Billionaire CEO of Victoria's Secret sues over $18.3 million Ferrari sale

1954 Ferrari 375-Plus

With the prices for classic cars in general and antique Ferraris in particular climbing to new records every year, legal battles over who owns what become ever more common. And this week, the Ferrari that lays claim to the title of the world's most expensive stolen car spawned yet another lawsuit, months after a high-profile auction that saw it sold for $18.3 million to the Ohio billionaire who runs Victoria's Secret.

Les Wexner, 77, has long been a collector of classic Ferraris, owning more than a dozen from the brand's early racing years thanks to his success founding The Limited and other stores. And he's exactly the type of buyer Bonhams had in mind last June when it put this car up for sale, the 1954 Ferrari 375-Plus, one of six the Italian company built to go racing in that era and one of only four that still exist. It won a Formula 1 race at Silverstone, led at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and generally raced like a banshee for much of the '50s, before it was bought and parked by Cincinnati resident Karl Kleve, after it caught fire in 1958.

1954 Ferrari 375-Plus V-12
1954 Ferrari 375-Plus V-12

This is where the story starts to twist like the Nürburgring. Kleve apparently kept the Ferrari outside, sold the V-12 engine to a GM engineer and secreted away parts in several places around Ohio — to the point where a tree even grew through the engine bay. Around 1989, the Ferrari was stolen and shipped to Belgium, where it came into the possession of racer/Ferrari dealer Jacques Swaters, who oversaw a complete restoration.

The car was even on display in Ferrari's factory museum in Maranello for a few years before the Kleve clan discovered it was missing. That set off a legal battle over ownership that continues to this day — one that Wexner now claims he was mislead about.

The auction of the Ferrari was the result of an Ohio court order in 2013, which was supposed to settle claims between Kleve, Swaters and others who owned parts of the vehicle, with the proceeds split among them. Bonhams, which made the sale of the Ferrari a keynote of its Goodwood auction, advertised that the car was ready to sell with "all relevant litigation settled."

Wexner has now filed suit in a British court claiming Bonhams made "false representations" about the legal status of the Ferrari — a charge Bonhams says is without merit — and asking for the sale to be cancelled. The supposed settlement in Ohio has spawned a wave of fresh claims, some of which may even hinge on what the state motor vehicle deparment has released a title. It could be another few years before the question of who owns this Ferrari is resolved — but at least the engine bay is free of trees.