A rare 1938 Talbot Lago T150 C teardrop coupe purchased for $7 million is at the center of an U.S. court battle after it was learned the car had been stolen in 2001.
The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported that the car was stolen from a Milwaukee business when it was owned by Roy Leiske, an elderly man who wanted to restore the disassembled vehicle to its former glory.
The thieves apparently knew what they were doing. Leiske locked up his Monarch Plastic Product factory one night and returned the next day to find the car — along with parts and paperwork that had been hidden in various parts of the building — gone. There were no signs of forced entry and someone had cut Leiske’s home phone line.
Leiske originally asked the police to not spread the word about the car that he had bought for $10,000 in 1967. Instead, he first turned to the relatively small world of Talbot Lago owners to ask if anyone had seen it. When that failed, law enforcement launched a full investigation.
Leiske passed away in 2005 without any word about the car.
News of the missing Talbot Lago was hard to come by until after Leiske’s death. His cousin, Richard “Skip” Mueller — to whom Leiske left his entire estate, including the car — was contacted by Joseph L. Ford, an architect and lawyer who helps track down rare vehicles that have been stolen.
“I told (Mueller) what I do, recovering stolen niche cars, what I know, and that it’s a crap shoot,” Ford told the newspaper. “We’re going to need to chase international car thieves around Europe, and it could be life and death because these guys are very serious.”
Two years ago, they got a break in the case. A company tried to register the now-restored Talbot Lago in Illinois. Lieske had convinced officials to keep the car in a national database of stolen cars for longer than the typical 10-year limit.
Dental-company founder and respected classic car owner Rick Workman had purchased the car from a European seller in what he believed to be a legitimate deal, but Mueller and Ford filed a suit demanding the Talbot Lago be returned.
Thus, a complex court battle began. The case was originally dismissed after a Milwaukee Circuit Court judge ruled the suit was filed too late under state statues. However, that ruling was overturned by the state Court of Appeals, which sided with Ford’s argument that the right to sue began when Workman refused to turn over the car and said their is no legal precedent for such a case.
“As the parties and the trial court acknowledged, no existing case addresses a fact pattern like this one,” the opinion read.
But the case has more twists and questions marks.
When it was first located, the Talbot Lago was at Paul Russell and Co., a high-end restoration shop in Massachusetts with a sterling reputation for honest work. It was unknown if Russell helped broker the recent sales deal, and he declined to comment on both the car and his role in it returning to the country.
His company is holding the car until the lawsuit is sorted out.
It also appeared that Mueller may have inadvertently helped export the Talbot Lago. About a year after Leiske died, Mueller was approached by a man who wanted to buy a different Talbot Lago frame and body left in Leiske’s estate.
His signature was on the export paperwork, which was likely forged.
“This guy came to get my name on something, and sure enough, my signature showed up later,” Mueller said.
The questions and stories around this Talbot Lago undoubtedly will continue to circle well after the court case wraps up, whenever that may be. It was expected to be heard by the Wisconsin Supreme Court, though there was no timeline for that to begin.