John DeLorean and the DMC-12
UAW organizer Richard Frankensteen under attack by Bennett’s thugs
Enzo Ferrari and Fiamma Breschi (Photo Credit: Think Design Magazine)
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
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
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 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
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.