RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
We're going to hear now about a fast car with a complicated history. A judge in Ohio could rule, as early as today, on whether a European collector has the rights to this rare race car, or whether it belongs to a Cincinnati woman whose father first bought it in the 1950s.
Ann Thompson, of member station WVXU, reports.
ANN THOMPSON: This is a story about just who owns an old Ferrari sports car that could be worth as much as $15 million. Is it the famed Belgium race car driver and collector Jacques Swaters, or the daughter of Cincinnati collector Karl Kleve?
Right now, Swaters has possession of the car in Italy, and Kleve's family has the title and spare parts to it in Cincinnati.
Eighty-four-year-old Swaters, reached in Belgium, says the car looks great now, after he restored it from a burned-out shell.
Mr. JACQUES SWATERS (Race car driver, collector): Oh, I've done a terrific job on the car. We've been working for many, many years to restore the car.
THOMPSON: The company only made six of them, and just four of them are thought to exist. In its time, the 1954 Ferrari 375 Plus was the fastest car on the track. It's now been restored and is a shiny, red, one-seat convertible with lots of chrome.
Thats certainly different than how Kristi Kleve Lawson remembers it. Karl Kleve's daughter recalls the car when it was stored outdoors in this Cincinnati lot with a hundred other old cars.
Ms. KRISTI KLEVE LAWSON: So the Ferrari sat about here, where we're standing, towards the rear of the lot - right back here, up against the incline here, where there's now a retaining wall behind these two office buildings that theyve put in.
THOMPSON: Lawson says her dad knew the race car was valuable when he bought it in 1958 for $2,500.
Ms. LAWSON: He collected Duesenbergs; he collected Rolls-Royces. I know that he had at least a dozen Rolls-Royces.
THOMPSON: In 1988, Kleve discovered his Ferrari had been stolen. Two Cincinnati men were later convicted in Georgia of the crime, but the car had disappeared. Lawson says her dad searched for it for years, eventually tracking it down in Belgium.
This is where the case gets a little more complicated. Lawson says Interpol got involved and convinced Belgium authorities that the car was stolen, but says it was eventually released to Jacques Swaters.
But Swaters tells a different story. He says in 1990, a trader sold it to him for $100,000.
Mr. SWATERS: I was very interested because it was a very famous car. And then a little later, I learned that the car had been stolen. And so I charged a lawyer to negotiate with the owner to make a settlement.
THOMPSON: Swaters argues that he paid Karl Kleve more than $600,000 for the car, and that Kleve cashed the check. Kleve's daughter says her father never received any money, and if Swaters has a canceled check, her dad's signature must have been forged. She says finding the car became an obsession for him.
Ms. LAWSON: This was his biggest project. By the time he passed away, he said this was the greatest auto theft that had ever occurred.
THOMPSON: Lawson's attorney, Daniel Randolph, says Swaters' lawsuit should be dismissed.
Mr. DANIEL RANDOLPH (Attorney): We think it's not only unfair; we think it's a case of a person who's alleged to have millions and millions of dollars, taking an anvil and trying to go after a Hamilton County resident. Kristi works two jobs in order to help make her family just continue to function as a family.
THOMPSON: The case is now in the hands of Cincinnati Judge Norbert Nadel. He could rule as early as today on whether the statute of limitations has run out in the case, and if this very famous and valuable car must be returned to Ohio.
For NPR News, I'm Ann Thompson in Cincinnati.
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