From VIP to RIP: a Crash Test


The very rich--their celebrity, wealth and Hemingway notwithstanding--are really no different from you and me. They drink and drive and forget to buckle up and think speed limits are highway advisories. So do we.

They roll their Vipers and rear-end trucks in their Range Rovers and work off road rage by slapping cops and beating on some poor schlemiel’s windshield with a five-iron. As do we.

They die in auto wrecks. Just like us. But they get news stories as obituaries, bronze caskets, flower shows for funerals, a two-mile procession shepherded by real cops and burial in a plot that’s Bugsy Siegel-adjacent in Hollywood Memorial Park. Hey, they are different.

Still, only in part. For when the very rich in their automobiles enter that big wrecking yard in the sky, they still put on their funeral duds one back zipper at a time.


Which brings us to this month’s quiz: VIPs who RIP.

Rules have not changed. Grading is on the honor system, with 10 points for each correct answer. Score 50 to 40 and you probably have “Permanent Californians: An Illustrated Guide to the Cemeteries of California” on your night stand; 40 to 30, you brake for limousine wrecks in case it is somebody famous; 30 or lower, you think James Dean finished “Giant” and retired to Texas to go into the sausage business.

Answers appear on W9, except for that one tough, final answer that could win you a Highway 1 commuter mug.


1. Talking of James Dean: Revisionists assisted by computer analyses have pretty much established that on Sept. 30, 1955, the 24-year-old idol-before-his-time was driving a Porsche Spyder at less than 80 mph when it was involved in a fatal collision with a 1950 Ford Tudor coupe near Cholame in San Luis Obispo County. Also, the other guy probably was responsible for the accident for failure to yield while making a left turn. The other driver recently died without ever going public with his version of the accident. What was his name?

2. Gen. George Smith Patton, 60, died in 1945 of a pulmonary embolism, 12 days after the staff car carrying him to a pheasant hunt collided with an Army deuce-and-a-half on the autobahn near Mannheim, Germany. Of course, Patton was flown home for burial beneath a three-quarter-scale marble tank at Arlington National Cemetery. Right or wrong?

3. Jan. 13, 1962, was certainly unlucky for famed sight-gag comedian Ernie Kovacs. His car skidded into a light pole on rain-dampened Santa Monica Boulevard in Beverly Hills, and Kovacs died instantly. Some say that if he hadn’t been a considerate, caring husband, Kovacs might have survived the accident. Why?

4. The statue of a riderless pony stands alongside a desert highway near Florence, Ariz., marking the spot where a Cord running at 80 mph crashed in 1940. Who died in that single-car wreck?


5. Fisty and feisty Billy Martin, former several times manager of the New York Yankees, died nine years ago on Christmas Day, when a pickup in which he was a passenger skidded off an icy road in upstate New York and rolled 300 feet down a gully. What was the deadly combination that killed Martin?

6. Princess Grace of Monaco, a.k.a. movie star Grace Kelly, 53, probably died of the stroke she suffered just before her car rolled off a road in the south of France in 1982. It has been reported variously that she was driving a Range Rover, a Sunbeam Alpine and “a vintage sports car.” What was her royal highness really driving?

And here’s the contest:

Here’s the hard part:


Highway 1 commuter mugs go to the first 12 readers (used to be 25, but Christmas seems to have dwindled our inventory of mugs) who mail correct answers to Highway 1, Business Section, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053.

Entries are due by Jan. 15. In the event of a disputed answer, E.P. Dutton’s “New Encyclopedia of Motorcars: 1885 to the Present” will be the final authority. Opinions expressed in this quiz are most certainly those of the management of Highway 1.

Gentlemen, and ladies, start your brain cells:

Some say her scarf hooked around the knock-off hub of a 1926 Amilcar Surbaisse . Others say it caught in the spokes of a Bugatti Type 37 sports car. A few have even factored a Rolls-Royce into the equation. No matter. There appears to be no doubt that the 1927 death in France of this famed American was caused by a silk scarf that tangled in a back wheel and snapped her neck. Who was she?


Quiz Answers

1. Donald Turnipseed.

2. Wrong. At the general’s request, he was buried in the American Military Cemetery in Luxembourg, beneath a simple GI cross and surrounded by soldiers who fell during Patton’s command of the 3rd Army.

3. Kovacs gave his wife the heavier, sturdier Rolls-Royce, while he elected to drive home in her compact Chevy station wagon.


4. Cowboy movie star Tom Mix.

5. Alcohol and unbuckled seat belts.

6. A Rover 3500 sedan.