Story of The Belgrade Phantom is about 29-year old Vladimir „Vlada“ Vasiljević who in August of 1979 “borrowed” Porsche 911S Targa owned by tennis player Ivko Plecevic who had won the car in tournament in Berlin. This wasn’t uncommon of Vladimir which was known as “Vlada Opel” (for his love of “borrowing” Opel cars) and “Vlada Ključ” (“Vlada Key” in english; due to his ability to open and start any car without having a key) among his peers.
For 10 nights (some sources say 6 or 7) after 10 pm he would race the Porsche through streets like Bulevar kralja Aleksandra, Beogradska street (44°48’17.7″N 20°28’08.0″E) and Slavija Square roundabout (44.8025°N 20.4664°E). Hours before his rides he would call radio stations and inform about time and locations he would drive on. Word spread like crazy and tens of thousands of people would show up to cheer and witness the Belgrade Phantom in action.
Although Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia wasn’t as poor and strict as USSR, exotic cars like Porsche were insanely uncommon. Very few people would have actually been lucky enough to have seen one with their own eyes, so you can only imagine what it would have felt to see one flying down the streets above 100 miles per hour (160 km/h) when all you have seen were cars like Zastava 101, Fiat 126, Wartburg 353, Citroën 2CV (the infamous Yugo wasn’t even in production until next year) and maybe occasional Mercedes-Benz or Audi brought by those who worked in the west.
While all of this was happening Josip Broz Tito, president of Yugoslavia, was in Cuba and was soon to return. Because of this government felt strong urgency to stop Belgrade Phantom and retain order, especially since some interpreted his actions as rebelling against the system. However despite knowing the place and time of his performances beforehand police felt powerless since their cars were no match for Porsche. So they had to get sneaky. On tenth night they decided to make a barricade with two Ikarus buses and block an exit they knew Belgrade Phantom would take.
It worked. Considering the speed at which he was flying it was probably too late to brake and avoid accident by the time he noticed them. At 12:01 am (1 minute past midnight) Vladimir Vasiljević crashed the Porsche 911S Targa into one of the buses. He was quick to react though as he jumped out of the Porsche and ran into massive crowd managing to escape.
It’s not the end of the story however. He might have well escaped all the trouble if not for one anonymous call. Two days after the accident someone called police and informed them on identity of Belgrade Phantom. Information turned out to be legitimate and Vladimir Vasiljević got arrested and sentenced to serve 2.5 years in prison.
While serving his sentence he escaped prison through ventilation system 1 day after his sister visited him. He returned to prison voluntarily 3 days later and when asked why did he escape he simply replied: “I had to go for one more drive so the cops don’t think they won”. For this action he got 30 days in solitary confinement and other than this incident he served his time without any violations. Although he didn’t quite fit among other prisoners as he wasn’t the same type of criminal as them he was still respected by them.
Soon after being released from prison he got in a crash while driving a LADA with his friend Vidra whom died on the spot (it’s unclear who was behind the steering wheel at the time). Vladimir got transported to hospital in Belgrade in a critical condition. Soon, at the age of 32, Vladimir Vasiljević passed away. Only one doctor was allowed to see him and visits from relatives were forbidden giving birth to conspiracy theories that he was killed by the government.
Rumors say he dedicated his drives to a girl he loved named Vesna, who apparently lived in the Bulbulder neighborhood. Others say that he did it for no reason at all, it was simply out of his nature. Few think he rebelled against the system, however to most this theory seems just ridiculous. Whatever the case is, Vladimir „Vlada“ Vasiljević is a legend that at least for a brief moment of his short life lived a life hard to believe. A men that remains a hero to many in Serbia.