Hovering above the normal clamor of pedestrians, cars and buses outside City Hall, people on their lunch breaks yesterday heard a rather loud countdown coming from Dilworth Plaza.
"5-4-3-2-1. Let's do this!" shouted an emcee.
Within seconds, three professional car dismantlers ripped off the hood, trunk and doors of a '99 Honda Civic.
Fewer than five minutes later, the car was stripped to the frame.
The scene, sponsored by Allstate, was part of the insurance company's national campaign aimed at reducing car thefts.
The mechanics used regular hand tools to pull apart the most valuable car parts sold on the black market.
Brett Ludwig, senior corporate relations manager for Allstate and emcee, said the event was meant to make people think about auto-theft prevention.
"We just want to demonstrate how quickly an everyday car can be stolen," he said.
Although the city and the country have been experiencing a decline in auto thefts for the last six years, Capt. Len Ditchkofsky, of the police Major Crimes Unit, said one stolen car is too many.
"It's truly getting harder to steal cars with chip keys, LowJack and OnStar," he said. "But we still have the older cars out here, and that's what's stolen the most."
In 2009, 6,982 cars were stolen in Philadelphia. The year before that, 9,060 were stolen. The sky-blue Honda used for the show is considered the No. 1 stolen car in the country, Ludwig said.
"Some people think something like a brand-new Jaguar is a target for car thieves. But Honda Civics, Honda Accords, Toyotas, those are cars that are normally stolen," he said. "And that's because they tend to last longer. Therefore, when people get into accidents, there's a need for parts from these cars."
The Kelley Blue Book value of the car was $2,750, but selling the parts on the black market could add up to $4,305.
To deter theft, police suggest common-sense solutions such as never leaving your car running unattended and remembering to always lock your car.
"That was spooky," said Joyce Bell, an onlooker who came just in time to see the mechanics strip the car in under five minutes.