The legend of Bonnie and Clyde lives on through our literature and our movies, inspiring many to uncover the true story behind the legend and to seek out as much information as they can. There are many variations upon the stories, each one adding to the allure of the legend. The actions that took place in the early 1930s have all but faded from memory, from the first bank robbery in Lancaster, TX, to the end of their run on Highway 125.
The allure of Americas' most infamous duo often overshadows the other players in the game, such as Clyde's brother Buck and his "wife" Blanche, as well as friend Henry Methvin whose actions set in motion the events that would lead to Bonnie and Clyde's demise.
The most often ignored character in this opera isn't a person, but a 1934 Ford Model 730 Deluxe that was bought and owned by newly-wed couple Ruth and Jesse Warren. Through all they went through for the car, Ruth was the only one willing to fight to keep as Jesse had grown to hate the car, which may have contributed to their divorce.
The Ford may have been built alongside the rest of the Model As that were assembled in the River Rouge plant in Michigan, but it was destined to take part in an amazing story of forbidden love, police chases, and a vicious betrayal that scarred the south and left its own unique marks on the car.
I've scoured the internet to bring you an accurate account of the events and facts of the Ford to the best of my abilities. With that said, I hope you enjoy 20 Facts About Bonnie and Clyde's Ford V8!
Known as the "Rouge", the 2,000 acres that would become the plant were purchased in 1915. At first, the area was producing boats for the military, then Fordson tractors in 1921. After which, the production of the Model A started in 1927, but it took until 1932 for the "new" Ford V8 to be set onto a Model A frame. Our Model 730 Deluxe was made in February 1934, the same year that Bonnie Parker was arrested for a failed robbery in Kaufman, Texas. In April of the same year, Clyde was directly involved with his first known homicide, a shopkeeper named J.N. Bucher who was shot. It was J.N's wife who pointed out Clyde as one of the shooters.
Although not the first V8 used in an automobile, the flathead used in the model was the first "one-piece" V8 casting of the crankcase and the engine block as one. The simplified motor did away with pushrods and rocker arms to raise efficiency.
The first V8s were 221 cubic-inches, created 65 horsepower, and had 21 Cylinder-head studs—these motors were nicknamed the "21 Stud."
Though not considered very fast or efficient in our day and age, this was a revolution of engineering in 1932, a V8 for the masses at a cheap price. In fact, it was cheap enough to be had by any working man, and Clyde—who already had a love for Fords, according to TheCarConnection.com—thought that naturally, he'd steal a Ford V8 at first glance.
The car featured bumper guards, an Arvin hot water heater, and a metal cover over the spare tire. But perhaps the most distinct feature on our Model 730 Deluxe was a chrome Greyhound used as a radiator cap.
Apart from this, the Model A it was based on already had windows that rolled down and could also slide back a pinch to ventilate the cabin.
The doors were also a sight as they both opened to the rear of the car. The car wasn't short of options, as it was sold above the advertised price (which according to ThePeopleHistory.com, was around $535 - $610). The V8 offered in 1934 had 85 horsepower, more than the previous year, which made it one of the faster cars on the roads.
As I mentioned, a 1934 Ford V8 cost about $610 when new. As it was sold to the Warrens for $785 and 92 cents, I can only guess that some of the options were dealer added.
Nonetheless, to buy any new V8 car for the same price is just about impossible, given that it would translate to only around $14,000 today.
Just about the only new car in that price range that I know of today is the Mitsubishi Mirage, and it's only got half a V8. The cheapest four-door V8 car on the market is a Dodge Charger, which runs for over twice the price. If you want the equivalent of a modern-day Model A, you're out of luck, as Ford doesn't make a V8 four-door anymore.
Built in 1928, the original building where the car was sold still survives mostly unscathed (with the exception of a few aprons) on SW Van Buren Street and SW 7th Street. It's housed multiple dealerships in the interim, including Jack Frost Motors, Vic Yarrington Oldsmobile, and Mosby-Mack Motors. Mosby-Mack Motors dealerships are long gone now, as the downtown dealership was bought by Willard Noller, who then started Laird Noller Motors, which still survives today. The dealership that sold a roofing contractor and his wife a brand new Ford Tudor Deluxe on Van Buren Street was bought out and as for the building, it's now a law office.
Ruth married Jesse in the early 1930s. He was a roofing contractor and owned his own house, which stood at 2107 Gabler Street in Topeka, Kansas. When March came around, it was time to get a new car, so they headed about two miles down the street to Mosby-Mack Motors. The dealership sold them a brand-new, dressed-up Ford Model 730 Deluxe Sedan, which they drove away for only $200 down with $582.92 to be paid by the 15th of April. They only put a few hundred gentle miles on it to break it in before the full balance owed had been paid off.
There are a couple stories I've come across as to exactly how it Bonnie and Clyde stole the car. An Ancestory.com forum featured a newspaper clipping with Ruths telling of the story, along with how Ken Cowan, who was seven years old and playing across the street with his friends at the time, remembers it.
Apparently, Ruth got home and left the keys in her car, then she sat on the porch with her sister and another woman.
The sisters baby started crying and all the women rushed inside to take care of the baby. It's during this time Cowan witnessed a woman (presumably Bonnie) rushing up to the running boards of the Ford and looking inside. It wasn't until Jesse called Ruth to pick him up that they realized the car was gone.
The fact that Bonnie and Clyde drove 7,000 miles is a lot, considering they only had it for 3 weeks before the end of the line. Also, of course, this was no straight shot from Topeka Kansas to Louisiana Highway 154 where they were eventually cornered. This was three weeks of constantly driving, running, and stealing. The V8 motor was definitely put through its paces as the couple traveled well beyond any speed limit or speed the car was intended to maintain. Most of the mileage was probably spent in Texas, where they shot a police officer outside of Dallas. Then they hid around West Louisiana using Alabama plates to try and hide from the lawmen that pursued them.
Whether or not this is authentic, the story goes that Henry Ford received a handwritten letter from Clyde. For those who have trouble reading the cursive, it reads. "Dear Sir: While I still have breath in my lungs I will tell you what a dandy car you make. I have driven Fords exclusively when I could get away with one. For sustained speed and freedom from trouble the Ford has got every other car skinned, and even if my business hasn't been strictly legal it doesn't hurt anything to tell you what a fine car you got in the V8. Yours Truly, Clyde Champion Barrow." There are a few questions concerning the authenticity of the letter (such as the handwriting looking more like Bonnie's than Clyde's). Also, Clyde's middle name is Chestnut, and he only began using the bogus middle name, Champion, when he was sent to Texas State Prison.
The end was nigh as Bonnie and Clyde climbed into the Ford after taking some breakfast to go. After holding a party with the Methvin family a couple days prior, they stopped when they spotted Ivy Methvin's Model A pickup truck. Ivy had been stopped earlier and handcuffed.
One of the truck's wheels were taken off to make it appear to be broken down.
As the infamous Ford came into view, the policemen got ready for a secret signal. Just as the Ford slowed down, Bob Alcorn yelled to stop the car. Before Bonnie or Clyde could react, the car was bombarded by bullets from all angles as the cops came out from behind the shrubs they were hiding behind.
This number is a little speculative as I've seen multiple numbers that range from "over 100" to "around 160". 167 is the most definite number I've come across multiple times and without seeing the car myself and being able to count, I'll have to go with what I'm told. Of course, more than that was shot at the outlaws and their car but remarkably, the safety glass didn't break despite the steel-tipped bullets that also peppered the driver's side door and hood. Some bullets were spread farther from the others by entering the rear window and the top part of the body. The car was scattered with holes, as were the bodies of Bonnie and Clyde.
After the smoke cleared and the officers recovered from temporary deafness, they started unloading various weapons from the Ford, along with ammunition, a blanket, 15 stolen license plates from across the mid-west, and Clyde's saxophone.
Two men went into town to get the coroner and it wasn't long before a mob grew to try and steal bits off of the bodies and the Ford.
Glass was broken off and pieces of clothing were torn off of the bodies. The coroner decided that he couldn't examine the bodies and they had to be moved to his office in Arcadia, Louisiana.
With the souvenir-craving mob close behind, the car was towed eight miles to the next town over. The bodies were removed and sent to the mortuary, which was situated behind Conger Furniture store.
According to William Dees, whose story is told in AP News and whose father owned the nearby bank at the time, the store's furniture was trampled and destroyed by people wishing to get a better look at the bodies.
The car itself was then to be stored in the local Ford dealership. A crowd also followed the car as it entered the garage so the doors were closed and locked. The crowd grew angry and tried pulling the doors apart. The owner of the dealership decided to get into the Ford and try driving it up to the jailhouse, following instructions given by Sheriff Henderson Jordan over the phone.
Dealership owner Marshall Woodward got into the stained seats, and miraculously the car started even though a few bullet holes had penetrated the hood. It seemed as they had missed the motor altogether.
He drove the car out of the garage, through the crowded alley, and up the hill to the jail.
The jail had a 10-foot tall barbed wire fence, so they parked the car behind the fence and the crowd returned but now had no way of getting inside. The Sheriff would not let anyone inside for a good look. After a while, people became discouraged and returned to town. A few days later the car returned to the dealership.
Back in Kansas, Ruth got a call that her car was found. The Warrens were soon approached by Duke Mills, who planned to show the car at the Worlds Fair in Chicago. When he and a lawyer set out to Louisiana to retrieve the car, he was denied by Sheriff Jordan, who demanded $15,000 be paid for its return. Ruth traveled down to Louisiana to get her car, and ended up hiring a lawyer to sue Sheriff Jordan, who wanted to keep the whereabouts of the car secret from the public. Also, according to Sheriff Jordan, many people came along and tried to claim ownership. It wasn't until August that Ruth won her case and the car was loaded up and taken back to her house.
After letting it sit in a parking lot for a few days, Ruth leased the car to John Castle of United Shows, who then exhibited it at the Topeka Fairgrounds. By the next month, Castle defaulted on the contract by not paying his rent, and the Warrens went back to court to try and repossess the car.
Of course, they got the car back because it was rightfully their own, although its condition contributed to Jesse Warren's unamused attitude.
He really thought the car was a bloody mess and an eye-sore sitting in his driveway. I'm sure this led to much fighting for the couple, as they got divorced soon after, in 1940.
The car was then rented by Charles Stanley for $200.00 a month. He toured the country's dealerships and fairs, displaying the car as the "Barrow-Parker Exhibition Car". Ruth eventually sold the Ford to Stanley for only $3,500, as interest with the public had slipped over time.
Also, another showman had shot up a couple of Ford V8 Tudors and was falsely displaying them as the real deal.
The public denounced Stanleys authentic Ford as simply another fake, and he then exhibited it in Cinncinati. In the late-40s, the car was put in a warehouse, as the "Crime Doctor" had grown tired of explaining who Bonnie and Clyde were to everyone. It started to seem that no one cared anymore.
I know the topic sounds like a cheesy ad from a desperate dealership, but as a publicity stunt to try to sell the car, Clyde Wade of Harrahs Automotive Museum of Reno, entered the car in the 1987 Interstate Batteries Great Race. According to TexasHideout.com, he set about restoring the motor to run, covering the side windows with plexiglass and temporarily replacing the windshield to pass inspection. The car may have been full of holes, but it was ready to race. The old Model A was piloted by two friends of Clyde Wade, Bruce Gezon and Virginia Withers, all the way across the country from California to Disney World in Florida
The car was sold to Ted Toddy by Stanley, who was retiring for the affair. It was a few years after, in 1967, that the famous Bonnie and Clyde movie was made, starring Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty. This caused an increase in hype for the car as it grew popular once more.
The car sold in 1975 to Peter Simon, who owned Pops Oasis race car park in Jean, NV, about 30 miles south of Las Vegas.
Ten years later, the casino closed down, and the car was then sold for $250,000 to Primm Resorts, who occasionally displays it in other casinos and museums across the country. It can frequently be found alongside mobster Dutch Shultz's car, which had body panels lined with lead and thus only has dents rather than holes.
The car was bought in 1988 for $250,000 (which is over $500,000 nowadays) by Gary Primm, who later also bought Clyde's blue shirt and a swatch piece of his dark blue pants for $85,000 at auction. The car now sits within plexiglass walls along with two dummies posed over the car and dressed as Bonnie and Clyde, one of which is wearing Clyde's real shirt. The exhibit is decorated in multiple letters defending the car's authenticity. The doors of the car have been tied shut to prevent anyone bold enough to climb the glass cage from getting inside the car. Occasionally, the car will travel around southern Nevada to different casinos, but its mainstay is Whiskey Pete's.
Sources: The Car Connection. The People History, Ancestry.com, AP News, texashideout.com