Last month, “Legal Files” started the story of two Porsche 904s, one owned by “Dieter” in Germany and the other owned by the estate of Ken Allison in Kentucky, each claimed to be chassis number 904054 (September 2020, p. 52). Our firm partnered with the London firm of Goodman Derrick to represent Dieter. At the end of last month’s column, North Carolina DMV representative Robert Sawyer had suggested that the Allison 904’s title might be a fake.

Digging deeper

We needed to keep Sawyer engaged. After all, we had only paid $13 for the title research, and it would be very easy for him to simply say, “Sorry, that’s all we have.” So, I took a calculated gamble and told him what was going on. I could tell he was totally engaged by the prospect that one of these cars was a $1.5 million Porsche 904 and the other was a worthless imposter. He seemed offended that someone would use a North Carolina title to try to pull off that kind of a scam. He was happy to get his people to dig deeper. Only problem was, they had just closed down again due to another COVID-19 exposure, so it might take a little while.

Negotiations continue

Meanwhile, my litigation partner, Cooper, was making good progress with the estate’s attorney. The estate was being administered by Allison’s widow, who we were told didn’t know very much about the cars and didn’t want to get wrapped up in a major lawsuit in federal court. The lawyers agreed to share information, hoping to prove to the other side the strength of their cases. We agreed to a stand-still agreement whereby we would provide information to each other in hope of reaching a resolution without litigation. We provided a partial copy of Dieter’s extensive history about his car. We thought it was easily sufficient to make the Allison side aware that Dieter’s car was the real deal. The estate provided copies of their North Carolina title, the Selbach registration, the Porsche CoA, copies of correspondence with Porsche regarding the frame blueprints, and a few other documents. They also provided photographs with 904054 conspicuously stamped into chassis parts and the chassis tag. The package was clearly insufficient to contradict Dieter’s provenance history. But could it be that the Allison 904 was built partially from discarded parts from Dieter’s car?

More back-and-forth

Meanwhile, North Carolina DMV reopened and Sawyer called back. They had searched everywhere. North Carolina has DMV records going back as far as 1920 on microfiche (if you don’t know what that is, ask your mother or father). Nowhere in any of that could they find 904054. We pressed the estate and received more documents. Of greatest interest was a document from North Carolina DMV dated April 2019. It was a form letter with blanks that were filled in separately. It was signed by Portia (perfect name, eh?) Manley, Director in Charge of North Carolina DMV’s Field Services, addressed “To Whom It May Concern.” The letter stated that the documents enclosed were certified copies of the actual DMV title records for “1965 Porsche C, VIN: 904054.” It was accompanied by the front and back of the title we already had, signed by Allison, along with a copy of Mrs. Suttles’ Letters of Administration in her son’s probate. This raised a number of questions: 1. Who requested it? Allison died in 2018, so it couldn’t have been him. We had a pretty good suspicion who it was, but we don’t have enough evidence to say. 2. While the letter referred to “true and perfect” copies of the North Carolina DMV title records, the documents themselves did not contain any certifications. Thus, it was impossible to say that the documents provided to us were actually provided to the estate by the North Carolina DMV. 3. It made no sense for the North Carolina DMV to have the back of the title signed by Allison. The only way they would have that document would be if Allison had titled the car in his name, either in North Carolina or any other state. If he had done that, he would have surrendered the North Carolina title issued to Suttles for cancellation. But we knew that 904054 had never been titled by Allison, so North Carolina DMV could never have received the back of the title signed by him. When Sawyer called back, I teased him that his team must be losing its touch because less than a year ago, Portia Manley had found the 904054 title records and sent them to the estate. “What are you talking about? Send me a copy!” Sawyer said. A few days later, we received a package from North Carolina DMV. The first page was another official Title Certification signed by Portia Manley. It described “1965 Porsche C, Vehicle Identification Number 161441.” The Title Certification was accompanied by 10 pages of documents, some in German, some in English, that documented the sale of a 1965 356 SC cabriolet VIN 161441 to Roger Suttles on April 11, 1972, for $1,800. The seller was Klaus Petermann and the sale occurred at the Bad Kreuznach U.S. military base in Germany. I called Sawyer and asked why he had sent me documents on a 356. “That is all we have.” When I half-jokingly pointed out that the Allison estate had North Carolina documents on a 904, he responded, “All I can say is, we sent you exactly what we sent them.”

The pieces start to fit together

The 356 purchase made total sense. Suttles had to have purchased some Porsche, and this one, at $1,800, seemed to fit within his budget as an SP4. That also squared with the $500 sale from his estate for the “inoperable” Porsche. So we now had four lawyers, two on each side of the Atlantic, poring over two stacks of documents. Here is what we reasoned must have happened: 1. Suttles purchased the 356 while stationed in Germany, brought it to North Carolina, titled it in North Carolina, and parked it after it was damaged. 2. Ken Allison found the 356 and purchased it from Mrs. Suttles for $500. For whatever reason, she did not sign off on the title. 3. Someone used the 356 title to create a bogus North Carolina title for a 904, using VIN 904054 — we have no idea why anyone chose to use that number. Perhaps they thought that 904054 did not exist. 4. For some reason, North Carolina DMV did not send us a copy of the 356 certificate of title. However, they did send a copy of the application for the title, which showed a title number of 11338446, which was curiously only one digit different from the 904 title number of 1338446 — a simple erasure. 5. At some point, these documents were paired up with the original of Selbach’s canceled German registration for 904054, lending another tinge of confirmation. 6. In 2019, someone requested documents from North Carolina DMV, receiving the same 356 documents we received. They modified the Title Certification sheet by changing the description of the car it identified with an incorrect format and substituted the estate’s documents for the 356 documents provided by DMV. 7. Since that happened after Allison had died, we knew there had to be at least one co-conspirator. Again, we had a strong suspicion who that might have been, but we don’t have sufficient evidence to name anyone.

The last piece

One last piece was missing — what happened to the 356? We had learned that Allison had owned two 356s. Could one of them possibly be VIN 161441? We contacted the estate’s attorney and requested copies of the title documents for Allison’s two Porsche 356s. That brought immediate howls of protest: “Those cars are irrelevant to this dispute, and we aren’t providing anything on them. Not only that, but they have both been sold.” We took that as a yes — one of Allison’s two Porsche 356s was VIN 161441 — but we also thought it was worth trying to find independent corroboration. We asked our investigator to see if he could find a registration anywhere for 161441. He couldn’t, but he contacted a friend who is an avid 356 collector and maintains an extensive database of 356 information. He asked if he could tell who owned 161441. The quick response was, “Sure. It’s Ken Allison in Lexington, Kentucky.” Checkmate!


Before we could do anything else, we received a settlement offer from the estate. Their preferred resolution was that Dieter buy their car. If he did not want to do that, they would agree to eliminate all references to chassis number 904054 and sell it as a replica. We agreed to try and work out a purchase, but clarified that we would expect the chassis plate to be removed from the car and all 904054 identifying marks ground off it. The immediate response was, “That has already been done.” Wow! We were unable to agree on a purchase price, so we took the second approach of stripping all identifying marks off the replica 904. The estate would not give Dieter the parts that were removed — or the title documents — for fear of their being used as evidence against the estate. So we sent a representative who assisted in their destruction. Now there is only one Porsche 904 chassis number 904054. ♦ John Draneas is an attorney in Oregon. He can be reached through His comments are general in nature and are not intended to substitute for consultation with an attorney.

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