That fateful crash: Princess Diana and the mystery of the little white car.

Sixteen years ago tonight, on August 31, 1997, the Mercedes car carrying Diana, the Princess of Wales and her lover Dodi Fayed crashed into a concrete pillar along the Pont de l’Alma underpass in Paris. The car had taken a detour from the Hotel Ritz to avoid the paparazzi lying in wait for the Princess. As is well known, Fayed and the driver of the car Henri Paul were killed, and Diana herself died a few hours later from injuries sustained in the crash. This is probably the most well-known event involving the British royal family in the last 50 years.

By some accounts, seconds before the crash of the Mercedes, the car collided with another vehicle, described as a “little white car.” Some witnesses claim to have seen a large dog, muzzled, in the back of the car. The car’s driver sped off, but the distraction of the collision may have been the cause of the fatal crash of Diana’s car. After the disaster investigators found white paint on the Mercedes and a piece of a taillight that they traced to a Fiat Uno manufactured sometime in the early 1980s.

As with literally everything else involving Princess Diana’s death, the role of the “little white car” in the crash is highly controversial. Several suspects were investigated and ultimately cleared, with none of them definitively connected to the scene of the accident. Although investigators exhaustively investigated over 4,000 Fiat Unos present in Paris that fateful night, and narrowed the possibilities down to two, after questioning both drivers they could not conclude that either one was really there. Thus, the identity of the driver of the “little white car,” and whether they really did have something to do with the crash, remains an official mystery to this day.

In 2004, British novelist Dan Rhodes, author of the Lassie parody novel Timoleon Vita Come Home, wrote a novel (under a pen name) called, appropriately, The Little White Car. The book hypothesizes that an innocent woman, Veronique, troubled by love, has a happenstance encounter with a strange black Mercedes while driving her Fiat Uno, has a brief collision and flees the scene without realizing who is in the Mercedes. Once she hears the news of Diana’s death she realizes she “killed” the Princess of Wales, which obviously complicates her already complex life.

LittleWhiteCar

In December 2006, the UK paper the Daily Mail purported to have solved the mystery of the little white car. You can read all about it at this article, which describes how a young Paris man, owner of a 1982 Fiat Uno, may have been involved, and acted strangely after the crash–going so far as to hastily repaint the Fiat red (though he told investigators he painted the car the previous day, before Diana was killed). Guess what? This man is one of the two Fiat Uno owners questioned, and cleared, in 1997. He also owned a Rottweiler which he often transported in his car.

Does this solve the mystery of the little white car? Well, not officially–it does not appear the driver has ever been charged or re-questioned. In a way there’s not really much more to do. The silly conspiracy theories about Diana’s death have all been roundly refuted, and it certainly appears that the driver of the Fiat Uno was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Still, it’s fascinating when a fateful moment in history turns on such a tiny hinge. The little white car that sped away into the Paris night was doing nothing less than driving into the pages of history–a curiously incomplete page.

The image of the Fiat Uno is by Flickr user M. Peinado, used under a creative commons license (adaptation with the Diana image is by me). Image of the book The Little White Car is presented as fair use. The book is available for purchase here.
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7 Comments

  1. Did you ever hear about the Nepali royal family and the massacre in I think 2001, when the crown prince went berserk and killed almost all of them, and then himself, because of a dispute over who he was going to marry? It made a splash at the time, I think, but not much of one, because, well, it’s the Nepali royal family.

    Might make an interesting topic for this blog sometime.

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