Road trip news, rants, and ruminations by the Editors of RoadsideAmerica.com
January 11, 2017
On our trip to the new Alcatraz East attraction in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, we met an old friend: the Bonnie and Clyde Death Car from the 1967 Faye Dunaway/Warren Beatty movie.
We first saw it at the Bonnie and Clyde Ambush Museum in Louisiana; next it moved to the National Museum of Crime and Punishment in Washington, DC; and in late 2016 it relocated to its current home.
Unlike the real Death Car, which is olive green, the movie Death Car was painted yellow to accentuate its bullet holes on film. The lighter color also helped because the bullets fired into the movie Death Car were smaller than those blasted into the real Death Car during the May 23, 1934 ambush, by lawmen who obviously wanted Bonnie and Clyde very dead.
A Bonnie and Clyde Death Car is an iconic roadside relic, which explains why at least seven of them are currently on display in various American attractions: the real car, the movie car, and five fake cars (A sixth fake was destroyed when the Wax Museum of the Southwest burned in Grand Prairie, Texas). Others may be out there as well, hibernating in barns or private collections — and all that’s needed to manufacture a new one is a 1934 Ford, a big gun, and a lot of bullets.
Here’s our quick list of the seven tourist-accessible cars. Visit the one nearest you!
Real Death Car: Primm, Nevada
After years of being loaned out to other attractions, the real Death Car has remained parked at its home, Whiskey Pete’s Casino, on the plush carpet next to the main cashier cage, since 2012.
Movie Death Car: Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
It’s now a charter member of the “Sinister Vehicles” gallery at Alcatraz East, America’s most comprehensive museum of crime.
Vintage Fake Death Car: Volo, Illinois
This fake toured state fairs in the 1940s as the real Death Car. It was such a good fake that it was used as the template for the 1960s Movie Death Car. We first saw it in the 1990s at the Tragedy in U.S. History Museum in Florida, where it was still being billed as the real Death Car. It’s currently at the Volo Auto Museum, which acknowledges it as a fake.
Vintage Fake Death Car: Roscoe, Illinois
We were told that this fake was parked next to the real Death Car while the fake was shot full of holes, to ensure the accuracy of the forgery. It’s now on display at Historic Auto Attractions, which acknowledges it as a fake.
Fake Movie Death Car: Gibsland, Louisiana
A new car replaced the real Movie Death Car at the Bonnie and Clyde Ambush Museum. We like it a lot: the bullet holes are bigger, and the car is displayed with bloody dummies of Bonnie and Clyde in its front seat.
Fake Movie Death Car: Las Vegas, Nevada
This lemon yellow fake appears to be a recent creation by car customizer Michael Dezer, who displays it as the Movie Death Car in his Hollywood Cars Museum. It’s not what it claims to be, but it’s still worthy as a symbol of the long-lasting love affair between America and Bonnie and Clyde’s gun-blasted, bloody Death Car.
Fake Death Car: San Antonio, Texas
In 2006 the Buckhorn Saloon and Museum added a Texas Ranger Museum to its attraction, with a replica Bonnie and Clyde Death Car as its centerpiece. According to marketing manager Karen Bippert, the museum assembled the car from parts purchased from catalogs and eBay, then had it painted to match the color of the original. Although its dozens of bullet holes look real, they were in fact painted on by an artist hired specifically for the job. [Thanks to tipster Gordon Melton for telling us about this car.]