For a change of plans Franz Ferdinand of Habsburg I had to visit a hospital his audacious visit to Sarajevoin full tension between the Austro-Hungaric Empire of which he was archduke and Serbia which viewed the figure of the invader with suspicion after the annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The memory of the Balkan war was fresh.
There was tension in the air. Serbian nationalist groups threatened. Suddenly, the black car carrying the heir to the throne braked by mistake. Gavrilo Princip, one of the militants waiting incognito, saw his chance. two shots were enough for the domino of alliances to start the WWI. With those escapes also began the legend of the cursed vehicle.
On the morning of Sunday June 28, 1914, the Gräf limousine and Stift Double Phaeton It was carrying the Archduke and his wife, Countess Sophie of Hohenberg. They were accompanied by the governor of Sarajevo, Oskar Potiorek, and the driver, a soldier named Leopold Sojka who made the fatal mistake that caused the convertible’s engine to stall. Its occupants were left to the mercy of luck and activists who fled after a thwarted attack.
What happened next had a planetary impact. The crime crossed the Atlantic and made the front page of the American press. It was the confirmation of a new scale: for this there was talk of “the Great War”. The planet sank between bombardments and invasions, until the signing of the armistice in 1918. The assassin died that same year. The Gräf und Stift Double Phaeton survived as a black legend of death and tragedy.
The limousine in which World War I began
Sarajevo was shaken by nationalist tensions after the 1908 annexation and the immediate confrontation with the Austro-Hungarian, Serbian and Ottoman possessions. AS, That Gräf und Stift – a company from Vienna, the imperial capital – roamed those streets in 1914 carried a strong symbolism.
The air was thick, as if the molecules were specks of gunpowder. The only thing missing was the spark for the explosion.
The explosion occurred on a Double Phaeton model made in 1910. It had four doors and could seat six people inside. Wore in the anterior sector a 4-cylinder engine, 5.8 liters and 32 HP. It belonged to Count Frantisek Harrach, member of the Moravian Regional Assembly and trusted collaborator of Francisco Ferdinand. The relationship was so close that he lent him the vehicle for that dangerous visit.
They did not notice that the soft top exposed the Archduke. Emperor Franz’s son José I also did not order any treatment measures. In fact, he rejected all recommendations for a tough security operation. He barely approved of five other vehicles accompanying him in the convoy that took him through Sarajevo.
Not even a first assassination attempt made him change his mind. At 10:10 in the morning, a few minutes before his death, Nedeljko Cabrinovic threw a bomb at the car, but the explosives ricocheted and hit the fourth vehicle of the convoy. The attack left a trail of injuries, including vehicle occupants and the public. In spite of everything, the Archduke continued.
The official schedule indicated that he should open a museum and then lead an event at the Sarajevo City Hall. Suddenly, he decided to extend his activities, with a last minute visit to the hospital where the wounded were being treated by Cabrinovic’s bomb.
General Potiorek ordered the convoy to avoid the city center to avoid possible dangers and speed up the arrival at the medical center. The drivers of all the vehicles knew this, except the man who held the wheel of the car carrying the archduke.
The soldier took the main avenue Francisco José, in the wrong direction. Warned by Potiorek, he tried to reverse course. The engine collapsed. Quiet, homeless and without custody, Francisco Fernando was delivered.
Only one of the nationalist activists was taking refuge in a nearby room. Era Gavrilo Princip, who would have turned 20 in less than a month. He had been recruited in Belgrade by the Young Bosnia group and smuggled into Sarajevo. He has left behind the frustration of the failed attack. He left the premises, drew his FN Model 1910 semi-automatic pistol and fired two shots. One of the shots hit the archduke’s neck; the other, in his wife’s abdomen.
“The heir to the throne of Austria is murdered with his wife by a young Bosnian to avenge the taking of their country”, headlined the US press the following morning. News traveled at telegraph speed. Even the bullets.
What happened in the years that followed is known history. While the armistice and the Treaty of Versailles marked the end of the war, they did not allay the tensions that quietly drifted through the 1920s and came to the surface for World War II.
Indestructible, haunted and murderous – the legend of the cursed car
Princip was arrested and, being exempt from capital punishment due to age, was sentenced to 20 years in prison. He tried to commit suicide, but he couldn’t. He died ill and malnourished in April 1918, seven months before the bombings stopped.
After the attack, the Gräf und Stift Double Phaeton convertible was stored in the Sarajevo Palace. General Potiorek bought it at the end of July 1914. In his appearance before the judges, Princip had lamented the death of Sofía de Hohenberg and had given assurances that his coup would indeed go to the local governor.
Perhaps that wink of fate would convince Potiorek to buy the copy. Remorse, however, threw him on the battlefield. Despite his outstanding scores, he proved incapable against a royal Serbian army that seemed unstoppable. In December, the limousine’s new owner was removed from official post.
He disposed of the car, and it fell into the hands of another staff officer. Days after the transfer, the new owner died in an accident. The next owner, according to records, fared no better: after the Great War, the governor of Yugoslavia lost an arm in one of the numerous accidents suffered with the limousine.
Quickly the landlord register was “degraded”: it moved from the military and government sphere to the medical sector. Dr. Skirs has barely been able to use it for six months since died after a rollover. Simon Mantharides added it to his extensive automotive collection, but the fatal mark was still in place with him, and three months after the purchase, He committed suicide. He went to another doctor with a passion for vehicles, who became depleted and had to part with the jewel. With the next collector, a Swiss citizen, traffic accidents are back: a collision with a wall killed its owner.
The car returned to Sarajevo, where the new owner’s life ended: started suddenly and ran over him while trying to fix it. Tiber Hirshfield dyed it blue and added it to his rental car fleet. She couldn’t outwit the ill star: He died while driving the cursed car, due to a head-on collision.
The Gräf und Stift Double Phaeton limousine was destructive and indestructible. Up until then, it had come away with only a few scratches from that sinister record. Again with the original black color, the Austrian government bought it to deposit it in a corner of the museum and never bother it again. World War II ensued and the building was devastated by bombing. Only a privileged few resisted, including the luxury car.
Since then, Room V of a renowned Austrian museum has been his home. It is not a center dedicated to the automotive industry, the kind that keep historical jewels and luxurious sports cars. It is the official Heeresgeschichtliches Museum, the military history museum in Vienna. Share the living room with Francisco Fernando’s bloody clothes and with the arsenal used by Serbian nationalists. It’s not just another vehicle: there, nowhere else, war broke out.
Ben Stock is a journalist working for News Rebeat, where he covers the automobile section. With a passion for cars and the industry, Ben brings insightful and in-depth reporting to his readers.