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?

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