On this day in Auto History - February 29th

Sat 29th Feb 2020

It was on this day in the leap year of 1944 that Karol Jozef Wotjyla - later better known as Pope John Paul II - miraculously cheated death in a road accident in his native Poland.

With Poland then under Nazi occupation, the 23-year-old future Pontiff was walking home after a days work at a limestone quarry on the outskirts of Krakow when he was struck from behind by a speeding Nazi truck. Left unconscious and initially feared dead, Wotjyla was fortunate that a mystery woman was able to flag down a following truck which duly got him to hospital in good enough time for doctors to save his life.

It took several days for Wotjyla to regain full consciousness and - according to several biographers - it was during the subsequent few weeks of recuperation that he began to view his miraculous survival of the incident as a 'call to Priesthood'.

Wotjyla suffered from life-long shoulder complications after the accident, causing a permanent stoop which became something of a trademark. However, this didn’t stop him making a sharp ascent of the Vatican ranks which eventually saw him become the first non-Italian Pope in over 400 years years when elected by a Papal conclave in 1978 - a position which held for over 26 years until his death in 2005.

In the 'collectors frenzy’ which ensued immediately after his passing, a 1976 Ford Escort GL which the Pope had owned in his days as a mere cardinal changed hands for a mammoth $700,000 at an auction in the USA, though the same vehicle only fetched £93,000 when again going under the hammer in 2018.