This 1954 Ferrari 375 Plus is a $16.5 Million Riddle Wrapped in Victoria’s Secret Lingerie

Posted by

Nacho FerrariYou are familiar with Nacho Cheese but have you ever heard of Nacho Ferrari? That’s nacho (not your) Ferrari, and that is exactly what Ferrari lovers from Paraguay to Switzerland are saying to Victoria’s Secret founder Les Wexner. Wexner thought that he had purchased a cherry-red 1954 Ferrari 375 Plus racing roadster last year for 10.7-million-pounds ($16.5-million U.S.). Unbeknownst to him, the car’s ownership remained the subject of great dispute between multiple parties from all over the globe.

Let’s start from the beginning. Ferrari only manufactured five of these 375 roadsters for the 1954 model year. Of the five, only three are currently accounted for; fashion designer Ralph Lauren has one in his extensive collection of Ferraris as does candy billionaire Giorgio Perfetti. “This vehicle, along with a number of others, has entered into the realm of fine art,” said Dave Kinney, publisher of the Hagerty Price Guide for classic cars.

The upward trend in the projected value of classic Ferrari racers is surely at the heart of this car’s phenomenal degree of interest. A 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO was recently auctioned for $38.1-million, setting a new world record high price for a vehicle sold at auction. Hagerty’s Ferrari Index indicates that the value of 13 Ferrari models has more than tripled since 2010, reaching a peak of $5.4-million in May 2015.

The last undisputed owner of this particular Ferrari was Karl Kleve from Cincinnati, Ohio. Kleve was a U.S. Army engineer turned designer, artist, serial tinkerer, and author. He purchased the Ferrari in 1958 for $2,500. At the time it was a burned out shell and it sat, awaiting restoration, on a trailer in Kleve’s yard for the next three decades. According to police reports, the car was stolen from Kleve’s yard sometime between 1985 and 1989.

The next time the car turned up was in Antwerp, Belgium (via Atlanta) where it had been impounded by customs officials as a stolen vehicle. Authorities later returned the car to the Belgian owner who promptly sold it to another Belgian, named Jaques Swaters. Swaters was a Ferrari dealer and former race car driver. Not knowing that the car had been stolen, Swaters spent years restoring it to original condition complete with the Barchetta aluminum body. In 1999, Kleve showed up in Belgium with the necessary matching documents, prepared to regain possession of the 375 but Swaters offered him $625,000 for it. “It’s a car worth fighting for,” John Collins, owner of UK Ferrari dealer Talacrast, said. “It’s an important car.” Kleve accepted his offer and less than a decade later both men were dead.

Later, a daughter of Swaters filed a lawsuit against Kleve’s estate in an Ohio court. The suit alleges that Kleve had failed to honor his end of the sale to Swaters by not producing a complete inventory of all of the car’s parts, demanding that the remainder of the parts be produced by Kleve’s estate or the sales price be refunded. Meanwhile, two other lawsuits were filed claiming ownership of the vehicle. One was by another Ohio resident and the second was from a U.S. citizen living abroad, in Switzerland.

The four plaintiffs agreed to extinguish all claims and counterclaims and allow Bonham’s to auction the roadster in 2013. They also agreed to divide the proceeds and go about their business. After a great deal of fanfare, the legendary Italian sports car was brought to bear as the highlight of the Goodwood Festival of Speed in 2104.

Only after Wexner laid down the $16.5-million, did he discover that three other parties also claimed ownership and several of them still had litigation pending. The lingerie mogul sued Bohham’s after the sale claiming that the well respected auction house had failed to inform him of the discrepancy. He wants a full refund, plus damages. Bonham’s in turn has filed suit against Kristine Kleve (Karl Kleve’s daughter) claiming she failed to honor the terms of the settlement agreement made prior to the sale of the vehicle. Bonham’s has also filed against a Paraguayan car dealer for fraud. The suit alleges that the Paraguayan car dealer sent a letter claiming ownership of the vehicle three-days prior to Bonham’s taking possession. Bonham’s feels wronged because they paid the car dealer 2-million pounds to keep him quiet about his claim and avoid creating a stir that could result in tarnishing the main attraction of the Goodwood Speed Festival.

All four lawsuits have been conjoined and will be heard in a London courtroom (by one judge) in September.

S.M. Darby

S.M. Darby

I am a freelance author with over 25 years of experience as a professional, ASE certified automotive technician and shop owner, muscle car enthusiast, avid street racer, and classic car restoration specialist.