CONTACTTRAFFICABOUT TOM VANDERBILTOTHER WRITING CONTACT ABOUT THE BOOK

The Black Cars of the Guardia Civil

I came across this interesting passage in Tim Falconer’s book Drive:

Ford made and sold the Falcon in the United States until 1970, but the car had an even longer and more successful life in other parts of the world, where many saw it as a mid-sized model. In Australia, it remains the company’s best-seller. And in Argentina, the Falcon was not just the most-produced car, with half a million built between 1962 and 1991, but also a hugely important one culturally. The Falcon was a racing car, a family car, a taxi, a police car—and, from 1976 to 1983, a sinister symbol of the country’s military dictatorship and the so-called ‘Dirty War’ that the generals who ruled after the coup d’etat waged against their own people. Death squads used dark green Falcons to ‘disappear’ trade unionists, artists, students and anyone else who might oppose or question the junta. Since the squads illegally arrested, tortured or killed an estimated thirty thousand people, the car now stirs bitter emotions for many Argentines. (Lawrence Thornton’s 1988 novel Imagining Argentina does a hauntingly good job of capturing the ominous mood those dark green birds of prey created.) Even today, some people in Buenos Aires won’t get into a taxi if it’s a Falcon, and a tour operator in the northern city of Salta, who would have been just four or five when the dictatorship crumbled, told me, ‘I don’t like it when I see a Ford Falcon, I get bad memories.’

I wonder if any other car brands through the years have acquired a such an unwitting negative political and cultural connotation, at least among a certain part of the population. The “black cars” of the title seem a staple (and vis a vis the “secret police” there is an irony in their driving around in unmarked cars that became almost more conspicuous in their lack of marking); Stalin was shuttled around for a time in a black Packard (and people were always said to be seeing Stalin on the street; “God came driving by in five black automobiles,” went a line from a Soviet poet of the day). The Citroen Traction Avant (in black) was favored by the Gestapo. I imagine there was a certain Trabant (or Mercedes) favored by the Stasi, a Lada by the KGB, etc., and I’ve no idea what the SAVAK drove. But I’m curious if anyone knows of any examples of particular car makes that in and of themselves became a dreaded sight, a vehicle of repression?

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This entry was posted on Saturday, October 10th, 2009 at 9:33 am and is filed under Cars, Traffic Culture, Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

5 Responses to “The Black Cars of the Guardia Civil”

  1. PaulD Says:

    See, in Australia when we see a Falcon we just assume there’s another meathead behind the wheel. Unlikely to nick you off the street and torture you, but quite likely to torture you with their driving.

  2. Dave in KY Says:

    Hummer. I like the bumper sticker you can attach to someone else’s, that reads: “I’m changing the world! Ask me how!”.

  3. Omri Says:

    In Africa, the term for a corrupt government bigwig is “wabenzi.” I.e. “mercedes rider.”

  4. Natan Says:

    They were a top-selling car in Argentina for a couple of decades; I think they stopped making them in the mid-80s. Interesting that the VW isn’t associated much with its origins in ’30s Germany, but I guess they weren’t used much by the Gestapo, either.

    Nitpicking: It’s the S.I.D.E. (Secretaria de Inteligencia del Estado), not the Guardia Civil (Spain).

  5. Kris Peeters Says:

    In East-Berlin the governmental quarter of the city was called ‘Volvograd’, because of the fact that the nomenklatura drove Volvos.

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Traffic Tom Vanderbilt

How We Drive is the companion blog to Tom Vanderbilt’s New York Times bestselling book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), published by Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S. and Canada, Penguin in the U.K, and in languages other than English by a number of other fine publishers worldwide.

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