Notorious Jewel Thief Explains What You Need for the Perfect Getaway Car

There are few details as crucial for a bing time criminal as getaway cars. After a long career as one of the most notorious jewel thieves in America, Larry Lawton, and his brother got caught up in a busted heist that ended in a bloody and terrifying shootout that left Lawton’s brother shot as Lawton drove the getaway car

This busted heist marked the beginning of the end for Lawton’s jewel-thieving days. Lawton lifted an estimated $10m-$15m in jewels across the east coast. His prolific career ended in a 10-year stint behind bars. Now reformed, Lawton sat down to speak with the folks at the Drive. His goals now are advocating for inmates, helping the police prevent the same crimes he committed, and setting the record straight on what makes for the perfect getaway car. 

What makes for a great getaway car? 

Despite every cops and robbers movie ever, fast and flashy cars are not ideal options for a getaway car. Lawton quickly dispels the myth that getaway cars need to be fast. The idea of a driver’s signature getaway car is also a movie myth. Lawton says that he mostly rented his getaway cars under someone else’s name, and he put his name as the co-driver. 

They would pick up the rental like normal and simply return it once the job was done. Lawton would almost always rent his cars in Florida for several reasons. One of these reasons is that Florida only requires one license tag on the back of the car, unlike NY or NJ, which requires a plate on the front and back. 

He would then get a legit plate from an “otherwise straight-edged-neighbor,” says the Drive, and switch them out during the job. Then, once the job was done, he would replace the car with a different rental the same day. 

Rental cars make the perfect getaway cars because of their anonymity and variety. They are also almost untraceable, except that Lawton’s name as co-driver is what ultimately led to his incarceration. 

The other thing that makes rental cars perfect getaway cars is how plain they often are. Your average rental car will be a lower-tier model in a common color. Lawton mentions that quickly getting a safe distance from the crime scene is less important than blending in as quickly as possible. According to the jewel thief, the Hollywood fantasy of some hot shoe drifting in a cloud of tire smoke and a roaring V8 is simply offbase.

“Less is more” when it comes to a getaway car

According to the retired jewel thief, a 2000 Buick LeSabre is the perfect kind of getaway car
Buick LeSabre | Getty images

The type of car was never as important to Lawton as the overall look was. A typical vehicle for Lawton was any economy Chevy sedan or a Mitsubishi Diamante with no frills. All that mattered was a boring paint color, four doors, and a place to stash the loot. 

Lawton was working back in the ‘90s when sedans were the most common type of vehicle. He admits that today, he would go with a common crossover given the dominance of the segment. Lawton said, “I would get maybe a Toyota RAV4 or something like that today. I would see what’s out there.”

Also, not everyone was allowed to ride in the getaway car. This kept the meticulous crew spread out and their numbers mysterious. Unlike the movies, the heists were painstakingly planned to keep the drama as low as possible. 

Low and slow

1995 Toyota RAV4 parked in a field
1995 Toyota RAV4 | National Motor Museum/Heritage Images via Getty Images

Although the accounts of some of Lawton’s jobs are brimming with harrowing accounts of shootouts, blood, and mob-run garages that fix bullet holes and bloodstains quickly and quietly, The goal was always to get in and get out as quietly as possible. Having a low-profile ride to leave the scene and fold into traffic was always the goal. 

As we mentioned earlier, Lawton is now working with police and others to cut down on the crime but also work with inmates to advocate on their behalves. His stories are incredible. Do yourself a favor, if you haven’t already, and watch the video of him telling his story. You won’t regret it. 

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