$16.5 Million Ferrari with a Victoria's Secret Twist?
Classic racing Ferraris from the 1950s are among the most coveted and valuable cars on the planet. Rare Ferrari 250 and 375 variants with even a hint of a racing pedigree routinely sell in the millions at auctions. Take one of those cars, throw in a mystery that involves the Victoria’s Secret founder, and you have a story worthy of film. In 1954, Ferrari built only five iterations of the 375 Plus competition roadsters. Of those five, only three are accounted for. One belongs to fashion mogul and noted car collector Ralph Lauren. Another belongs to confectionary billionaire Giogio Perfetti. The third one? Well, according to BestRide, that’s not so simple. PHOTOS: See images of the 1954 Ferrari 375 Plus
Last year Victoria’s Secret founder Les Wexner thought he had landed a true racing classic. The lingerie boss dropped 10.7 million pounds ($16.5 million U.S.) at a Bonham’s auction that took place during the 2014 Goodwood Festival of Speed. What he did not know was that the true ownership of that car had been the subject of great dispute for more than 16 years.
It all started when the Ferrari was stolen from Cincinnati, Ohio native Karl Kleve’s yard. He originally purchased the car in 1958 for a scant $2,500. The car was stolen from his yard sometime between 1985 and 1989. Then things got really murky.
PHOTOS: See images of the 1953 375 MM by Pininfarina
The car showed up again in Antwerp, Belgium, where customs impounded it as stolen. It was eventually returned to the Belgian owner who sold it to another Belgian named Jaques Swaters. Swaters used to race Ferraris and was a Ferrari dealer. Unaware of its theft, he restored it to original condition. Eventually Kleve tracked down Swaters and presented documentation showing the American to be the true owner– at which point Swaters offered him $625,000 for the car. He accepted the deal.
If that wasn’t enough, Swater’s daughter later sued Kleve, demanding complete documents of parts and history, or the $650K would have to be returned. On top of that, another Ohio resident and an American living in Switzerland both filed suit claiming ownership to the Ferrari.
PHOTOS: See images of the 1953 Ferrari 375 MM
All four parties agreed to end their claims and counterclaims to allow the car to be sold by Bonham’s at Goodwood in 2014. All four agreed they would split the proceeds. But when Wexner learned of the disputed past of the car (and pending litigation that several members of the quartet still had), he sued Bonham’s for not being more transparent with the car’s history.
Bonham’s responded by suing Karl Kleve’s daughter, Kristine. Bonham’s also sued a Paraguayan dealer who claimed ownership over the car. The dealer was paid 2 million pounds by the auction house to remain silent over the claim, but decided to go public just days before the auction.
In the grand scheme of auction houses, Bonham’s has been historically among the more reputable and respected. But because the vehicles they auction off are among the most valuable, the stakes are just that much higher.
All four suits have been combined and will be heard in London in September.
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