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Cunningham Corvette battle heads to courts

Wed, 19 Sep 2012

UPDATED: The battle over ownership of one of the 1960 Chevrolet Corvettes raced at that year's 24 Hours of Le Mans by Briggs Cunningham has moved to the courts in Pennsylvania.

The filings—in Cumberland County Court and U.S. District Court in Harrisburg—provide several details about the discovery and ownership of the long-lost car, including the sale price: $75,000.

The car, which wore No. 1, was sold for the aforementioned amount by Pamela Carr of Florida to Lance Miller, co-owner of Carlisle Events in Carlisle, Pa. Miller sold the car days later for the same amount to Kevin Mackay, noted Corvette restorer and owner of Corvette Repair Inc. in Valley Stream, N.Y.

The 1960 Corvette, which was restored to street trim after the race and sold, had been missing for nearly 30 years. It was one of three Corvettes taken to the 1960 Le Mans race by wealthy enthusiast Cunningham, with unofficial but substantial support from General Motors. The other two Corvettes from that race have been found and restored to race trim. Collectors value those cars at $1 million or more.

Florida man: I have the title

The first hearing is scheduled for Sept. 26 in U.S. District Court. In this case, Dan Mathis Jr. of Tampa, Fla., is asking the court to seize the car and give it to him while questions over ownership are decided.

In his filing, Mathis includes a Florida title for the car, issued on Aug. 17, one week before the car was set to be shown publicly at Miller's Corvettes at Carlisle show. In the court document, Mathis claims the car was stolen from his father “in the late 1970s.”

Mathis' lawsuit, filed Sept. 7, names Miller, his mother, his business partners, Mackay, Carlisle Events and the Borough of Carlisle as defendants. Mathis claims that Carlisle's police department is helping hide the car, which was shown at a private event in Carlisle on Aug. 23, but was pulled from the Corvette show. Mathis traveled to the Corvette show with his title and enlisted the police to help him take possession. He claims the police originally took the car but now say there is no report and that the car's whereabouts are unknown.

Mackay: Searching for years

Ten days earlier, Miller and Mackay sued Mathis; Florida resident Jerry Moore, who is said to have owned the disputed Corvette in the early 1970s; and a Maryland man, Domenico Idoni, who is said to have formed a partnership with Mathis. An Internet search shows Idoni to be a collector of cars and automobilia.

The lawsuit seeks to have Mackay declared owner of the car, along with unspecified monetary damages for disparagement, defamation and interference with business.

That suit was filed four days after the Corvette's scheduled unveiling at the Carlisle show was canceled at the last minute. At that time, Miller said the car was pulled for security reasons by the owner, who Miller said wanted to remain anonymous.

But the lawsuit says Mackay bought the car from Miller on July 23, three days after Miller bought it from Pamela Carr of St. Petersburg, Fla. The car had been stored in a warehouse filled with items collected by Carr's husband, retired Florida judge Richard Carr, who died in 2010.

Carr's son, Rick, says he had seen and moved the Corvette around the warehouse for years. But earlier this year he discovered that the vehicle identification numbers on the car's frame and steering column matched. The car's vehicle identification number was searched on the Internet, which led Carr to a Web site run by Cunningham historian Larry Berman, who put Carr in touch with Lance Miller.

According to the Cumberland County lawsuit, Mackay hired a private investigator in the early 1990s to help track down the Cunningham Corvettes. The investigator obtained the VINs from the race organizers. Those numbers helped Mackay find and restore car No. 3 in 2000 for Corvette enthusiast Chip Miller, Lance Miller's father. Miller's effort to find and restore car No. 3 was documented in a movie, The Quest. Mackay also gave Miller the VIN for car No. 1.

Chip Miller died in 2004. According to Berman, it was Miller's dying wish that Mackay get car No. 1 if it was ever found—a wish his son says he honored.

Car No. 2 was found and restored, and is owned by California car collector Bruce Meyer.

According to the lawsuit, car No. 1 was last titled in 1974 in Florida by Moore. The lawsuit says Mackay was never able to locate or get in contact with Moore over several years. It also notes that the car does not show up as reported stolen in state and national databases.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to note that the car was sold by Pamela Carr, the widow of Richard Carr, to Lance Miller. Also, the car was not hidden in the warehouse. But the identification numbers were not checked on the Internet until earlier this year

By Dale Jewett