Journal: The Unfortunate Fate Of Jazz Legend Django Reinhardt's Dodge

The Unfortunate Fate Of Jazz Legend Django Reinhardt’s Dodge

By Isaac Wingold
March 31, 2017

Belgian-born French guitarist Django Reinhardt is undoubtedly one of the all time greats of jazz, and guitar music as a whole. While he was by no means the only man playing the guitar in his day, his infectious, spirited playing set him apart from the rest, and resulted in the spawning of a new style celebrated within the genre. As a passionate fan of both Reinhardt’s music and gypsy jazz, I was delighted to recently learn that Django was somewhat of a petrolhead as well.

In his day, the enigmatic musician owned quite a few cars, including a number of early race spec vehicles from Renault and Chenard-Walcker, but perhaps the most entertaining automotive story associated with Reinhardt concerns a Dodge he once owned.

This particularly funny story begins in 1932, when during a stint of gigs at Le Boate à Matelots— the Palm Beach Hotel of Canne’s jazz club—Reinhardt pleaded with his bandleader Louis Vola for a 5,000 franc advance. Under the impression that the musician wished to purchase a gift for his mother, Vola agreed to the advance, but sure enough, Reinhardt returned shortly after receiving the sum with a lightly used Dodge convertible.

Though the specifics of this particular car remain largely unknown, the consensus among scholars and enthusiasts of gypsy jazz is that the car dates back to 1926, and that it was painted white. Having said that, it’s believed that the paint’s luster did not last, as the license-less Django was known to be a rather careless driver, and is said to have dinged, dented, and scratched the car’s exterior countless times while careening through the streets of Cannes.

Now, if you’re wondering where this car may be today, and if you might be able to track it down and fix it up, stop, because this is where the story takes an unfortunate, but admittedly comical turn. You see, in addition to the Dodge’s exterior damage, not all was well under the hood, as Django would drive the convertible constantly—with little regard for its upkeep and maintenance. This resulted in the car’s engine eventually catching fire, which Reinhardt and Vola attempted to extinguish on the beach using sand.

After having little success, the guitarist then did what few would do, and deemed the convertible a lost cause. With that, he and his bandleader proceeded to push the car out to sea, and ultimately abandoned it in frustration. So the next time you’re motoring through the waters of the Côte d’Azur, keep your eyes out for an old, sunken, beat-up Dodge from the 1920’s.

While the current whereabouts of the Dodge convertible and its post-Django life are unknown, it’s safe to assume that its best days are behind it. Regardless of where the car came to rest, and what shape it may be in, it’s immortalized through the comical story of its acquisition, the antics that characterized its use, and the legacy of one of the greatest guitarists of all time.

H/T to Dodge and Roger Broders for the vintage posters

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Bryan Dickerson
Bryan Dickerson

Tell me -Why forget the myths? What else do we have? In fact you yourself seem to make great use of them. I’ve been playing with top cats for nearly 40 yrs. Myths, legends, stories are part of the gig man. 100 vs 80? Who cares?

Bryan Dickerson
Bryan Dickerson

Woody Allen made a movie set in the 30s about a fictional guitar player ( Sean Penn) who was condemned to always be second best behind Django. Excellent movie (Can’t remember the name). Being a sax player, I’m partial to Django’s recordings with Coleman Hawkins and Benny Carter. Great story about Hawkins: After the famous all night sax battle with Lester Young in Kansas City (’34?) Coleman had to drive his big Cadillac 100mph across Kansas to catch up with his band for their next gig.


Sweet and Lowdown –

Good movie as I recall, and he also lusts after a car at some point. I think an Auburn.

Guitar Slinger
Guitar Slinger

Suffice it to say many of the heroes you no doubt hold so dear I shared the stage with over the years . And unless Hawkins had a V16 .. which he did not … its doubtful he ever so so much as hit 80mph .. never mind 100 … which the V16 could barely attain even with a tailwind and a mild decline . Forget the myths .. they’re all just that … myths

Guitar Slinger
Guitar Slinger

Ahh .. yup .. don’t matter what era .. what genre of music .. or ethnic background … we guitar slingers sure is a crazy lot .. ‘cept some of us is crazier than others . But few have ever been as crazy as jazz icon Django Reinhardt

Guitar Slinger
Guitar Slinger

Gee .. two thumbs down ehh ? Looks like a few folks around here are in need of a serious history lesson when it comes to DJ’s actual life .. versus some of the myth that surrounds him . And sorry gents but I got my info first hand .. from Stephan Grapelli himself as well as several others who knew him . That err … I worked with on occasion . Suffice it to say ole DJ was quite the hell raiser in his day making many of todays ‘ rock stars ‘ lifestyles look like a bunch of… Read more »