Dirty Little Secrets

by Katie Truax

April 16, 2013

Three-wheeled cars, cocaine deals, riots and extramarital affairs—check out the Historic Vehicle Association’s list of some of the most scandalous people and events in automotive history.

The Battle of the Overpass

Battle of the Overpass Henry Ford Harry Bennett Union Auto Workers UAW

Last month, in our March Madness and Motor Moguls article, the Historic Vehicle Association celebrated Henry Ford’s leadership skills and his interest in his employees’ personal lives. Few know, however, that Ford sometimes resorted to intimidation and violence to keep his company under control.

Ford employed Harry Bennett, a former boxer and Navy sailor, as the head of his “Service Department,” which was in charge of internal security. Bennett cultivated a tough-guy image throughout his years working for Ford. The two had private meetings almost daily, and Ford trusted Bennett implicitly to handle anything he saw as a security threat to the company.

Ford was a great detractor of labor unions, believing that they were misleading and ineffective and that they ultimately did more harm than good. In 1937, when the Union Auto Workers organized a leaflet campaign at the Ford River Rouge Complex in an effort to unionize Ford’s workers, Henry Ford enlisted Bennett to handle the situation.

Bennett dispatched 25 cars full of “security” employees to the overpass where UAW members were handing out leaflets. The men approached UAW leader Walter Reuther and several of his associates from behind and brutally attacked them. Reuther was beaten and then kicked down a flight of stairs. Another man, UAW leader Robert Kanter, was pushed off the overpass and fell 30 feet to the ground below. Even a group of women who arrived on trolley cars to help hand out UAW leaflets were beaten by Bennett’s gang of thugs.

The incident, which became known as the “Battle of the Overpass,” was detrimental to Ford’s reputation. He and Bennett were publicly criticized by the National Labor Relations Board. Labor party candidates’ votes doubled in the next Detroit election. Ford signed a contract with the UAW three years later, and Bennett was fired by Henry Ford II when the latter took over the company in 1945.

DeLorean Cocaine Scandal

John DeLorean DMC-12

Growing up in Detroit in the 1930s, John DeLorean, by his own account, was so poor that he only owned one suit from the age of 12 until he graduated from Lawrence Institute of Technology with a degree in industrial engineering.

DeLorean served three years in the army during World War II. He returned home and got a part-time job working at Chrysler, which also afforded him the opportunity to take post-graduate studies at the Chrysler Institute of Design.

With a good education and a reputation for challenging the status quo, DeLorean landed jobs with Packard Motor Co., Chevrolet and GM and made valuable contributions to each company. He is especially well-known for developing the revolutionary Pontiac GTO, as well as for his work on the Firebird and Grand Prix.

DeLorean was on track to become president of GM, but in a move that surprised the American press and public, he left the company in 1973. He established the DeLorean Motor Company in 1975, becoming the first American in 50 years to start a new auto company from scratch. The following year, the prototype of DeLorean’s masterpiece—the futuristic DMC-12—arrived on the scene.

Although the DMC-12 was surrounded by hype, sales were unsuccessful and the company fell into financial difficulty. It was around this time that DeLorean received a call from James Hoffman, an FBI informant posing as a drug smuggler. Hoffman invited DeLorean to invest in a cocaine-smuggling scheme, assuring him that it would produce enough profits to save his floundering company. Lengthy negotiations and threats from “investors” ensued. When DeLorean finally agreed to finance the deal, the U.S. government charged him with trafficking in cocaine.

During a lengthy court case, DeLorean’s lawyers proved that he was entrapped by federal investigators, and he was acquitted. But his reputation never recovered. He lost friends and his auto company ultimately failed due to numerous suits related to fraud, bankruptcy and the legality of the money he had used to finance the DMC-12.

DeLorean remained positive despite these unwelcome changes. “I honestly believe the best part of my life is still ahead of me,” he said in 1986. Although DeLorean never introduced another car before his death in 2005, his contributions to the automotive world have proved to be unforgettable.

The Many Women of Enzo Ferrari

Enzo Ferrari Fiamma Breschi mistress

Enzo Ferrari led a busy life. Besides being one of the world’s most innovative and successful automotive entrepreneurs, he also juggled long-term, simultaneous involvements with at least three different women over a period of many years.

Ferrari married Laura Dominica Garello in 1932. As the story goes, Ferrari met Garello at the beginning of his career as a race car driver and was captivated by her sense of humor. They had one son, Dino (namesake of the “Dino” brand later produced by Ferrari), who grew up to be a promising automotive engineer. However, Dino died in 1956 of muscular dystrophy, and the relationship between Enzo and Laura became very strained as a result.

Nonetheless, the couple stayed married until Laura died in 1978. Throughout his marriage, Ferrari maintained a relationship with his mistress, Lina Lardi. The two even produced a son, Piero, in 1945. Piero was kept out of the public eye when he was growing up and his status as Ferrari’s heir was only made known after the death of Ferrari’s wife Laura. Lardi and Ferrari continued their involvement until Ferrari died in 1988.

Less well-known is the fact that Ferrari also had another long-term mistress, Fiamma Breschi. Breschi was originally involved with Luigi Musso, one of Ferrari’s top drivers, who died in a racing accident. Ferrari later contacted Breschi, who shared his love of cars, and asked her to give him ideas about how to make his cars more appealing to women. He also began dispatching her to races to be his eyes and ears when he couldn’t attend. Over time, the professional partnership turned into a romance, which is documented by hundreds of love letters.

“We were all different,” Breschi said of herself, Lardi and Ferrari’s wife Laura. Breschi, at least, does not seem to harbor any hard feelings towards Ferrari for having multiple extramarital affairs. Whatever your opinion of Ferrari’s tangled love life might be, it’s evident that none of his romances ever distracted him from his one true lifelong passion: cars.

Liz Carmichael and the Dale

Liz Carmichael Dale 

In 1975, Liz Carmichael and her Twentieth Century Motor Car Corporation introduced a three-wheeled “wonder car” called the Dale. According to the company’s brochure, the Dale would sell for $2,000; get 70 miles per gallon; be environmentally friendly; and withstand dents, scratches, burglars and even bullets.

The Dale sounded like the average auto owner’s dream, and Carmichael collected a reported $30 million from investors to put the car into production. But before the assembly line could start rolling, Carmichael, along with the $30 million, mysteriously vanished.

Carmichael had good reason to run: her incredible new car was a total scam. But the plot of this crazy con got even more interesting when police searched Carmichael’s home and discovered several surprises: wigs, hair remover, padded bras and a crotch suppressor. It seemed that Carmichael’s original identity was that of one Jerry Dean Michael, a man who had been running from the law since 1961.

Police finally caught up with Carmichael (or Michael) in Miami, but she managed to slip through the fingers of the law once again, disappearing after posting bail. She vanished from the public eye until 1989, when it was discovered that she was running a profitable roadside flower stand under yet another alias: Katherine Elizabeth Johnson.

After this discovery, Carmichael finally did ten years’ worth of jail time for her previous crimes and then once again went missing. Today, her whereabouts are unconfirmed, although it is rumored that she is now running another roadside flower stand in Austin, Texas.

 

Comments

  1. Jim fraulo Woodmont ,ct.

    Liz was surely a Wiz...... Was she selling artificial flowers.... I guess the DALE..... WAS..... NOT..... FOR. $ALE......

  2. Stephen Simmons Sugar Mountain, NC

    These stories are great. Another great fact is Ford, after deal to buy Ferrari collapsed, designed the GT40 which defeated Ferrari four years straight during the 60's. this spurred the Ford GT which has quite a history Two colorful people you high lighted. BRAVO

  3. oldcarman Oakland MI

    It seems we have some poor editing or vetting of the facts for the article above. RE: Ford & Bennett- This has been very well detailed in numerous books over the years. 1. Ford came out of the late 19th, early 20th century ethic that companies were responsible for their employees and were thus paternalistic. He was not the only one, but took it to a very high level. At that time, there were very strong concerns about anarchists, socialists, or communists trying to take over the country. Bennett was a thug that protected Henry early in his rise to fame & fortune. Henry never forgot that. Henry was 61 when the UAW organizing took place. To say he may have been a little paranoid and opinionated by that time would be an understatement. Not to excuse it, but Edsel & Clara certainly would have advised him otherwise. When HFII took over, He & Clara worked together to get rid of the problem of the Bennett legacy. The culture of nepotism never left Ford, though. RE: DeLorean- 2. He was not the 1st person in 50 years to start a car company in 1976. As the article points out later, the 1975 Dale, and also the Bricklin, the Kurtis efforts, the Dual Ghias of '57 - '60, and if you look in the Geogiano Encyclopedia of Motorcars, I am sure you will find more. His was the big one because he got major investors like governments involved. RE: Ferrari- 3. Again puritanical, contemporary hindsight is not of much use in talking about a Italian, European's behavior & actions since the '30's. This better belongs on TMZ or some other Enquirer-quality publication. Was it common for men in power to behave like that? Is it still common for men in power in industry or politics to behave like that? Will it be common in the future? What do think? Is this relevant or important? I think not!

  4. Alesha Hubbell Traverse City, MI

    A very interesting article about the less savory side of the automotive industry. Very well done Ms. Truax.

  5. BRUCE BARTELLS coluimbuc, ind

    great inFO

  6. Jim Bailey Lady Lake FL

    I'm so tired of hearing the distorted facts of John DeLoreans cocain case. When approached, He, (John DeLorean) contacted the FBI and reported it, They in turn set up the meeting and that's where those incriminating photo's came from, they always forget that part. It was then and only then that the government made a big deal that it was John's deal, This is no different than how the big 3 set up Preston Tucker only this time I'm thinking it was GM alone that framed him..

  7. Tom Hall Baldwinsville, NY

    Well done Katie, Whether it's fact or fiction it's good reading. Jim Bailey is probaly right on with his comments. Not being born until 1945 & not becomimg a car nut until 1957 I'm not very well versed on the early Ford empire but I do understand Henry's reasoning. However I will say that Preston Tucker was on to something with that '48 Tucker & it's criminal what GM did to him. I believe that had he succeeded with his vision the automobile industry would have advanced at a much higher rate.

  8. jimmie roan san antonio texas

    i find it very disturbing that just because henry ford was a giant in the automobile industry anytime something bad is hinted at some people get all fired up and make excuses for him. for all the so called good he did, from everything i have ever read he was a self centered selfish human being, and on top of that a communist sympathizer, if not a communist. it was reported in many instances of his relationship with hitler over the years. and from the way he ran his company and tried to have a "ford" city for all his employees it looks like he wanted to be a dictator himself. hate me if you want , but this is what history reported, not me.

  9. John Willoughby Wisconsin

    When hearing/reading the stories of Henry Ford and his cantankerous curmudgeonly paranoia, and seeing the impact that his son, Edsel, was allowed to have on the company....what would FoMoCo have been if Edsel had been in charge and Henry put out to pasture? As it is, Henry probably killed his son, in that he died of stomach cancer quite young, an exacerbation of the ulcers he developed, trying to appease The Old Goat.

  10. Allan Thompson Sarasota, Florida

    The DeLorean Northern Ireland affair left a bitter taste to the average citizen in the UK.He was just the sort of entrepreneur that Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, liked and with increasing unemployment across the country and particularly in Northern Ireland, the promise of extra jobs was attractive to an unpopular government. Margaret Thatcher's Government gave the Company £100 million to build a new factory and produce the DMC. 2000 workers produced 9000 vehicles before the factory was forced to close because it was uneconomic. DeLorean made a huge profit from the Government or rather stole tax payers' money on an enterprise to produce a supercar which was never going to sell during such hard times as the Thatcher years.

  11. RShack Gulf Shores

    Re: Jim Bailey's comments about DeLorean... I'm not against all conspiracy theories, some of them might be true... but in DeLorean's case, this is just silly... his own defense lawyers never made the claim Mr. Bailey is making... they never once claimed that DeLorean was part of a sting... their entire argument was entrapment... Mr. Bailey should do his homework beyond just conspiracy sites....

  12. Bahama Billy United States

    I was one of the "investors" who was scammed by the DALE. Thought it was a good idea at the time, loved the sales pitch that dents would fix themselves and of course, the cost of the vehicle and the mileage.

  13. Leon Duffy Florida

    I ran a European auto repair shop for several years where I had several deloreans that I maintained.One had an unusual problem from day one.The car overheated on the way home from the dealer and was towed back.After several attempts to fix it the dealer gave up and the owner put the car in storage.When I met the owners in 1998 I asked them to give me a shot at diagnosing the overheating problem.With a modern digital infra-red pyrometer I discovered only one cylinder was actually getting too hot.The ECT sensor was on that cylinder also.Upon removing the intake manifold to inspect the cylinder head passages for blockage I discovered a huge glob of a white crystally looking substance stuck in the heads water passage to that particular cylinder.Never had it analyzed but always wondered if it was cocaine.It was so caustic it ate the aluminum around the water jacket.Are you sure he didn't actually import some cocaine inside empty radiators?If not it ruins a good real story.

  14. Carl MA

    No story involving HF, HF II, and Ferrari is not complete without including Carrol Shelby whose Ford involvement leading to the end of the Ferrari lock on racing is legendary. He also liked the ladies.

  15. Developer/Landlord Minnesota

    In 1978 I witnessed the development of a three wheel car in the back room of Bradley Automotive in Plymouth Minnesota, (maker of the Bradley bodies for the VW kit cars). I saw the prototype, an enclosed three wheeler with two front wheels and single rear wheel, but never saw it on the streets around the plant, so until this article I put it out of my mind. I wonder if Dave Bradley got the idea to make a knock off of the DALE idea after seeing the monies Liz Carmichael was able to raise a couple years earlier?

  16. G. Martowlis Rahway, N.J.

    You folks at Historic Vehicle Association dropped the ball on this one. You totally missed the mufti-million dollar debacle between the Canadian government and the American company which produced the futuristic Bricklin SV1 Safety Vehicle that was assembled in Canada from 1974-76.

  17. Clayton Vern Griffith reno nv

    love it

  18. BrAdamson Toronto

    Yeah, G. Martowlis, that was our Canadian contribution. The Bricklin was a Fiero disguised as a DeLorean.