In the 1950s, my parents bought a home across the street from my maternal grandparents. My mother’s twin brothers, both of whom remained life-long bachelors, lived in their parents’ house until one of them sold it in 2005. Those two uncles were old car enthusiasts. I was indoctrinated into the culture by them.
I don’t the exact year when my Uncle Joe found out about an old LaSalle for sale in another part of town, but I’m pretty sure it was in the very early 1960s. I recall hearing him giving Uncle Jack the details. It was a 1933 LaSalle, and it had belonged to a Prohibition-era gangster named Basil Banghart. It was in terrible shape, rusty & deteriorating, but it was loaded with good parts. The car was sitting on property that was being taken by the city for an urban renewal project, and the guy needed to get rid of it before vacating the property. Uncle Joe made a deal to purchase the car for parts, with the understanding that he would strip the car on-site, get the parts he wanted, and leave the car sitting there – the city could dispose of the remaining carcass.
I remember this story because of the gangster’s last name – Banghart. I had never heard that name before, and, to this day, I believe that the only time I ever heard it was in relation to this particular person. So, I was stunned recently to discover a couple of newspaper articles about the gangster and this particular car while browsing some old newspaper archives. As a bonus, both articles included photos of the car – one when it was a year old, the other when it was 25 years old and in bad shape. This Banghart character had hired a local garage to add bullet-proof glass to the car, add some sort of bullet-proof protection to the body, and the rear window needed to roll down, in order to stick a machine gun through it to discourage any pursuers. Just about the time this work was completed, Banghart was arrested and convicted, and the garage owner was stuck with this highly modified car for some period of time.
Uncle Joe owned a rental house next door to my parents’ house, although the garage on the property was used only by him for storage. This is where the engine, transmission and rear end differential for the LaSalle were stored for several years. He also retrieved the headlights, and one very distinctive-looking tail light. He probably got some other smaller items, but whatever he got was stored in this garage next door to where I grew up. He spent a fair amount of time in this old garage, and whenever possible, I was up there with him. I remember the engine and tranny sitting on an old dirt floor, and I was scared of it, because he told me not to get too close, because it could shift and fall over on me.
I don’t recall whatever became of that stuff, but it was gone by the mid 1970s. The discovery of the newspaper articles filled in some of the holes in this story that I remember from a long time ago. Attached are some pretty grainy-looking pictures.
The first photo shows the car in 1934 - the second one is from 1958, and that is probably about the way it looked when Uncle Joe saw it a few years later.