In 1897, the three brothers Graf formed a partnership with Josef Stift and produced Austria’s first automobile. In 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie came to Serajevo in a brand-new Graf & Stift phaeton, a large red limousine with a four cylinder engine and front-wheel drive. The sleek automobile would have a rendezvous with history.
The Graf & Stift company had its origins in the bicycle business, but in 1914 they were building luxury automobiles for a prestigious clientele. Among the famous people who bought a Graf & Stift were members of the Austrian Imperial Court.
When he came to the Bosnian city of Sarajevo, on 29 June 1914, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Franz Ferdinand, risked his life. In the great Austro-Hungarian empire all sorts of people were revolting: anarchists, Serbian nationalists… And he had been warned by the “Turnfalken”, the ravens which presaged disaster for the Hapsburgs.
Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie visited the city in their brand-new six seat, open touring car. As the Graf & Stift approached the corner of Rudolph Street, shots were fired by Gavrilo Princip, a student anarchist. Both Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were killed, but the Graf & Stift survived the attack unscathed. With this event started a conflict that soon would be known as “the Great War” and that we call now “World War One”.
Some of the horror of that moment seems to have remained alive in the Graf & Stift, because all who owned the car thereafter had their lives cut short or were injured. In the next dozen years, the automobile of Franz Ferdinand was owned by fifteen private parties, was involved in six accidents and took the lives of thirteen people. The Austrian general Potiorek, for instance, who bought the Graf & Stift and after his defeat at the Battle of Valjevo and a trip to Vienna for more disgrace, began having mental problems and died insane in an asylum.
We don’t know the name of the next owner, but we do know he was an army captain who died in a crash nine days after buying the cursed car. He was killed together with the two peasants who had walked onto the road in front of him. The captain tried to avoid them by swerving the car, but they were hit and the Graf & Stift got off the road and hit a tree.
The governor of Yugoslavia bought the automobile of Franz Ferdinand. During the time he owned the Graf & Stift, he was in four accidents… and lost his arm in the last one. He concluded the Graf & Stift was bad luck. His friend, doctor Sikris, did not believe a car could be cursed. He bought it and six months later the car overturned and doctor Sikris was crushed to death.
The next owner was a diamond dealer. He committed suicide. After him came a Swiss racing driver. He crashed into a wall, was thrown out of the car, over the wall, and died on the spot. A Serbian farmer had some trouble getting the ignition to work. He decided to tow the Graf & Stift with his wagon. The automobile fell on him and he died too.
Tiber Hirshfeld was a garage owner, and the very last owner of the haunted Graf & Stift too. Hirshfeld was on his way to a wedding with five close friends. While overtaking dangerously, the cursed car mysteriously spun out of control. Tibert was killed in the crash, together with four of his passengers.
This happened in Romania, in 1926. The Machine of Death ended up in the War History Museum of Vienna, where it may still be seen. However, nobody dares drive the Graf & Stift anymore…
courtesy of athingforcars.com
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