In 1979, only one person owned a Porsche in Belgrade, but the locally famous 911S Targa was about to become infamous. That year, a man named Vlada Vasiljević stole the white sports car and wildly raced it through the city streets as the police hopelessly tried to stop him. To their disadvantage, the police officers drove the national car brand, Yugo, about which Autotrader wrote, "You knew it would be slow the moment you looked at it."
Vasiljević, a skilled 29-year-old car thief that the media dubbed the Belgrade Phantom, returned to the streets again the next night, announcing his arrival over the radio waves and daring the police to catch him. He continued this stunt every night for nearly two weeks.
Yugoslavia, which split into several countries in the 1990s, was a socialist state at the time, and the country's leader had been president for 26 years at that point. For many people in Belgrade, the joyrides were viewed as political protest against excessive socialist control and prohibitions, and crowds started to form on the street each night to cheer him on. Despite the dangers of the high-speed chase, some night saw tens of thousands of people coming out to support the Phantom.
The Phantom typically started the chase at Slavija Square near downtown, and the police tried everything to stop him. Blocking off the exits around the square with buses, however, actually worked. He slammed into the barricade yet could not push through, so he had to escape on foot. The crowds formed a wall to block the police, so he could get away. However, a few days later, the police figured out his identity and arrested him.
During his prison term, the Phantom did escape once, but he was caught before he could accomplish his intended goal: He wanted to boost another car and give the police one last night ride to "show them they didn't win." The warden punished him with solitary confinement.
Vasiljević did not set out to make a political statement, but the public welcomed it as such, and he even got the big-screen treatment in 2009 with a Serbian film titled The Belgrade Phantom. The Phantom finally got out of prison the right way in 1982 and died shortly after from, of all things, a car accident.