To settle a lawsuit over a rare sports car with Cincinnati ties, Hamilton County Judge Norbert Nadel ordered it to be auctioned. That auction of the Ferrari 375-Plus is scheduled for this summer in London. Bonhams, a London auction house, has announced the car, formerly owned by Cincinnatian Karl Kleve, will be sold at The Goodwood Festival of Speed on June 27.
Bonhams said the 375-Plus model was an outright winner at Le Mans and Silverstone, and in the five-day Carrera PanAmericana road race through Mexico. In the Mexican race the average speed was 150 mph.
In 2010, here was the situation. Collector Jacques Swaters had possession of the 1954 Ferrari 375-Plus, which could be worth as much as $15 million. But Karl Kleve's family had the title and spare parts to it in Cincinnati.
Swaters, 84 at the time, said he restored it from a burned-out shell. It's now a shiny red one-seat convertible with lots of chrome.
"Oh, I've done a terrific job on the car," he said. "We've been working for many, many years to restore the car."
The company made only six of them, and just four of them are thought to still exist. In its time, the Ferrari 375-Plus was the fastest car on the track.
Kleve's daughter, Kristi Lawson, said the car was stored outdoors in a Cincinnati lot with a hundred other old cars. She said her dad knew the car was valuable when he bought it in 1958 for $2,500. "He collected Duesenbergs; he collected Rolls-Royces. I know he had at least a dozen," she said.
In 1988, Kleve discovered the Ferrari was stolen. Two Cincinnati men were later convicted of the crime, but the car had disappeared. Lawson said her dad searched for it for years, eventually tracking it down in Belgium.
This is where it gets complicated:
Lawson said Interpol got involved and convinced Belgium authorities that the car was stolen. She said it was eventually released to Swaters, who's now deceased.
But Swaters had a different story: He said in 1990 a trader sold it to him for $100,000. "I was very interested because it was a very famous car," he said, "and then a little later I learned the car had been stolen, so I charged a lawyer to negotiate with the owner to make a settlement."
Swaters said he paid Kleve more than $600,000 for the car, and that Kleve cashed the check. Kleve's daughter said her father never received any money, and if Swaters has a canceled check, her dad's signature must have been forged. She said finding the car had become an obsession for him.
"This was his biggest project," she said. "By the time he passed away, he said this was the greatest auto theft that had ever occurred."
The Kleve and Swater families are supposed to now split the profits after the June 27th auction.