The Graf & Stift company had its origins in the bicycle business, but in 1914 they already moved up. They were building high-end automobiles only a select few could afford. Among the famous people who bought a Graf & Stift were members of the Austrian Imperial Court – the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne himself, Franz Ferdinand.
A Sudden Turn
On 29 June 1914, the archduke came to visit Sarajevo. There was public unrest everywhere and people were revolting: anarchists, Serbian nationalists … It wasn’t safe. He had also been warned by the Turnfalken, the ravens which presaged disaster for the Habsburgs.
Archduke Franz Ferdinand came to Sarajevo with his wife, Duchess Sophie. They rode in their brand new Graf & Stift. As the open touring car approached the corner of Rudolph Street, shots were fired by a student anarchist called Gavrilo Princip.
Both Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were fatally wounded, but the Graf & Stift got away without even a scratch.
This event marked the start of World War One.
The Graf & Stift Curse
This event seems to have started the Curse of the Graf & Stift because all of the automobile’s later owners were either killed or injured.
In the years following the attack, the automobile of Franz Ferdinand was:
- owned by fifteen different persons
- involved in six accidents
- the cause of death for thirteen people
Seven Unlucky Owners
- General Potiorek: this Austrian general suffered a military defeat and public disgrace after buying the automobile. He then began having mental problems and died insane in an asylum.
- The unknown army captain: the name of the next owner is unknown, but we know he died in a crash just nine days after buying the Graf & Stift. He was killed together with the two peasants who had walked onto the road in front of him.
- The governor of Yugoslavia: the governor suffered four car accidents while he owned the Graf & Stift. He even lost his arm in the last one. The next owner was doctor Sikris, the governor’s friend. He didn’t believe in the automobile being bad luck but died six months later when the car overturned and he was crushed to death.
- The diamond dealer: not much is known about the next owner, except that he committed suicide not long after procuring the automobile.
- The Swiss racing driver: he suffered a terrible fate: the poor man was thrown out of the car and died on the spot.
- A Serbian farmer: after having some trouble with the ignition, this fellow decided to tow the Graf & Stift with his wagon. The automobile fell on him and crushed him.
- Tiber Hirshfeld: he was a Transylvanian garage owner and the very last owner of the infamous Graf & Stift (in 1926). Hirshfeld lost control of the automobile while overtaking dangerously and was killed with the crash. His passengers (he was going to a wedding with four friends) were of the same fate.
Today, The Machine of Death can be found in the War History Museum of Vienna.
However, nobody dares to sit behind the wheel of the Graf & Stift anymore …