than that of Chicago mobster Al Capone. King of a multi-million dollar bootlegging empire, he ruled the underworld with an iron fist. Of course, anyone with that much power has enemies, the ruthless kind to whom murder is no more disturbing than swatting a fly. To keep himself safe, Capone rode around in a specially modified 1928 Cadillac sedan. It had 3000 lbs of armor plating, bulletproof glass, and gun ports to fire from. It gave the notorious gangster a safe way to travel from point to point in the Windy City.

Unfortunately for Capone, all of the armored cars in the world couldn’t protect him from the wrath of the IRS. In November 1931 he was sentenced to 11 years in federal prison. His personal property, including his beloved armored Cadillac, was seized to satisfy his debt. The car sat in a government warehouse, unused until December 1941. That is where the strange story of Al Capone’s Cadillac picks up.

America in the first year of the 1940s was vastly different from what it had been 10 years before. The nation was in the grip of a crippling economic depression, one that had thrown tens of millions of people out of work. To make matters worse, dictators in Europe and Asia had long been fighting to create global empires for themselves. On December 7th of 1941 this fact came home to the United States as the Japanese attacked Pearl harbor, a US Navy installation in Hawaii.

The following day, President Franklin D. Roosevelt was set to speak to Congress about the crisis and ask the lawmakers to issue a declaration of war. Given the utra-tense situation in the country, however, Secret Service agents feared for the chief executive’s life. They worried that Japanese assassins were loose in Washington D.C. Their great concern was how to get the president safely from the White House to Capitol Hill for his address.

The government had numerous cars at its disposal for the task. But, in those more innocent times, none of them were equipped to withstand an outright assault. Then someone remembered Capone’s Cadillac. With its special modifications it was ideal for transporting Roosevelt. Mechanics worked all night on the night of December 7th, making sure the vehicle was in shape for the journey.

The next day the president rode in Al Capone’s Cadillac to deliver his famous speech. No attackers tried to prevent him from doing so, very possibly because they were deterred by the sight of his tank-like automobile. FDR later had a number of specially modified cars built for his needs. But none had quite the history or reputation of the one that he rode in on December 8th 1941. In his own way, Al Capone helped save the country that made both his fortune and his downfall possible.


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