1. The Most One-Sided/Short-Sighted Car Deal of All Time
In 1962, Dick Rowe an executive with Decca Records rejected a young music group called the Beatles opining that “groups with guitars are on the way out.” In a blunder of similar magnitude two years later, in 1964, fishing equipment magnate John Shakespeare sold his collection of thirty Bugattis and a horde of rare parts to the infamous Fritz Schlumpf for less than $250,000.
To add insult to injury, the collection included a Royale similar to one that sold just eighteen years later for $8.7 million. Reason for Shakespeare’s sale, according to the December, 1964 issue of Sports Car Graphic: “To devote more time to his newest hobbies, skiing and skindiving.”
If Shakespeare had held on to the Bugattis a few more years, he could have bought his own mountain and a tropical island. (Photos copyright Sports Car Graphic, 1964)
2. Hell Hath No Fury Like a Man Scorned by Enzo Ferrari
Ferruccio Lamborghini was a successful manufacturer of farm equipment and the owner of a Ferrari 250GT with chronic clutch problems. When he sought an audience with the imperious Enzo Ferrari, Ferrari told him to go back to driving tractors as he certainly didn’t have the requisite skill to drive a Ferrari.
As it turned out, Lamborghini solved the problem by installing one of his tractor clutches in the Ferrari. But he vowed to get back at Ferrari by producing his own high dollar GT car. He succeeded with the 350GT and 400GT, cars generally regarded as the equal of contemporary Ferraris.
A few years later, Henry Ford II also sought revenge against Ferrari who backed out of a deal to sell Ferrari to Ford. The GT40 was born to spank Ferrari in international sports car racing.
3. The Most Audacious Fraud, M’lord
By the late 1980s, English nobleman Lord Brockett had fallen on hard times. He had to rent out his manor home Brockett Hall for weddings and Bar Mitzvahs just to pay his bills. When this source of funds wasn’t enough, Brockett cut up and buried several rare and over-insured Ferraris. He reported them stolen and pocketed a hefty insurance settlement.
After his insurance fraud went undetected, Brockett got cocky. He sold a very convincing fake 250 SWB to an American software billionaire and promptly got caught for both this fraud and the earlier insurance scam. “Jailhouse Brockett” served a long prison sentence and earned himself a permanent place in the pantheon of villains in the old car world. He is now a reality television star. (Photo by David Westing/Getty Images)
4. The Disappearing Death Car
After appearing in just three films, promising star James Dean was killed near Salinas, California while driving to a race in his new Porsche 550 Spyder on September 30th, 1955.
Although the accident wasn’t Dean’s fault, that didn’t stop the Driver’s Ed establishment ghouls from exhibiting the death car along with road carnage scare flicks like “Blood on the Highway” and “Signal 30”. On one such tour, the remains of Dean’s 550 Spyder simply disappeared. Not so much as the chassis tag has ever turned up.
5. Bill Cosby’s Deadly Supersnake
Incensed that comedian Bill Cosby had an affinity for European sports cars, Carroll Shelby vowed to build him a twin-supercharged custom Cobra that would go over 200 mph – faster than any car Steve McQueen owned.
The car Shelby built for Cosby, with a reputed 900 bhp was downright scary. In his comedy routine, “200 MPH” Cosby described it this way: “The car was idling, I was in neutral, I hadn’t put my foot and the gas pedal, and already, the car was killing people.”
Ironically, after scaring the hell out of Cosby, it passed into the hands of Tony Maxey, who promptly lost control of the car and launched it into the Pacific Ocean, killing himself. (Photo by Barrett-Jackson)
6. Eurotrashed? Two Mystery Men Wreck One Enzo
In February of 2006, police in Malibu, California responded to reports of a Ferrari Enzo driving in excess of 150 mph on Highway 1. By the time the cops got there, the Enzo had hit a bump, become airborne, hit a telephone pole and literally broken itself in two.
A Swedish national named Bo Stefan Eriksson found inebriated at the scene claimed to be the passenger. The alleged driver whom he identified only as Dietrich, was nowhere to be found. A witness, and friend of Eriksson’s named Karney sailed out of the country on a yacht the night of the accident. A fully loaded Glock 9mm clip was found under the seat of the Ferrari.
Eriksson claimed to be an international anti-terrorism cop. In truth, he had a volunteer position with a division of the LA transit authority devoted to giving free rides to elderly shut-ins and he made up his own title as the “homeland security attaché”.
Eriksson had a shady past in Europe and the car itself had been illegally imported. A Scottish bank claimed that it had a lien on the car and was unaware that it had left the UK. As of this writing, Eriksson was jailed awaiting deportation to Either Sweden or Germany. No word on whether either of those countries will accept him.
7. The Greatest Barn Find That Never Was
Prior to last summer, Portugal was known mainly to US car people for the lovely Formula One venue at Estoril and perhaps port wine. That was until pictures started circulating on the Internet of a huge collection of dusty cars in a warehouse. Few of the cars were extremely valuable, but most were quite interesting and in sheer numbers and dustiness, very captivating.
So the story went, a New York couple bought their dream farm in Portugal and found a large steel building on the property. The door had been welded shut. When it was opened, the bounty of cars, left by the deceased previous owner of the property met their eyes.
A nice story, but complete nonsense. The property belonged to a dealer who had been stashing less important inventory in the building for years. The photos and the story were nothing more than a giant publicity stunt, as SCM writer Tom Cotter (“The Cobra in the Barn”) pointed out.
8. MGB Sales in Flat Spin
By the early 1970s, the MGB was coming under increasing pressure from newer and more competent sports cars. British Leyland thought they’d liven things up with a high-flying ad campaign. The cornerstone was a commercial that involved a skydiver pushing an MGB on a pallet out the back door of a freighter airplane and then jumping out after the car. Both their chutes would open and the skydiver would hop in and drive off.
All went according to plan, the skydiver pushed the car out and then jumped after it. The skydiver passed the MG and then opened his chute. Seconds later, the car shot past him heading for the ground at 250 mph, (about 2.5 times its normal top speed), trailing a streamer instead of a chute.
Looking like something out of a Wile E. Coyote cartoon, the MGB hit the ground with a thud and a puff of smoke. The second take went a bit better. You can see it by clicking here.
9. Eva Braun’s Fantasy Car
A story that ran in the May, 1974 issue of Motor Trend magazine described what was allegedly a special bodied Mercedes 540K build for Hitler’s mistress Eva Braun. Among the special features of the car were a special seven-speed gearbox and the ability to run up to 175 mph on gasoline or diesel at the flick of a switch. In place of the normal three-pointed star hood ornament, the car sported a swastika and where the coachbuilder’s plate should have been was a blank riveted piece of metal.
It was claimed that the car was built by an unnamed Swiss coachbuilder and that it was imported into the US as a farm implement to fool German customs inspectors. It allegedly arrived in the US with two of Braun’s guards’ Schmeisser machine guns in the trunk.
An engaging story, but utter nonsense. Braun never owned a special-bodied Mercedes, and unlike his pal Mussolini, Hitler was no car guy. He was a dour vegetarian who cared little for automotive bling. His mistress Braun was a simpleton focused only on her beloved Fuehrer. The whole thing was reportedly a publicity stunt. The whereabouts of the car are unknown. (Photos copyright Motor Trend, 1974)
10. The Buried Belvedere
The Tulsarama! festival of 1957 featured one of the nuttiest promotions of all time. A 1957 Plymouth Belvedere was buried under the law of the Tulsa, Oklahoma courthouse and the person (or his heir) who came closest to guessing the 2007 population of Tulsa could park the nuclear powered flying car that we’d all be driving and motor off in the perfectly preserved 1957 Plymouth when it was unearthed in 2007.
The Belvedere was chosen because it represented “the kind of lasting appeal that was bound to be in style in the twenty-first century”. As it turned out, Plymouth itself was gone by 2007 and very little was left of the buried car that resembled a Plymouth. Over the years, its concrete bunker cracked and the car was drowned by the sprinkler system for the courthouse lawn. Couldn’t they have just locked it in a garage in Bartlesville?
11. The Weirdest Collector Car
Bruce Baldwin Mohs was the owner of the Mohs Seaplane Company of Madison, WI. Clearly the man’s day job as a seaplane manufacturer was not weird enough. And since there were apparently no ornithopter or harpsichord manufacturing companies on the market, Mohs decided to ensure his legacy by building a limited-production automobile whose weirdness remains unsurpassed to this day.
The Mohs Ostentatienne cost $19,600 in 1967—about $124,000 in today’s money. It was built on a modified International Harvester chassis and featured a rear-door design because the giant safety steel side beams prevented it from having doors on the side. It resembled the illicit offspring of a Kaiser Manhattan and a 1970s blaxploitation film pimpmobile.
Factory options included an oriental rug, nitrogen-filled tires, and a refrigerator. It is unclear how many Ostentatiennes were sold. They rarely turn up at collector car auctions, but around $28,000 seems to be all the money for one today.
12. Deadman’s Curve Nearly Claims its Songwriter
Jan and Dean had a string of hits in the late 1950 and early ’60s during the heyday of the California surf music craze. 1964’s “Deadman’s Curve” was their most famous hit, and it chronicled the story of two L.A. drag racers. The ill-fated protagonist drove a Corvette and his challenger drove an XKE.
Ironically, in 1966, near the intersection of Whittier and Sunset in L.A., (a short distance from the reputed Deadman’s Curve), Jan Berry, the writer of the song, was involved in a near-fatal accident in a Corvette—no word on whether an XKE had pulled up at the light.
13. The Lancia Doria
One of the legends of the Andrea Doria, the Italian passenger liner that sank on July 25, 1956, is that it went down with about 20 Lancia Aurelia B24 Spiders in the cargo hold. SCM’s Donald Osborne debunked this myth in the December issue of SCM by pointing out that the B24 Spiders were all built from 1954 to ’55, and it is unlikely they would have been in-transit to the U.S. in 1956.
More likely, the cars were Lancia B24S convertibles, but the exact number on the Doria is unknown; however, Lancia was known to use Italian Lines ships to send cars to the U.S. One thing that is a certainty, however, the Chrysler Norseman—a Ghia-built concept car—is certainly dissolving in the hold of the Doria at the bottom of the Atlantic, as Ghia was shipping it to New York on the ill-fated liner. (Photo by Bob Wendlinger, Daily Mirror)
14. The Weirdest Auto Accessory
The horse didn’t go out as the primary mode of transport without a fight. Legislators deemed the mayhem and horse bothering potentially caused by early automobiles too frightening to contemplate.
The obvious solution? Fool the dumb equines into thinking that a horseless carriage was simply a strange looking horse with serious flatulence issues. Thus the “Horsey Horseless” was born—literally a stuffed horse head attached to the front of the automobile. Makers even suggested using the horse head as an extra fuel tank, proving that the Pinto was not the first explosive pony.
15. Classic Porsches vs. the 3:10 to Yuma
The photos from this occurrence were known to have caused at least several cases of angina and loss of consciousness in Porsche Club of America members around the country. Porsche nuts with weak constitutions should read no further.
At 3:45 pm on Sunday, September 12, 2004, a locomotive traveling at 43 mph and pulling nearly 100 freight cars slammed into an automobile transport truck that had gotten high-centered on the tracks. Five classic Porsche 356s were totaled, including a Speedster with a rare factory hard top, chrome Rudge knockoff wheels, and $175,000 in fresh restoration receipts.
When asked how he had gotten himself into the predicament, the truck driver replied that he got lost looking for a shortcut to the freeway. He’s now a paid spokesman for Magellan GPS.
16. The Most Bizarre Barnfind Story
Probably the most desirable of all Carroll Shelby’s creations was the Cobra Daytona coupe race car. Designed by Pete Brock, only six of the slippery 289 coupes were built. CSX2287, the first coupe, was purchased as an obsolete race car by a maker of slot car kits.
The Daytona coupe soon passed to music producer Phil Spector, who even in his twenties was showing signs of his later very weird behavior. He painted on the car’s side a few nutty and historically inaccurate “facts” about the car (like “winner, 33 grand prix and land speed record holder”) and drove it around L.A. for a while.
Allegedly, Spector sold the car to his property manager, George Brand, for $1,000. Brand’s daughter Donna O’Hara offered to store the car in her L.A.-area storage unit. She drove it for a while with her husband, but by 1971, the car was consigned to the storage locker for good while O’Hara sank into mental illness.
On October 22, 2000, police found Donna O’Hara burned over 98% of her body. She had apparently doused herself and her two pet rabbits with gasoline and found a source of ignition. O’Hara lasted a day in the hospital before expiring.
Upon O’Hara’s death, at least three people asserted ownership of the car, including O’Hara’s mother, Phil Spector, and the collector who purchased the car, (an SCMer from Pennsylvania). A settlement was subsequently reached—with Spector represented by O.J. mouthpiece Robert Shapiro—and the bizarre saga of CSX2287 finally came to an end. (Photo from www.nvsaac.com)
17. Heiress Buried in Ferrari
Sandra Ilene West was the heir to a Texas oil, cattle, and mineral fortune left to her by her late husband. Compared to Ms. West, Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan were rank amateurs.
Eventually, her lifestyle caught up with her at the ripe old age of 37. Ms. West had been an amateur Egyptologist with a pharaoh fixation, and her final wish was to be buried in a lace negligee “in a comfy reclining position” beside her husband in a San Antonio cemetery. In her favorite Ferrari Daytona Spyder.
She almost got her wish, too, but her brother-in-law decided the Daytona was too valuable, and as she really wouldn’t notice the difference, he had her interred instead in a 250 GTE she’d wrecked the week before. Nobody’s sure what became of the Daytona. (Photo from Christie’s Auctions, 1979)
18. Jay Leno Rescues Not One, But Two Duesenbergs From Long-Term Lockup
“Tonight Show” host Jay Leno has a reputation as a hands-on, genuine car guy. In 2004, following up on stories and rumors, Leno found a Duesenberg Model X sedan that had been stored since 1947 in a garage just several miles from his L.A. home.
A year later, following up on similar rumors about an untouched Duesenberg in a Manhattan parking garage, Leno found a Duesenberg town car that had been laid up since the 1950s. And they say lightening never strikes twice. (Photo from John Lamm)
19. Bond Car Stolen
In the 007 series of films, James Bond has bested the likes of Ernst Stavro Blofeld, Auric Goldfinger, and Dr. No, only to be undone in 1997 by a common car thief. A Florida real estate developer owned and stored one of the on-screen cars from Thunderball, a Birch Silver Aston Martin DB5 with several non-factory accessories.
One night in June of 1997, the security system in a Boca Raton aircraft hangar where the car was stored was disabled and the car simply disappeared. In spite of rumors and numerous theories as to the car’s whereabouts, it hasn’t been seen since. (Photo from Reuters)
20. Lost Ed “Big Daddy” Roth Car Shows Up in Front of Tijuana Adult Book Store
Looking not unlike a person who had been kidnapped, drugged, beaten, and left for dead in Tijuana, Ed Roth’s iconic “Orbitron” spaceship-style dragster was recently found by tourists in front of a Tijuana adult bookstore.
The long-missing 1964 show car had been used as a carnival attraction and later a dumpster for the aforementioned bookstore. Purchased by an individual who recognized it as the long lost Orbitron, the car is presently being restored to its original bubble-topped glory.