On April 13, 1934, Ford Motor Co. received a notorious endorsement.
“Dear Sir,” read the handwritten letter addressed to Henry Ford. “While I still have got breath in my lungs I will tell you what a dandy car you make. I have drove Fords exclusively when I could get away with one.”
“Get away” being operative words — the letter was signed, “Yours truly Clyde Champion Barrow.”
Barrow, whose given middle name was Chestnut, is among the most famous criminals in American history. With accomplice Bonnie Parker and other running mates, Bonnie and Clyde committed robberies, kidnappings, car thefts and killings from their native Texas as far north as Minnesota from 1932-34.
Barrow’s preference for Fords with what then was a powerful engine begs this question: What would be today’s great getaway cars?
We’ll get to that in a moment.
The letter, which is in possession of the The Henry Ford in Dearborn, went on to say: “For sustained speed and freedom from trouble the Ford has got ever other car skinned and even if my business hasen’t been strickly legal it don’t hurt enything to tell you what a fine car you got in the V8 —”
(He was a criminal, not a spelling bee champion.)
Ted Ryan, archives and heritage brand manager for Ford, notes that “no one has every truly verified the handwriting to prove conclusively that it is Clyde Barrow’s. That is part of the fun of history. Personally, I think it is true.”
Bonnie and Clyde, being intensely hunted at the time of the letter, just a few weeks before being ambushed by lawmen and riddled with bullets in Louisiana, certainly were not publicity-averse. They posed for photos and were brazenly aware of their celebrity.
Ryan said Ford had introduced the single block cast V8 engine just a few years before.
“The resulting engine was a modern marvel and provided the power the public was looking for at a price they could afford,” he said in an email. “Suddenly, higher powered engines were available to everyone, including Clyde Barrow.”
Now, what about today’s getaway cars? The Free Press auto team came up with these possibilities:
Ford Mustang Shelby GT 500
Introduced at this year’s Detroit auto show, it’s the most powerful street-legal Ford ever. It might also draw too much attention to itself.
Try a Toyota Prius in California or a Subaru Outback in Colorado. You could hide on any parking lot or highway.
Driving a Mercedes G-Wagen, a luxury off-roader that starts at $124,500, will make the cops think you are so rich you don’t have to steal anything. Which probably is true.
The Dodge Challenger Hellcat Redeye is fast, with 797 horsepower. But Fiat Chrysler noted that at full throttle, you could drain your gas tank in 11 minutes. Not good.
Finally, Free Press auto critic Mark Phelan offers this:
“In the spirit of the last great chase movie, ‘Baby Driver,’ in which a banged-up old 4 wheel-drive Chevy Avalanche pickup ran rings around the entire Atlanta PD, I’ll take a 2019 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk.
“It may look like just another SUV picking up little Charlotte from ballet practice, but with a 707-horsepower supercharged Hemi V8, the Trackhawk hits 60 mph in 3.5 seconds and a top speed of 180 mph. That’s faster than a BMW M3. Plus, you can use its ground clearance and 4wd when you head for the hills, going off-road when the heat closes in.”
* We do not endorse criminal activity, unsafe driving or trying to “get away” from anyone you shouldn’t be trying to get away from. Because look what happens.
Contact Randy Essex: REssex@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @randyessex. Read more on autos and sign up for our autos newsletter. Mark Phelan, Eric Lawrence and Phoebe Wall Howard contributed to this bit of frivolity.
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