Buying a classic car is always a risk. Pretty paintwork and bright chrome can hide a multitude of sins, including a chequered past. But when the car in question has been purchased from RM Auctions at a cost of $3.76million, you’d be forgiven for expecting everything to be above board.
The 1935 Mercedes-Benz 500k Roadster in question was purchased by Dutch car collector Frans van Haren in August 2011 at RM’s Monterey auction, and following the purchase of the car he shipped it to Germany to take a starring role in the 2012 Techno Classica Essen. While on display, German Police and bailiffs entered the show hall to seize the prized Mercedes, completely without warning, from a shocked Frans van Haren.
It transpires that the history of the car has been the subject of much dispute over the years, with the heirs to the first owner Hans Freidrich Prym laying claim to ownership of the car.
It is alleged that wartime industrialist Prym had the car stolen from him by the US Army in 1945, and did not sell it to a US soldier as was originally thought. The Prym Group is the oldest family-owned company in Germany, and it is believed that this was the first time since the Second World War that the car had returned to German soil to allow the dispute to be settled.
Prior to its sale in August 2011, RM Auctions described the history of the car in some detail up until its sale to Prym in 1935, going on to say: “Its interim history is unknown at this time.”
It is probable that Frans van Haren had little idea of the cars nefarious past, though the fact that it sold for considerably under its $4-5million estimate suggests that the ownership dispute may have impacted on the final sale price.
It’s likely to be too late to save Frans van Haren from a costly legal battle, but it provides a timely warning about buying a car with an unknown past, no matter how valuable the vehicle or rich the apparent provenance.