Monday, July 12, 2010
Objects of Desire
On the other side is Kristine Kleve-Lawson, a beneficiary of her father's estate. Her father agreed to sell the car for $2.5 million, she said, but he never was paid. Swaters, a millionaire, sued Kleve-Lawson in February in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court, accusing her of failing to transfer the title to him, breaching a 1999 contract. He seeks to prevent her from selling parts to the car, which she retained.
'The reason they are so valuable is they are strictly racing cars. They were never road cars,' said R. Joseph Parker, Cincinnati attorney for Joseph Ford. Ford came to the controversy late. He is a Boca Raton, Fla., architect who 'is into classic cars,' Parker said. Ford acquired Kleve-Lawson's interest in the car in exchange for Ford's help in getting it back to the U.S.
The story started in 1958, when Karl Kleve paid $2,500 for the charred chassis and parts of the 1954 375 Ferrari Plus. It was cheap because it had caught fire from a problem in the wiring system. Kleve stored hundreds of cars on property in Westwood and Green Township. Kleve discovered it stolen between 1985 and 1989. The theft was reported to Green Township police, the FBI and Interpol, the international police agency, and the car was located being imported into Belgium. 'That's one of the big mysteries here, how it ended up in Belgium,' Parker said.
A year later, Belgian police released it, saying it wasn't Kleve's because it had a different chassis number. Eventually, it was bought by Swaters, who made millions as the sole importer and distributor of Ferraris in Belgium. 'He's very wealthy, worth between $200 (million) and $300 million,' said Daniel Randolph, attorney for Kleve-Lawson. 'And my client is working two jobs to try to make ends meet. It's like they've taken this huge anvil and dropped it on her.'
Swaters, via Cincinnati attorney Michael Hirschfeld, refused comment. Swaters and a business partner bought the title from Kleve in 1999 and restored the car 'for the sole purpose of racing it throughout Europe,' Swaters' suit noted. Swaters, 84, said he paid $625,000 to Kleve and a company Kleve hired to find it. Not so, Kleve-Lawson's lawyer said.
While no one disputes that Kleve signed the three-page document transferring ownership to Swaters, Randolph said, the first two pages of the documents were altered. The original deal, Randolph insisted, was for Kleve to be paid $2.5 million. 'Instead,' Randolph said, 'Kleve received nothing, so he kept some of the car's parts, including the fuel tank, steering wheel, three wheels, engine cover and rear wing. Later, his daughter received a duplicate Ohio title for the car and transferred it to herself.' But the car stayed with Swaters, who insists someone cashed the checks he wrote.
After Kleve died in 2003, his daughter tried to auction some of the car's parts in 2005, but was contacted by Swaters' attorney, who said Swaters owned the car and wanted all of its parts returned. She withdrew the parts from the auction, then Swaters sued. 'She would prefer to have the car back,' Randolph said of Kleve-Lawson. 'She wants to uphold what her father tried to do ... to protect the dignity of her father.'
Now, Common Pleas Judge Norbert Nadel will decide whether the car must be returned to the U.S. He is expected to make that decision this month."
I love Daniel Randolph's claim that Kleve-Lawson is "[trying] to protect the dignity of her father." This claim is of course a variation on the old canard "it's not about the money, it's the principle of the thing."
In reality this car and this case is about ego, and ego-manifestation in the form of a car and a lawsuit.
This Ferrari is a beautiful object, and I'm glad it exists. I'm happy there are people in the world wealthy enough to curate these things, especially since there is great artistry and engineering involved. Fantastic, but don't kid yourself, this court case is all about manifesting self-seeking. Remember the summer intern and her Hermes purse? The Chihuahuas? Same deal, different venue.
Maybe, Jack Swaters stole this object, I hope he's held accountable. Maybe he paid fair market value for the the car. But once again we have a great lesson in the idea that nothing, absolutely nothing is free.