The Down and Dirty (Tropes) of the Getaway Driver


When it comes to the heist (or the sting) and the getaway driver, there are number of phrases, characters, and such. We all know what you mean when you use a term or refer to a character but where did these things come from?

We’ve dug up some interesting and fun facts we think you’ll find entertaining.

(FYI: a heist is a term generally meaning a bank job, which seems to have reached peak usage in the 1970s and a sting is an operation involving deception, though according to the online dictionary its peak usage predates cars.)

Getaway: Meaning to make a swift exit after committing a crime reached a peak in the 1950s, likely because it was popularized by dime store crime novels—ya’ see.

The wheel man: Circa 1900. A driver, especially for a getaway car.

death-car bonny clydeBonnie and Clyde: (aka Clyde Champion Barrow and Bonnie Parker) Famed bank robbers, even though they tended to rob small convenience stores and post offices. Famed perhaps, because they were in love and because they died violently in an ambush on a rural Louisiana road in 1934.

You might have seen Clyde standing on the running board of a car, firing his gun in certain films? The term “running board” comes from trams and streetcars. Every vehicle up to 1936 had running boards.

Ticking over: (as in “the getaway driver may keep the car ticking over”) means to keep an engine in neutral. It is also used to describe when the car is working but not moving, like when you put it in park without turning it off.

car-813482_1920Ticking over remained in use throughout Britten while in the U.S. most Americans replaced the term with “keep it running,” a term that came from film and television portrayals of bank heists. In reality a robber would be stupid to park a running car outside a bank as it draws attention.

Fake number plates: Having fake number plates seems to go back almost to the beginning of cars (logically the idea of having a real number plate needed to gain traction before criminals decided to fake them). It is such as lucrative industry especially in Asia that for many countries a real number plate might be hard to find. But in the US, except for a small number, plates are reliable.license-plates-3614254_1920

Armored car: The idea for the armored car goes back to the Wild West, where they transported valuables in strongboxes (though carrying strongboxes in carriages probably goes back further than that.) The first armored car that we’d recognize was introduced in 1910, but was more like a mobile bank than a delivery van. The financial industry, the mail, and jewelers all employ armored vans. So too, big name shops, schools, universities and so on to transport money or important records. There tends to be one driver which must stay behind the wheel and several guards on board.

Soft-skinned vehicle: This is any car which isn’t armored, especially one that is used to transport valuables. If you are transporting anything by this method you are employing a different strategy than outright protection. You might be semi covert about the nature of what you transport or have measures in place to “neutralize” the money so it can’t be spent if it is taken. There may be a special reason why the police would need to carry valuables in non-armored cars, for instance in undercover work.

Malcolm: The getaway car used in the film Malcolm (1986 by Cascade Films) might be worth a mention as it can split in two, widthways. The two parts can go down narrow alleyways. How exactly the drivers of the two vehicles avoid falling out of the converted vehicle isn’t that clear.

Transporter: Perhaps one of the most famous getaway drivers in recent cinematic history would be the transporter played by Jason Statham in 2002. The character was a professional contraband courier.

The Fast and the Furious: Deserves a nod because it’s a movie entirely about vehicular heists—by which we mean heists made by people from one a moving vehicle to another. This hasn’t been a thing in real life, at least on land, that we know of.

The Getaway: Which brings us to our last film nod, the movie The Getaway, and of course it’s remake. The most famous real life getaway scene was probably the slow speed chase of O.J. Simpson in his white SUV. But the rise and fall of the Juice is a topic for another post.

There are so many more references out there, so this article has been left criminally short…


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