1928 Cadillac V-8
1928 Cadillac V-8
1928 Cadillac V-8
1928 Cadillac V-8
Capone—the Chicago mobster and bootlegger known as Public Enemy #1—was convicted of tax evasion in 1931 and sentenced to 11 years in federal prison. He was released eight years later, debilitated and suffering from neurosyphilis. On January 25, 1947, the 48-year-old Capone died of cardiac arrest after suffering a stroke.
Capone’s armor-plated Caddy was long gone by then, purchased first by a couple who hoped to capitalize on his fame. It later ended up in a string of museums for the same reason.
Now it could be yours. The Capone Cadillac is being offered for $1 million by Celebrity Cars Las Vegas. The car (VIN #306449) was once owned by legendary collector John O’Quinn, and it was sold by his estate for $341,000 at RM Sotheby’s St. John’s sale in 2012.
“The history is certainly fascinating, but Al Capone is a controversial figure, and the market spoke in 2012 with its last auction appearance,” says Hagerty valuation editor Andrew Newton. “The car doesn’t appear to have had major work since then, so it’s hard to argue it’s worth a lot more than it sold for eight years ago.”
If you believe it’s worth every bit of that $1M, however, a quick glance at the website reveals that financing is available. With $1000 down and an interest rate of 5 percent for 5 years, your estimated monthly payment would be $18,852.36. Quite a hefty sum, to be sure, but the car’s story is priceless.
The original specs
The rear-wheel-drive Cadillac Series 341-A is powered by a 90-horse, 341-cubic-inch L-head V-8, mated to a three-speed manual transmission. It has a 140-inch wheelbase and features a beam front axle and full-floating rear axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs, and four-wheel mechanical drum brakes. The interior is cloth upholstered, the bodywork is painted black with green accents.
So far, so normal—but how did it receive a bulletproof makeover?
The paper trail
Let’s start with how the Cadillac got from then to now. According to RM’s 2012 description of the car, “New research has shed light on period documentation from newspapers, the IRS, and information from the family of the second known owner, as well as from an eyewitness to the development of this car. While the provenance of the Al Capone armored Cadillac has never been questioned, its origins were never confirmed beyond reasonable doubt until now.”
While federal officials confiscated at least two V-16 Cadillacs after Capone’s arrest, the 1928 V-8 Cadillac was evidently overlooked. During the 1920s and beyond, Emil Denemark was a prominent owner of a Cadillac dealership on the south side of Chicago. He was related to Capone by marriage and was well connected to the criminal underworld. Naturally, Capone was one of his clients. Denemark visited Capone in prison, and shortly thereafter the armored car was purchased by Patrick Moore, apparently from an agent representing Capone—a story confirmed by Pat Denning, Moore’s daughter and his only surviving descendant. The Moores, who owned a traveling carnival, intended to use the Capone car as a standalone exhibit to make extra money during the winter off-season. Denning said the plan didn’t work as intended, however, and records show that the car was sold to Harry LaBreque in May 1933.
According to RM, the ownership history after LaBreque is well-known and heavily documented. “It was shipped to England and first displayed at the Southend-On-Sea amusement park and later at the Blackpool Fun Fair in Manchester. Dance hall owner Tony Stuart purchased the car for $510 ($4500 today) at an auction in February 1958 and sold it months later to Harley Nielson, a businessman and car enthusiast from Todmorden, Ontario. Neilson undertook a comprehensive restoration, and in the process, most of the heavy armor plating was removed, but other features, including the bulletproof glass and drop-down rear window, were retained. In a letter to the editor of Esquire, Neilson explained 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.’”
The car was sold to the Niagara Falls Antique Auto Museum in the mid-1960s and sold again in 1971 to the Cars of the Greats Museum in Niagara Falls, Ontario. In 1979, it was purchased by B.H. Atchley’s Smoky Mountain Car Museum in Tennessee, where Atchley replaced the car’s glass, which by then was deeply yellowed. O’Quinn acquired the car in 2006. (Celebrity Cars posted a nice walkaround video in 2018.)
The mob makeover
Now, the good stuff… According to RM, Richard “Cappy” Capstran mentioned to a friend in 2008 that as a young boy he helped his father “install some of the armor plating on Al Capone’s Cadillac.” In a recorded interview, Capstran recalled in detail the circumstances surrounding this unusual job. It seems Ernest Capstran’s auto body shop had already performed a high-quality repair on another vehicle owned by the Capone syndicate, which prompted delivery of a brand new 1928 Cadillac to the shop.
Cappy Capstran recalled that when Capone’s associates explained their boss’ request, “My dad said, ‘We don’t do that kind of work here.’ And they said, ‘You do now.’” Capstran said that when the car was dropped off, Capone’s men directed that it be backed into the shop so that no one could see the nature of the work. He spoke in detail about the process of cutting the rear of the body open to insert the steel plating.
Capstran said Capone showed up in person to settle the bill and paid his father double the asking price. When Capone walked around the car, he saw 10-year-old Cappy and asked who he was. Ernest Capstran told him that his son had helped with the project and had done “an excellent job” sanding in between layers of lacquer. Capone handed the youngster a $10 bill, worth about $150 today. The family never discussed the job again. After an elderly Cappy mentioned his participation in the makeover some 80 years later, his friend did some research and reached out to O’Quinn, who invited Capstran to Texas to see the car. “This is without a doubt the same car that was worked on in my dad’s shop,” Cappy confirmed.
The Cadillac, among the earliest surviving bulletproof vehicles, is lined with nearly 3000 pounds of armor plating. Heavy spring lifts permitted the half-inch-thick glass side windows to operate, while the rear window was rigged to drop quickly, allowing occupants to fire upon would-be pursuers. According to RM, “Capstran stated that when the Cadillac arrived at his father’s shop in the summer of 1928, the doors and windows had been bulletproofed elsewhere and that they only worked on the rear of the body. Photographs taken in 1933 show the car equipped with a triangular tow bar affixed above the rear bumper, which Capstran stated was not yet installed when the car was in his father’s shop.”
The big question
While RM contended in 2012 that “the provenance of the Al Capone armored Cadillac has never been questioned,” rumors have swirled for years that the car is connected to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. According to roadtrippers.com, rumors swirled for years that FDR used it himself, but the site concluded that he hadn’t.
“The legend started when one of FDR’s Secret Service men, Michael F. Reilly, decided to share his memoirs for a couple books in the ’40s and ’50s,” Roadtrippers wrote in 2014. “According to Reilly, he first picked up FDR in the Capone car on December 9, 1941, a day after he asked congress to declare war on Japan. He claims to have arranged the use of the car for the president, even going as far as to say he didn’t like the car because of its open top, perplexing given the fact the car was not, in fact, an open-top car.”
Regardless, the Capone connection—and the words of a man who worked on it as a youngster—are pretty valuable indeed. Just how valuable? That’s the question.