Some incredibly rare old cars have met their end for the sake cheap cinematic thrills, for example a Studebaker Lark Italsuisse (1 of 4) which was blown up in Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man. So, was a one of a kind 1920s Hispano-Suiza destroyed in John Huston’s classic Beat the Devil? The answer is complicated - and unexpected.
Beat the Devil is a cult classic, an exceptionally dry comedy adapted by Truman Capote from a novel by Claud Cockburn, and directed by John Huston. It featured Humphrey Bogart in the lead role, and made excellent use of character actors Robert Morley and Peter Lorre. It also baffled and confused audiences in 1953, and was a flop. But I digress.
The film also features a rare 1920s era Hispano-Suiza. In the film it is said the car was specially built with tall coachwork for a famous bullfighter to allow him to bow to his fans from inside the car. In any event, within the story it had been owned by a formerly wealthy and now down on his luck Bogart. He had gifted the car to his driver, played by Juan de Landa, who operates it as a car for hire. The unique Hispano-Suiza appears prominently in the film until an accident sends it hurtling off a cliff and into the ocean.
Given that the car was not yet old enough in 1953 to have had the value to collectors it would today - it made me wonder if the actual car had been destroyed in the movie, and I began to look for an answer. I wanted that car to exist today - surely I wouldn’t be disappointed, would I?
Given the unique body of the car, I figured if it still existed today it must be in some collection, and its movie past would be notable. Therefore it should be easy to find. But my search turned up nothing. All I was able to find was a mention that the car made an appearance at opening night, and was apparently auctioned off later. So if it survived the film - where is it now? And in that case what was thrown over the cliff? Was it a working stunt double?, or a full sized mock-up? Either would explain how the car survived to appear at the opening night - but wouldn’t explain why the car doesn’t exist today.
It is noticeable that when the car somersaults end over end there is no driveshaft present - so it may very well have been a full sized mock-up of the actual car. But on the other hand it was usual for engines and other sellable pieces to be removed from movie cars before they were wrecked, and the rest of the chasis seems detailed enough for it to be the real deal. It also occured to me that the car may exist today but look entirely different, but one would think its movie past would still be notable. Alas my searching returned nothing. No Hispano-Suizas with any connection to Beat the Devil.
I began to google things other than Hispano-Suiza and discovered something very odd, but also very interesting: The Hispano-Suiza in the film was actually a Rolls-Royce taxi dressed up to look like a Hispano-Suiza.
This page claims a 1919 Silver Ghost taxi was sold to the film makers for £140 and was made up to look like a Hispano-Suiza. But the author then goes on to claim he does not believe the old Rolls was in fact that car in the film! In any event if you compare the “Hispano-Suiza” in the movie to any genuine Hispano-Suiza, you begin to notice a lot of little details don’t match. But those details do in fact match those of a Rolls-Royce, and particularly those of the Silver Ghost taxi. The cowl and windscreen, the fenders - match exactly. This may be the only instance of a Rolls-Royce serving as a stunt car for another make. Looking up the number plate however reveals a 1921 registration rather than 1919, and shows the vehicle is not currently taxed - and presumably then not on the road. Does it still exist? Or did they really throw an Edwardian Rolls over a cliff? If anybody knows the whereabouts of Rolls-Royce SD6295 I would love to know.