Franz Ferdinand’s Car

The material remains of my childhood library rest in a dank loft in my parents’ garage. Whenever I visit, I rummage. My favourite book (as a kid) was a Pan paperback called Stranger than Science. Last month I found it, bottom of a mouldy pile. “Frightening stories of real life horror” reads the blurb. In a blood-dripping text effect. Most were nonsense, even my pre-teenage mind knew that. But one story lingered into adulthood, the legend of Franz Ferdinand’s car.

Basically, the car was cursed, that was the story. A succession of owners met with grisly deaths, most following this formula: car breaks down, baffled driver peers under chassis, car reverses over baffled driver. Sitting in the back or even crossing the road when the ‘demonic motor’ hit the streets was unwise. After several ‘horror filled’ adventures the car fell into the hands of the Hapsburg Court and in 1914, claimed its most famous victim, Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The story adds a fleeting reference to Serbian terrorists, but suggests the car was the evil mastermind. It emerged unscathed and carried on the maiming and killing after the war.

By 1997 I’d lost interest in this sort of thing. I was in Vienna, on holiday, trying to fill a drizzly Sunday. I sat down with a guidebook, flicking through museum write-ups looking for a diversion from the Austrian weather. And there it was; Franz Ferdinand’s car! In a museum.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from a cursed car. It certainly appeared innocuous. In fact it looked in better shape than several cars I’d owned. There was no mention of the ‘curse’. I asked at reception. They thought me a fool.

Strangely, that very night Princess Diana died. Of all the stupid conspiracy theories that followed, no-one suggested the car was cursed.