The Bizarre Story of a Legal Battle over this $16.5 Million 1954 Ferrari Racer

Ferrari 375 Plus 2

Rare and historic automobiles are typically extremely expensive and valuable. Many auctions deal with the buying and selling of these vehicles, and while typically the sales are straightforward, every now and then sometimes things get complicated. That’s the case with a very specific Ferrari from 1954. Historic Ferraris from the 1950’s to 1970’s are easily some of the most expensive vehicles that you can buy. When millions of dollars are on the line, people tend to fight over what is theirs. But in the case of this story, the courts are still trying to figure that one out.

The story all starts with the car, a 1954 Ferrari 375 Plus. This was a race car that the brand constructed back in the 1950’s that was very impressive. The vehicle featured a 330 hp V12 engine, and it could achieve a top speed of 173 mph. Even by today’s standards, that’s pretty good. Ferrari only constructed just five examples of the car for that year, so it’s certainly very rare. However one was destroyed so there are only four left. One of those 375’s was sadly neglected and left for scraps after breaking down. This is where the first owner comes in, Karl Kleve. Karl found the rusting, burnt out chassis of the 375 in a lot one day and picked it up for $2,500 back in 1958 without realizing what he had on his hands. Since then it has become one of the most controversial cars around.

Ferrari 375 Plus

Karl purchased the broken vehicle from Jim Kimberly back then, but made no effort to restore the vehicle. It would then sit on a trailer outside Karl’s home in Ohio for 30-years in complete disarray. This is where things start to get confusing. According to official documents, the Ferrari was then stolen sometime between the years of 1985 and 1989, and the crime was never solved. It would then show up later in Antwerp, Belgium as a Belgian trader imported the vehicle from Atlanta, Georgia. The police would quickly impound the vehicle, as Karl did report it as stolen. Unfortunately, for unknown reasons, the police sided with the Belgian import company and gave them the vehicle.

Ferrari 375 Plus 3

The car would then be sold to a Belgian man by the name of Jacques Swaters. He was a Ferrari enthusiast and a personal friend of Enzo Ferrari himself. However he had no idea that the vehicle had been stolen from Karl. Swaters would work tirelessly for years at restoring the Ferrari to its former glory, and was ultimately successful. Then sometime in 1999, Karl was able to track down the vehicle to Swaters. Karl and Swaters would then come to an agreement that Swaters would purchase the vehicle from Karl for the price of $625,000 dollars. For a time, it seemed as everything might be okay, but that was far from the case.

Years later after both Kleve and Swaters passed away, Jacques Swaters’ daughter filed a lawsuit in Ohio claiming that Karl violated the original sales agreement and withheld some of the vehicles original parts. Then all of the sudden someone in both Ohio and Switzerland also launched a lawsuit, this time agains Sqaters’s daughter, claiming that they had legal ownership of the vehicle. The various courts and lawyers would then attempt to go about finding a way to resolve all of this.

Ferrari 375 Plus 4

In 2013 all of the suing parties would come together in a form of agreement. Their terms saw that Bonhams would auction off the vehicle, and then they would split the proceeds equally between all of them. The Ferrari was then sold to Les Wexner, the founder of Victoria’s Secret, for the price of $16.5 million dollars. It would then seem as though the issues around the vehicle were solved, but that was far from the case. Les would then file a lawsuit against Bonhams claiming that they did not property inform him about the legal and ownership disputes that surrounded the car. He was seeking full reparations. Then Bonhams filed a lawsuit agains Kleve’s daughter, claiming that she broke the terms of her previous agreement before the sale.

But wait, there’s more. Suddenly a car dealer from Paraguay wrote a letter to Bonhams after the sale claiming that they had legal ownership of the Ferrari. Bonhams then filed another lawsuit against this car dealer for being deceitful. Now the courts have bundled all of these various lawsuits into one single case, as the battle continues. The courts will revisit the case in September and work towards a solution. But for the time being, this Ferrari is probably the most fought over car in existence.

Photos from Bonhams

Written by Sebastian Hensiek

From Philadelphia, Sebastian is a fan of music, writing, art, and entertainment.