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German courts rule on status of rare Mercedes-Benz 500K roadster

Fri, 01 Jun 2012

The saga of a rare 1935 Mercedes-Benz 500K roadster has taken yet another intriguing turn. German courts have ruled that the vehicle is the rightful property of German industrialist Hans Prym's grandchildren because it was illegally seized from Prym in 1945.

Frans van Haren can't be too happy with the ruling. The Dutch businessman and vintage-automobile enthusiast paid $3.76 million for the car at the 2011 RM Monterey auction, only to have it impounded in March when he attempted to exhibit it at the Techno Classica Essen. He now stands to lose both the car and the millions he spent on it.

The top-of-the line 500K, one of only 342 built (of which 29 were roadsters), was purchased new by wealthy German industrialist Hans “The Zipper King” Prym. Whether obtained legitimately or claimed as war loot, the car left Prym's possession in 1945 while he served a war-related prison sentence.

The car was then shipped to the United States, where it was owned by a series of collectors. It even spent time in the auto collection of the Imperial Palace casino in Las Vegas for a while before turning up for auction last year at Pebble Beach.

The $3,767,500 that van Haren forked over for the Benz was below the $4 million to $5 million preauction estimate published by RM, but considering the trouble that ensued, it's hard to call the purchase a bargain.

By bringing the car to Essen, Haren unwittingly exposed his magnificent Mercedes--back in its home country for the first time in nearly seven decades--to immediate seizure (or repatriation, depending on one's perspective) by German authorities. German law dictates that the 30-year statute of limitations that would normally make the vehicle immune to seizure is only in effect while it is physically in the country. Since the car spent its postwar years in the United States, the 30-year period began only when the car was returned to Germany. Upon its return it became eligible for impound.

There's no word on whether Haren plans to contest the court ruling or whether he has any grounds to do so.

We'll keep you up to date on any developments as the case continues.

By Graham Kozak