Victoria’s Secret owner finally gets his $18.3 million Ferrari

The 'Fearsome Forty-Nine' was the last of the 1954 375 Plus Ferraris and subject of a long legal dispute | Bonhams 2014 photo
The ‘Fearsome Forty-Nine’ was the last of the 1954 375 Plus Ferraris and subject of a long legal dispute | Bonhams 2014 photo

The bidder who paid then-record $18.3 million at a Bonhams auction two years ago finally has won the right to possess his 1954 Ferrari 375 Plus, a car known as the “Fearsome Four-Nine.”

The car, nicknamed because of its 4.9-liter V12 engine, was raced by the likes of Umberto Maglioli, Jose Froilan Gonzalez, Jim Kimberly and Troy Ruttman and at one time led the 24 Hours of Le Mans. But it had fallen into disrepair after catching fire during a race until being restored decades later by former Ferrari racer Jacques Swaters and his Ecurie Francorchamps team.

However, after the bidding ended at Bonhams Goodwood Festival of Speed sale in 2014, the court battle over the car resumed. The car’s ownership had been in dispute but appeared to have been cleared before the sale. When the ownership battle resumed, the high bidder, Victoria’s Secret owner Les Wexner, demanded his money back.

Earlier this week, the Daily Mail newspaper in England reported that the London High Court finally resolved the legal issues and the car is, indeed, Wexner’s and can join his collection of Ferraris in Ohio.

“The resolution of the litigation, including the transfer of valid Ohio title and Bonhams’ contribution to Copley’s costs (Copley Motorcars, a classic car dealership in Massachusetts, acted at Wexner’s agent in the transaction), finally enables the completion of the sale of the car with the disputes to title now definitively resolved,” the newspaper quoted a joint statement from Bonhams and Wexner’s lawyers.

According to the newspaper, American Karl Kleve had paid $2,500 for the burned-out remains of the Fearsome Forty-Nine in 1958. However, the car was stolen in the 1980s and was shipped to Belgium, where it was seized by local authorities. Swaters ended up with the car and reportedly paid Kleve $625,000 to buy the Ferrari, which he already restored before learning of any dispute in its ownership.

Kleve died in 2003 and Swaters in 2010, and their heirs went to court over the car’s ownership.

5 thoughts on “Victoria’s Secret owner finally gets his $18.3 million Ferrari”

  1. So did Karl Kleve only have a bill of sale for the car? He never registered it in his name and then someone sold the car? Or what – we want the dirt on this interesting story. All the fact for interesting reading or links to some sort of court docs… Please!


  2. Yes, it would be interesting to hear how this all came about, and how it was resolved. As a former Ferrari dealer (in the 70s), I would guess it has “reality-show potential”. Cheers, Elkhunter

  3. An entire book could be written about this saga. The car was owned by Kleve (a real character, but that’s another story) rotting in a field of junked cars on the west side of Cincinnati with a bush growing through the engine bay. It was stolen and eventually found its way to Belgium. It’s amazing that it is now back in Ohio!

  4. It was not in a field, it was in a heavily wooded segment of the property that was inaccessible being cut off because of highways having been built through the property and it was not a bush it was a tree of substantial size growing up through the middle of the engine compartment. I heard there was an old wooden boat on the property with a Ferrari engine in it where the motor probably went as I heard from the story.

  5. I had a friend, who is now deceased, that had the whole saga written down and I believe he even gave testimony in the legal proceedings. I’ll check, but I think another friend has the records and it would indeed make a great book and/or movie. Karl Kleve was a Howard Hughes kind of character and even worked on the Manhatten Project. He used to come to our concours in Ault Park dressed like a hobo with unkept hair and a beard using a golf putter as a cane. The 375 was stolen out of the field or woods and a tree had to be cut out of the engine bay. It probably took days to steal it as other rotting cars had to be winched out of the way in order to get the 4.9 out. Karl had a lot of property on the west side of Cincinnati and several of his warehouses were condemned. A group of local auto enthusiasts tried to rescue what they could including the uniquely shaped gas tank from the 375. Karl also had a couple of Bugatti Royale engines that had never been put in cars but were utilized to power self propelled railroad cars in France. The 375 Plus was well known locally and there is no question that it was stolen and that Jacques Swaters was probably well aware of this fact too. Again, an entire book could be written about Karl Kleve, the man, and his famous Ferrari.

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