Under The Hood

Dillinger Ford now and then

As Old Cars Weekly readers know, a Ford Model A coupe used as a get-away car by John Dillinger is crossing the block at the Barrett-Jackson auction this week. Recent photos of the car can be found all over the ‘net, but how about this vintage shot with the previous car’s owner pointing to the bullet hole in the rear? How did we get such a cool shot? Because the car was owned by a relative of a retired  Old Cars Weekly employee when it was stolen by Dillinger!
Darlene Kriewaldt and her husband also operate the salvage yard located adjacent to the Iola Old Car Show grounds and the home office of OCW. Upon seeing the story of the car going up for auction in OCW, Darlene’s husband walked this photo to our office, which shows Darlene’s aunt pointing to a hole where the Model A was shot by the FBI. At the time Dillinger stole the car, it was owned by Kriewaldt’s uncle, Robert Johnson, who was also kidnapped when Dillinger and his crew commandeered the car. Kriewaldt said Johnson later took them on a drive and retraced the path that Dillinger used when he escaped with the Ford from Manitowish Waters, Wis., and headed to Minnesota. Johnson was let off before the Minnesota border, but Dillinger and his bandits continued in the Ford to Hastings, Minn. It wasn’t until several years later, and after Dillinger was killed, that the car was returned to Johnson by the FBI and this shot could be taken. Hope you enjoy this old pic from the past!

Here’s the story that appeared in OCW:

The 1930s  Ford Model A coupe used by the notorious gangster John Dillinger and later in the blockbuster 2009 movie about his life, will be sold at no reserve during the 39th annual Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Auction in Scottsdale on Jan. 18-24 at WestWorld. The Ford, which carried “public enemy number one” to safety in 1934 while Dillinger sprayed pursuing cops with his Tommy gun, will cross the block during SPEED channel’s live television coverage of the event.
“While Bonnie and Clyde, Machine Gun Kelly, Pretty Boy Floyd and Baby Face Nelson were media celebrities, none were more famous than Dillinger,” said Barrett-Jackson Chairman/CEO Craig Jackson. “His daring robberies and hold-ups fed the nation’s hunger for sensationalist news. His ability to elude capture and escape by using fast, reliable cars with seeming impunity made him a folk hero.”
Dillinger and his gang raged throughout Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Kentucky, South Dakota, Iowa and Wisconsin during the Great Depression. One of Dillinger’s most memorable escapes took place at the Little Bohemia Lodge in Manitowish Waters, Wis., on April 22, 1934. Dillinger, Homer Van Meter and John “Red” Hamilton, his two top lieutenants, escaped in the 1930 Ford Model A coupe offered at Barrett-Jackson.
“This car is a piece of American gangster history and as much a part of Dillinger’s legend as his Tommy guns and Colt automatics,” stated Steve Davis, president of Barrett-Jackson. “Not only did this particular car get the famous gangster out of a fix with the cops in hot pursuit, it was used in the recent Johnny Depp movie about Dillinger. So it’s played an important role in history and cinema emulating history.”
After a series of robberies, Dillinger and his gang hid out at the Little Bohemia Lodge in Manitowish Waters. The proprietors, Emil and Nan Wanatka, recognized them and managed to tip off the authorities to the gang’s location.
Upon arrival, the Feds perforated the Lodge with bullets until Dillinger, Van Meter and Hamilton bailed out of doors and windows, rushing through the woods until they found the Model A nearby. The gangsters politely but firmly commandeered the Ford and its owner, Robert Johnson, to drive it.
Johnson was let out near Park Falls, Wis. The trio of crooks eluded law enforcement and drove to Hastings, Minn., over 200 miles away from the Lodge. There, they were once again identified and fled in a high-speed pursuit. Hamilton was fatally shot in the hail of gunfire. Dillinger, it is said, smashed the Ford’s rear window with his Thompson and sprayed his pursuers with bullets as he escaped.
Heading for the anonymity of Chicago, they dumped the bullet-riddled Model A in favor of a stolen 1934 Ford V-8. Three months later, Dillinger was killed as he exited the Biograph Theater in Chicago.
Bullet pocked and blood stained, the Ford was impounded by the police. Files from the Division of Investigation (now FBI) identified it as “1930 Ford coupe, 4 cylinder, Model A, Wisconsin license #92652, Motor #2980001.” 
“The Model A was eventually returned to Johnson who determined that it wasn’t worth repairing and parked it for nearly three decades,” noted Davis. “The car ended up in the barn of Alfred Love’s mother in-law, where Johnson rented a bungalow. Love bought it from Johnson and eventually passed it to his son, Mark, the current owner.”
The Ford was carefully restored in 2007 to appear in “Public Enemies,” preserving the original bullet holes and dimples under body filler and carefully documenting the original appearance including the blood-soaked upholstery. This car is comprehensively documented with its transfer paperwork, articles, before-restoration photographs and a selection of documents copied from the federal files.
“This Ford was at the center of one of the most famous shootouts in gangster history,” added Jackson. “It is, more than any automobile and even firearm, identified with Dillinger. It’s been owned by only two families since it played a crucial role in the Little Bohemia Lodge escape.”
For more information on this event, call 480-663-6225 or visit www.barrett-jackson.com.

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