Gangster Owned: 1921 Studebaker Big Six

1921 Studebaker Big Six

This old Studebaker once belonged to Earl Shelton. If you know much about Prohibition, then that name may sound familiar. He was one of the brothers who formed the Shelton Brothers Gang in Illinois. They had quite a racket going there for a while until they all went to jail. Another guy took over the gang while they were in the clanker and ordered them dead on their release. Somehow Earl survived and moved to Florida. This car was sold in 1951 at what must have been a liquidation sale before moving. Considering the age of the car and time period he owned it, I think it’s safe to assume that it saw some action. The person who bought the car parked it in their shed until 2008 when it was sold to the current owner. They did some work to make it drivable again and now it can be found here on eBay.

The garage

This is the unassuming garage that housed the car for almost 60 years. A minister heard about the car while at a pie social with his congregation. He was talking about how he was looking for an old Studebaker to restore and one of the elderly women commented from across the table that she had one sitting in her garage. He went to investigate.

As found

Sure enough! Under a mound of Lionel trains sat a Studebaker. It wasn’t any old Studebaker either. This was a low-mileage pre-war machine that had some interesting owners in its past. This photo was taken on the day that it was exhumed from its tomb.

Engine rebuild

After dragging the car home, it was discovered that the Big Six needed to be rebuilt. These engines were very powerful in their day making them the perfect choice for a car that needed to make quick getaways. Although some work had to be done to make it roadworthy, the seller claims that the exterior of the car has never been restored. That’s pretty amazing considering that it’s fast approaching the 100 year old mark!

Top down

While at a shop getting a few final adjustments, an older gentleman walked by and mentioned to the mechanic that he knew this car. The mechanic replied that it was unlikely since the car had come from Illinois and had been stored away for many years. The gentleman insisted that he knew it very well. Apparently, his family had run a safe house for gangsters and he had the opportunity to work on many of their cars. He claimed that this Studebaker actually belonged to Al Capone! He even knew where to find a mark that proved it. After cleaning an area on the firewall, the outline of a hand appeared…

You can read the full story here on Old Cars Weekly.


  1. macvaugh

    Interesting story, but doesn’t explain why a gangster owned car stored for so many years, would have a 1923 Virginia license plate on it when exhumed.

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    • Dave Birch

      I pulled it out of the garage. It had 6 different plates from 4 different states in the front seat. They were changed regularly. Dates ranged from 1921 to 1923.

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  2. Ed P

    Wow, what a story and a beautiful car. This car needs to be preserved. It is hard to imagine that a 354 ci engine only makes 65 hp.

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    • z1rider

      The HP numbers from that era are misleading. Those engines were very slow turning but made a lot of torque. Torque is what you feel when you accelerate. Horsepower is a function of torque times RPM so with an engine likely limited to less than 3000 RPM horsepower is also limited.

      On the other end of the scale, many of today’s sport motorcycle engines can rev to over 15,000 RPM and post high horsepower numbers but the torque values are surprisingly low. Again when you can rev to 15K you get the multiplier effect.

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  3. JW

    What a nicely preserved car of that era. I’m originally from Aurora, Illinois about an hour west of Chicago. I loved the old gangster movies and studied them in our library ( remember them ). I don’t recall the Shelton gang but there were so many smaller gangs compared to the southside Al Capone gang and the northside gang run by Bugs Moran that I’m sure I missed them along the way. It was a interesting time in Chicago history and this car would fit well in a museum in the Chicago area even though they would like to forget that time in history. Now I live in the Jesse James area of Missouri, seems I can’t keep away from criminals. Hmmmmmm I wonder.

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  4. MH

    I have a cabin in McGregor Minnesota on Lake Minnewawa. My place down the road from where AL Capone had a cabin on the lake. He even had a tunnel that we out under the lake to hide when needed.

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  5. francisco

    There are lot’s of Al Capone stories going around. A friend of mine has an old pump organ he claims came from Capone’s estate. I guess we’ll have to check for the black hand. (the “camorra”)

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  6. Sam Black Church

    I’ll have to start going to pie socials.

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  7. Brad

    For what it’s worth, I looked at the Q&A at the bottom of the eBay listing, and it seems Paul Jr. (from American Chopper) is enquiring about it.

    Not that he isn’t talented, but I’d sure hate to see this car be given big fat wheels and spiderman webs painted all over it. It really deserves to stay in the beautiful shape it’s in… after such an illustrious history.

    Like 0

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