Monday, November 5, 2018

The Coffee Heiress Part 3: A Yellow Firebird and a Yellow Bicycle

Other Posts: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

A number of sources claim that Abigail Folger’s favorite color was yellow. They claim she wore a yellow dress to her debutante ball (it was actually white). She drove a yellow Firebird and, they say, purchased a yellow bicycle on the morning of the murders. I have not been able to find any ‘witness’ who confirms that yellow was, indeed, her favorite color but here is what I was able to find about yellow bicycle and the  yellow Firebird. 

The Yellow Firebird

The image to the right is the car owned by Abigail Folger at the time of her death. It was a 1968 Pontiac Firebird 400. While researching this post, it amazed me how many sources either describe the car as a ‘yellow Camaro, identify Sharon Tate’s rental car as being Abigail’s car, get the color wrong or identify the car pictured to the right as Sharon Tate’s car. Among those who didn't get it right was the prosecutor. 

Vincent Bugliosi, in Helter Skelter:

“About 3 P.M. the second gardener, Tom Vargas, arrived. As he came in the gate, Abigail was driving out in her Camaro. Five minutes later Voytek also left, driving the Firebird.” (emphasis added)

(Bugliosi, Vincent. Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders (25th Anniversary Edition) (p. 85). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.)

And this guy:

"As he drove through the gates, he saw Abigail Folger climb into Sharon’s rented yellow Camaro and drive out. She was going to keep her regular 4:30 PM appointment with her psychiatrist, Dr. Marvin Flicker. A few minutes later, Voyteck also left, in Abigail’s red Firebird."

(King, Greg. Sharon Tate and the Manson Murders (Kindle Locations 3783-3785). Open Road Media. Kindle Edition.) 

Notice the bumper sticker on the Firebird to the left of the license plate? It says "Bradley". Gibbie worked on Tom Bradley’s unsuccessful 1969 campaign to become mayor of Los Angeles. 


Wheelbase, inches: 108.1
Weight, lbs: 3,450
Number built: 21,336
Base price: $3,750
Top Available Engine Type: ohv V-8
Displacement, cid: 400
Fuel system: 1 x 4bbl.
Compression ratio: 10.75:1
Horsepower @ rpm: 340 @ 5300
Torque @ rpm: 430 @ 3600
Representative Performance: 0-60 mph, sec: 5.5
1/4 mile, sec. @ mph: 14.2 @ 100”

“Pontiac may have broken late from the gate in the pony-car derby, but it quickly made up ground. Carefully considered alterations made the 1968 Pontiac Firebird 400 perhaps the best compact muscle car of the year.

Horsepower on the standard 400-cid V-8 increased by five, to 330. Ram Air continued as the rarest and strongest engine option at about $600 over the regular 400. It again had a hotter cam, stronger valve springs, and exclusive use of functional hood scoops. At midyear, the 335-bhp Ram Air mill was replaced by the 340-bhp Ram Air II.”

Abigail likely purchased the car when she arrived in California from New York. Ed Sanders in The Family claims that Abigail and Wojciech Frykowski drove a "Drive-a-Car" across the United States from New York City to Los Angeles in the fall of 1968. Of course, he does not offer any source for his statement. To my eyes the car appears to have California plates. That is why I believe she purchased the car in LA and why it was not the "Drive-a-Car," if that is how they actually travelled. 

The car is listed in Abigail’s estate inventory (above) as a 1968 Pontiac Firebird and is valued at $2,000. The Firebird does not appear in the final distribution of the estate and there is no court order allowing the sale of the car. I find this somewhat odd since transferring the title, it seems to me, would have been more difficult without a court order. Abigail’s final estate distribution consists of cash, stocks and a one third interest in real estate. This means that her father, Peter Folger, the executor of the estate, either gave the car away or sold it while the estate was pending.  

The image to the (above, left) purports to be a recent photo of Gibbie’s Firebird, located somewhere in Georgia. It could be photoshopped. It could be someone who ‘dressed up’ another yellow Firebird to look like Abigail’s car or, it could be the actual car. To my eye there appear to be some differences. 

I am not a 'car guy' but I know a couple and asked for their input on this post. I was told the 1968 Firebird is one of the iconic 'muscle cars' and as my friend "B" said "One hell of a fun ride". I was also told that the yellow color was a 'standard' color in 1967 and 1968. 

A Yellow Bicycle

On Wednesday, August 8, 1969 Abigail Folger purchased a bicycle from Hans Ohrt Lightweight Bicycles in Beverly Hills. The purchase did not happen the morning of the murders as some claim.

Q (Bugliosi): In the summer of 1969, were you employed?
A (Dennis Hearst): Yes.
Q: By whom were you employed at that time?
A: Hans Ohrt Bicycles.
Q: Is that located at 9544 Santa Monica Boulevard in the city of Los Angeles?
A: Yes.
Q: Does your father own the shop? 
A: Yes, he does.

Q: What was the reason for your going to that address on that date?
A: To exchange a bicycle; one had been delivered on Wednesday evening and I was to exchange it for another model.
Q: Whose bicycle was this?
A: I believe it was purchased by Abigail Folger that Wednesday. 

At the Watson trial Dennis Hearst clarified that the name of the shop was Hans Ohrt Lightweight Bicycles. It was located in Beverly Hills. 

On Friday evening, August 8, 1969 Dennis Hearst arrived at 10050 Cielo Drive at about 7:00 P.M. to exchange the bike purchased on Wednesday for a different model. He placed the new bike in the garage and loaded the original in his van. He knocked on the door and rang the bell. Jay Sebring eventually answered the door and Hearst explained what he had done. He then left.

[Aside: It has been said said that Dennis Hearst confirmed that Sebring was holding a wine bottle when he answered the door. Hearst actually does not identify the bottle held by Sebring as a wine bottle in his testimony. He testifies, in response to Daye Shinn’s question, that he could not tell if it was a wine bottle saying only that “It was the color green like a 7-up bottle, that color green.”]

Hans Ohrt Lightweight Bicycles

“This famous retail bicycle store was founded by Hans Ohrt with his wife Ida Ohrt in Beverly Hills, CA. The location was at the south-east corner of Camden and Little Santa Monica Blvd. 

In the early 1960s Len & Connie Hearst were managing the store (Connie was the niece of Hans).” 

During the 1960's Hollywood celebrities like Jane Russell, Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra could be found from time to time in the shop. Although he sold several brands, Ohrt seems to have had a preference for Raleigh and Schwinn lightweight bicycles. Like I said, several sources state that the bicycle Abigail purchased that afternoon was, yellow. However, if she purchased a Schwinn it wasn’t yellow. According to the 1968 and 1969 Schwinn catalogues "ladies lightweight bicycles", regardless of model, came in the colors “campus green, sierra brown and sky blue”. If it was yellow it also was not a Raleigh bike. Raleigh "ladies bicycles" came in the colors “sky blue, bronze green, black and Burgundy”. Could it have been another manufacturer? Sure, but I couldn't find a yellow "ladies bicycle" from 1968-9.

What happened to the bicycle. I don't have a clue. The bicycle does not appear inn Abigail’s estate inventory and there was no claim filed against her estate by the shop. It may simply have been left at Cielo Drive. 

Abigail purchased one bike, not two, so she likely was not planning to ride with Frykowski. Then again, there is some evidence that Frykowski wasn’t going to be in Abigail’s life much longer by the end of July, 1969. 

The idea of taking up cycling might have originated with Dr. Flicker, her psychiatrist. He may have suggested that Gibbie get a little exercise to improve her overall outlook on life. 

While Gibbie was a fairly accomplished equestrian, there is little other evidence that she was the athletic sort. While I’m speculating, my guess would be that Sharon Tate had something to do with the purchase of the bicycle. I found very little advertising by Hans Ohrt Lightweight Bicycles during 1968-9. That suggests to me that she found the shop through word of mouth and the likely source was Sharon Tate. And while Sharon would not have been currently in a condition that would allow her to ride, we know she did. I like to think that was the plan because the image of Sharon Tate riding through the gate at Cielo is one of the 'happiest' pictures of Sharon, in my opinion. Then again, that would have been something else Manson, Atkins, Watson and Krenwinkel took away that night. 

Pax vobiscum



Orwhut said...

I knew a young man who drove a beautiful red Firebird in the early 70s. Now he sits around a former gas station and chews the fat with the other geezers.

Robert C said...

Back in the late 60's, Schwinn was still king (in the US) but a close competitor was Huffy. Raleigh was English built and not what the rank and file rode -- it was more refined, expensive, and often used back then by racers or those involved in some type of bicycling competition. Anyway, I haven't researched thoroughly, may be wrong, but I believe Huffy had a women's yellow frame bicycle at that time but I don't know if the shop where Gibby bought hers carried that brand.

AstroCreep said...

A quick google search turns up a news story from Georgia where the bed AF was in at Cielo was auctioned. Lends some credence to the Firebird possibly being in Georgia too- the auctioneer said the bed was bought by a fan of Sharon’s in the 1990’s. The bed auctioned for 14k. That Firebird (if original) would go for a ton of cash regardless of AF association with it-

Torque said...

Looking closely at the rear license plate of the Firebird, I believe there is a metal frame around the plate. This may be a car dealer's advertising plate, which were very common. If one could come across an original clear photo of the one above, and enlarge the area around the plate, the information on it may be revealed. To me it looks like there is writing on the frame.

I would think the car would have been purchased in LA(or perhaps SF?)to keep the miles off of it, instead of buying it in NY and driving it across the country.

It's interesting to see that Abigail left certain items in a warehouse in NY. Wonder what those could be, judging by their small dollar value. It's still unclear to me who went to the Woodstock address to gather up her belongings.I understand that everything was cleared out of Cielo, however I have read somewhere that Voytek's American flag remained in the loft there, and perhaps later in the guesthouse?

One thing is certain, though. That '68 Firebird would have been great fun to drive. A friend had a '67, and I had a '69 Pontiac GTO, with the same small block 400 cubic inch motor. These cars stock were fast, and the back compression upon deceleration sounded awesome. Definitely a cool car for Abigail. Would be fantastic to locate it's true whereabouts for certain.

Dan S said...

The bike Sharon (i guess that's her) is dismounting looks liked a Raleigh to me. I have a 68 Raleigh Colt.The fenders look like they're shaped right with the metal nub at the tip and it looks like it has 3 piece cranks; i can almost make out the ducks on them.

David said...

Update: I received two e-mails from two readers regarding this post.

As to the bike:

"I believe that it is possible that Abigail did in fact purchase a brand new yellow Schwinn lightweight in August of 1970. Please take a look at the 1970 Schwinn catalog. A ladies bike in yellow is featured on the cover. There are several yellow ladies models in the catalog including the "Schwinn Super Sport" described as "The finest in ladies' lightweight". Here is my reasoning:

Model year does not mean calendar year. Dealers would want to have the 1970 models in stock for the 1969 holiday buying season.

The Beverly Hills bike shop would be a prime customer to receive the lightweight 1970 bikes left over from the catalog photo shoot that was done at Knotts Berry Farm not far away that must have occurred in spring of 1969.

AF may have seen the catalog in the store and requested yellow.

The store may have special ordered a 1970 model for her and swapped it out when it arrived."


The last point there is an excellent point.

As to the car:

".....a couple emails I received from that party in Georgia who "thinks" he's got her car. His name is ___________ and he contacted me back in _________ and stated he had all this case related shit for me he was going to send and also wanted to know if I wanted to see Folger's Firebird. So he sent me these three pictures.

Sharing with you because in your writings you doubt it's the actual car and I've gotta tell you I agree with you. If you notice on the pictures he sent me there is no Bradley bumper sticker and looks to me like it was added later to make it look more "authentic." LOL When I saw the picture and it said it was in Georgia I knew it was _______'s car."

I have removed names and dates.

Monica said...

Thank you for this interesting post, David.
The color pictures are always great compared against the b/w. Whether they are real or not, they set the mood for those of us who were too young or not alive during those times. What I find fascinating is that we know for a fact Abigail indeed purchased a bike and regardless of the color or model, the gentleman who swapped it out was the last non-victim/murderer/houseguest who was actually invited to the house on August 8, 1969.

David said...



G. Greene-Whyte said...

Well written as always. Thank you.

all8 said...

Love that Firebird Abigail had. Plenty of get up and go, for sure!

Roy L said...

There is yellow 68 Firebird seen several times in the movie 'Bullitt'. Since Steve McQueen was a friend of that tribe... and was even supposed to be there that night, is there any chance it's the same car?

Calls It As I Sees It said...

I found no trace of the car beyond what is written in the post. said...

I own an original 1967 yellow convertible Pontiac Firebird. I can confirm the car in your pictures is in fact a 1968 Pontiac Firebird, NON convertible with black vinyl covered hard top. The 1968 is identified by the arrowhead rear fender lights.