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The cars they would have had

Twelve great people snatched from history, and given car keys.

3y ago

You really shouldn’t look back on history with the attitude, “What if?” In theory, it allows you to know what should have been done, and seeing as those who don’t learn from history’s mistakes are destined to repeat them, it sounds like a solid thing to do. In practice, however, it will kill you.

Watching TORA TORA TORA, I found myself screaming, “What if you’d just listened to the warnings, you stupid Americans!” with such intensity that I felt an aneurysm coming on.

And what if Captain Smith had ploughed into the iceberg instead of trying to avoid it? That question has taken years off my intellect.

It is a bit fun, though, to think about what might have happened if characters in history had had access to some of the things we have today. Like Philip Something of Spain having a meteorology bureau, before he sent off the Armada. Or Robinson Crusoe with one of those transmitting watches. I know you’re going to tell me he wasn’t a real character in history, but don’t, because I’ve made up my mind that he was.

Very much related to this is the question of what car they would have had. And I believe this is a valid question, because the car is often a very loud expression of character. We can learn a lot about someone's character from the car they drive; surely it works backwards as well.

It does. In fact, we've picked a dozen people from history, analysed them, and made a match which we believe is so accurate - it may as well be in history books.


This missionary-doctor-explorer has come under a bit of historic revisionism, particularly in Horrible History books, so now he's being recast as an imperialist racist. Which is a bad thing to say about a man who spent his life fighting the slave trade and doctoring people who couldn't pay. Even if Western education doesn't respect him anymore, Africa absolutely still does.

Though he wanted his heart buried in Africa, he would have had a British car. But only because he would have had a Land Rover Series I. This indestructible thing would have proven wonderful on the African savannah, rushing hither and thither with medical supplies.

Photo credit: MOMENTcar.com

Photo credit: MOMENTcar.com

In one, he might even have been able to find the source of the Nile before he died. But that’s a what-if.

Photo credit: Waldina

Photo credit: Waldina


Beethoven was a musical genius obviously, but he was also stormy, easily offended and quite terrifically arrogant. Because he knew he was a genius.

It sounds just like someone else. Enzo Ferrari.

I really think Beethoven would have had a Ferrari. He’d have thought he’d have deserved one – or it him – but I think more than that, he would have understood it. He would have understood that great engineering was at work here, and that warranted an arrogant face to the world.

We’ll put him down, somewhat arbitrarily, for a 488 GTB. Anyway, if he went through Ferraris like he did pianos, he’d have a new one each week.

Photo credit: Bio.com

Photo credit: Bio.com

MAHATMA GANDHI (1869-1948)

There’s no possible question about what he would have had. A man of the people, in this case Indian people, he would have had the world’s cheapest new car – the Tata Nano, locally built in India.

I wish they had called it the Nana. That would have been fun. (Photo: Tata)

I wish they had called it the Nana. That would have been fun. (Photo: Tata)

It’s cheap and basic, and for a man who seems to have worn not much more than a towel and spectacles, which do the job, it would have been a perfect fit.

He probably would have also richly enjoyed the fact that Tata owns Land Rover and Jaguar.

An artist's impression of King Jehu. Or Masalla.

An artist's impression of King Jehu. Or Masalla.


In II Kings 9:20, in the Bible, a certain man is seen flying towards the city in his chariot. The watchman looks out for a while, before telling the others, “The driving is like Jehu the son of Nimshi, for he drives furiously!”

He would drive a BMW.

Photo credit: ZME Science

Photo credit: ZME Science


The great Archimedes, who invented the Archimedes Screw, does not seem to have been overly concerned with what people thought. He once ran naked through town, which sounds horrific, but it really should be put in the context that most of Greece ran naked. So it’s just mildly horrific.

He would have had, without a doubt, an early Honda Civic hybrid. Hondas are the most overengineered cars ever, and all of it would have fascinated him. And obviously, when science and engineering are in view, what it looks like is irrelevant.

Some graphs about the Civic Hybrid which I cannot and do not want to decipher.

Some graphs about the Civic Hybrid which I cannot and do not want to decipher.

I could also see a NSU Wankel in his garage. I suspect he would at least be a member of the diminutive Rotary Club (which is for rotary engines I believe).

Photo credit: Simon & Schuster

Photo credit: Simon & Schuster


Something tells me very strongly he would have had an Alfa Brera. It strikes me as the most classically Renaissance of all modern Italian cars.

He wouldn’t have minded that, often, it didn’t work. He was used to his things not working.

PAUL REVERE (1735-1818)

The famous ride of Paul Revere is the definitive moment that won the Americans the War of Independence. At least that’s what the American history textbooks suggest, but they also kind of excuse America’s tardiness in helping their old friends in the life-and-death struggle that was WWII. And the Bay of Pigs fiasco doesn’t really appear. So what I’m trying to say, but not directly, is that American history is a bit like American geography. And I’m not going to expound on that.

Anyway, this epic ride was important, but there’s the question of what Paul would have used if he had to do it again today, but obviously couldn’t call to warn people because the British had cut the lines.

Being an American patriot, he wouldn’t have had a Jaguar. Yet it would have needed to have been fleet of foot, which means a Mustang. I'd love to think it would be the new Bullitt edition, and he was being chased, in an epic car chase, by the British.

Though he’d probably have taken the first car that he could find. That, in America, would be a Chevy Silverado pick-up.

Photo credit: Brewminate.

Photo credit: Brewminate.

KARL MARX (1818-1883)

Marx didn’t work, which meant his poor family was kept living in squalor, and in fact, the only reason they didn’t all starve was because a friend who did work in a capitalist enterprise, gave them money.

So Marx went hungry a lot of the time. And in that time he made sure that a lot of other people would one day go hungry too.

Obviously, Marx today would have a Lada, or a bicycle with old rags for tyres? Not so. He’d be on a very good salary as a Professor of Religion & Philosophy at a prestigious university. And because everyone is a capitalist at heart, he’d have a BMW i3 hybrid and be quite content that several of his students couldn’t afford a car at all.

SIGMUND FREUD (1856-1939)

We have no idea why, either.

HANNIBAL BARCA (247- c 182 BC)

It’s easy to dismiss Hannibal as being just another ancient history conqueror, with maybe a bit more genius, but no. He used elephants, which meant he was an out-of-the-box thinker, and then there’s the fact he was challenging Rome. That took ambition and quite a bit of courage.

So no, this warrior wouldn’t own a tough Marauder or Ford F-150, or even a tank. Every other sweaty, thick warrior of the day would go to and from work in one of those.

He would have had, and correct us if we’ve overthinking this a bit too much, many armoured Mercedes-Benzes. He liked big and invincible – he wasn’t concerned by something that was a bit slow, or couldn’t really make the rough distance over the mountains to Rome. And contrary to what the biased Roman historians said, Hannibal was also a remarkably cultured and learned man. He would have fitted in an S-Class.

Photo credit: Narooma News

Photo credit: Narooma News


Captain Cook has come under some revisionism too, as being an Aboriginal-killing racist British white male invader. Fact of the matter is, he was possibly the most compassionate of all explorers, who even as he was being attacked by natives told his men not to shoot, and his claim of a land Down Under for Britain, laid the foundation for Australia as it is to-die.

Cook really thought through the purchases he made. When he was buying a ship to go and check out this great south land, he declined offers of brand new, big ships in favour of Endeavour, because it was small and had already been tried by the sea.

He’d be the kind of person who’d buy a second-hand Volvo. It’s a wise, head-dictated decision.

This photo was taken of Cleopatra shortly before she died.

This photo was taken of Cleopatra shortly before she died.


Feminists love Cleopatra, because in a time when most kings were men, she was a woman, a ruler of Egypt. What they don’t take into account, or maybe they do – militant feminists often aren’t very nice people themselves – is that Cleopatra was a ghastly person.

She killed many, many people, including her own brother, and just like in movies, when historians say charming, they mean a snake. Perhaps that’s also what they mean by her suicide. A snake killed her.

She would have had a Rolls-Royce Phantom with a garish interior, which she would have thought Mark Antony would love. Like he did when she floated on the Nile in a dazzling ship, pretending to be Venus.


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Comments (29)

  • As a massive history buff, I found this absolutely excellent.

      3 years ago
  • I so enjoyed this article John! It is brilliant and you were spot on in your pics for each person in history :) I particularly liked Your mention of Jehu in the King’s accounts. Kings is being covered in my church right now! Many thanks:)

      3 years ago
  • Great article and very nice idea

      3 years ago
  • So you give King Jehu of the Northern Kingdom of Israel a BMW made by Germans?

      3 years ago
  • I think DaVinci would drive a Citroen DS

      3 years ago