The Rise and Fall of the "Phantom of Belgrade", That Won the Hearts of 10,000 People

One August night, 43 years ago in Belgrade, a man became the local legend "The Phantom of Belgrade" after he stole a Porsche 911 S Targa and pulled a “Fast and Furious” around town. He even let the entire city know beforehand.
The Phantom of Belgrade 1979 14 photos
Photo: Screenshot from Kristian Kolima YouTube Channel
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Twenty-nine-year-old Vladimir “Vlada“ Vasiljevic was known for boosting cars like in “Gone in 60 Seconds”, starring Nicholas Cage. He used to love Opel cars so much that he got two nicknames because of it.

The first one was “Vlada Opel” and the second one “Vlada Kljuc.” The latter would translate to “Vlad the Key” because he could hotwire pretty much anything on wheels.

It so happens that one time, he saw a shiny white Porsche 911 Targa and thought he'd give that a try. Back in ‘79, in former Yugoslavia (now Serbia), cars were a rare breed as a means of personal transportation. Let alone an extremely expensive Porsche. That’s most probably why he boosted it. The car belonged to famous Serbian tennis player Ivko Plecevic, who won it in Berlin during a tournament.

Although it's unclear exactly from what year that Porsche 911 Targa was, the 930 Porsche came with at least 150 ponies from its flat-six 2.7L engine. Even if it was the slowest version, it could still get a 0-62 mph (0-100 kph) run in 6.5 seconds. Mind you, in those times, even the Corvette C3 Silver Anniversary Edition was slower.

All-in-all, I doubt anyone could tell the difference from behind the wheel between the two, given that the Vette did the 0-60 mph( 0-97 kph) in 6.8 seconds. That being said, the 911's top speed was 138 mph (222 km/h). And in '79, at night, the streets weren't exactly like New York traffic. Our guy was going fast, no doubt about that.

So every night after 10 p.m., “The Phantom of Belgrade” raced the Porsche for 10 days straight. Or so the story goes, because others claim it was more like six or seven days. No matter the case, the MO was always the same.

He would call local radio stations before taking to the streets and tell them when and where they could find him. You can imagine that the news spread like wildfire. Everyone and their mother came to see him “perform.” That meant the cops as well. He even taunted and made fun of them with his style of driving and by always getting away.

In fact, eyewitnesses claim that the police were the ones that nicknamed him “Phantom” on account of him appearing out of nowhere and racing them till he disappeared again into the night.

The 10,000 people regarded him as a local hero, claiming his intentions were some sort of protest against “the Man.” This was never verified. As his fame grew among the local residents, so did his infamy with the local enforcement agencies. Thus, one night, they set up a trap for him, and it worked.

They formed a barricade using buses, and he crashed into one. Apparently unscathed, he got out of the car and made a run for it. He managed to blend into the crowd, and the police couldn't find him that night.

It was only two days later that the authorities received an anonymous call. That's how they managed to finally arrest the infamous “Phantom of Belgrade.” He was then sentenced to two and a half years in prison. After he did his time, at the age of 32, he was killed in a car accident alongside another person who accompanied him.

Now, whether you want to end this story with government conspiracy theories is completely up to you. But if you live in the United States, you might want to check your streaming services for the 2009 documentary. Maybe that will shed more light on the matter.

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About the author: Codrin Spiridon
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Codrin just loves American classics, from the 1940s and ‘50s, all the way to the muscle cars of the '60s and '70s. In his perfect world, we'll still see Hudsons and Road Runners roaming the streets for years to come (even in EV form, if that's what it takes to keep the aesthetic alive).
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