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The History of Secret Car Compartments

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A hidden compartment in your car is the ideal location to keep valuables out of reach. These secret compartments have always held a place of prestige in the collective imagination. We don’t have to look any further than TV and movies to see that this is true—even Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon had a smuggler’s hold. Secret compartments in cars (and spaceships) seem to be a special area of fascination, as though transporting something hidden is more intriguing than simply hiding it in a static location. 

This makes good sense when you think about it: bootleggers of yore certainly made use of hidden compartments in their vehicles to avoid attention when hauling illegal booze from one place to another. Even if most of us don’t actually have anything to conceal, the idea of having a special trap door that opens to reveal our most prized possessions, or a false panel behind which we can store something secret, just holds a certain amount of appeal. Maybe you just want to store your prized Creedence Clearwater Revival CD there!) Join us as we consider the history of the secret car compartment and point out a couple of standout examples from pop culture.

Bootlegging Secret Compartments

During Prohibition in the United States (1920–1933), the production, sale, and transportation of alcoholic beverages were banned. Bootleggers, those who illegally traded alcohol during this period, had to devise clever methods to evade law enforcement and transport their illicit cargo. Cars with secret compartments became an essential tool in the bootlegger’s arsenal, allowing them to smuggle alcohol discreetly and, in case they did happen to undergo the scrutiny of law enforcement, it gave them a chance at getting away clean.

Bootleggers modified various types of vehicles, creating hidden compartments to conceal bottles and kegs of alcohol. These compartments were crafted ingeniously within the bodies, frames, and even tires of vehicles. For example, they might hollow out areas within the doors, beneath the seats, in the trunk, or in false gas tanks, among other places, ensuring that the compartments were seamlessly integrated and not easily detectable during a cursory inspection.

In addition to concealing alcohol, these modifications often included enhancements to the vehicle’s performance, enabling them to outrun law enforcement if necessary. Upgraded engines, reinforced suspensions, and other adjustments helped bootleggers navigate the roads at high speeds and with a load of concealed alcohol, increasing their chances of eluding authorities during pursuits.

The secret compartments and vehicular modifications became an iconic element of the bootlegging lore during Prohibition, embodying the ingenuity and audacity of those involved in the illegal alcohol trade. These adaptations highlighted the clandestine and adaptive nature of the smuggling operations of the time, illustrating the extent of the efforts to circumvent the restrictions of Prohibition. After the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, the legacy of these smuggling innovations lived on, influencing the realms of car culture and even contributing to the genesis of stock car racing and, eventually, NASCAR. 

The NASCAR Hall of Fame is full of drivers that had ties to Prohibition including: “Rapid” Roy Hall who got his start driving as a teenager making moonshine runs in Georgia and Hall of Famer Junior Johnson who got his license to drive illicit booze before going on to a successful career in NASCAR.

Modern Use of Secret Compartments

Yes, secret compartments, often referred to as “traps” or “hides,” are still used in vehicles today. These compartments are intricately designed and integrated into various parts of a vehicle to avoid detection. Compartment locations can range from within the dashboard, inside door panels, beneath the floor, within the seats, or even in the tires. These hidden compartments are designed to be discreet, blending seamlessly with the vehicle’s original structure and design.

These secret compartments offer extra security to car owners who can protect valuable property or documents from being stolen, even if a car is broken into. They also offer privacy to drivers that might not want their stuff on display. They offer a great place to hide gifts from loved ones or cash you don’t want stolen.

Secret compartments are actually more popular than people realize today. The Porsche Carrera GT has little doors built in for discreet storage. The Honda S2000 has a secret compartment. And there are a number of modern Cadillacs that have hidden storage spots built in. 

Watch secret compartments in cars revealed on this YouTube!

TV & Movies Secret Compartments

Throughout TV and movie history, secret compartments in cars have been a popular trope, utilized to enhance the allure of the vehicles and the stories’ intrigue. These compartments often harbor illegal goods, weapons, or other contrabands, emphasizing the characters’ clandestine or criminal activities. Here are a few notable examples:

Knight Rider (TV Series): In this iconic 1980s television series, KITT (Knight Industries Two Thousand) is a high-tech, artificially intelligent car with various hidden compartments and features. KITT is equipped with numerous secret capabilities, enhancing its crime-fighting prowess and the show’s appeal.

The Transporter (Film Series): Jason Statham’s character in “The Transporter” film series drives a car with several hidden compartments used for transporting illegal goods. These secret compartments play a crucial role in the movies’ action sequences and plot development.

Breaking Bad (TV Series): In the critically acclaimed TV show, Walter White and his associates use vehicles with secret compartments to transport and conceal drugs and money, emphasizing the covert aspects of their illegal activities.

Gone in 60 Seconds (Film): Cars in this film, primarily focused on automobile theft, are depicted with hidden compartments used for various illegal activities, adding to the film’s allure and the intricacy of the theft operations.

Fast and Furious (Film Series): The “Fast and Furious” franchise, known for its emphasis on cars and high-speed chases, also features vehicles with secret compartments, primarily used for smuggling and hiding illicit items, adding layers of intrigue to the movies.

Each of these examples illustrates the versatility and narrative utility of secret compartments in vehicles, contributing to the mystique, plot complexities, and overall appeal of the stories in TV and film.