$10,000,000 Talbot Lago recovered…

Our audio/video editor, Dawn Ostland, brought me an interesting tidbit that I’d totally missed.  The tale reads like a crime story fabricated for TV, with easily identifiable good guys and bad, international chases across a number of countries, and ultimately, the rightful return of a $10,000,000 classic sports car.

Two decades ago, Milwaukee, Wisconsin served as the location for one of the largest single car heists in history.  Gone overnight was a 1938 Talbot Lago ‘Goutte D Eau ( translates Teardrop), the straight 6 cylinder, 140 HP car, is now valued at ten million dollars.

The property of millionaire Roy Leiske, the ultra-rare French sports car was stolen in March of 2001 from a factory where the car was under restoration. One of only 16 cars produced, the car simply disappeared.

At owner Leiske’s death in 2005, the missing Talbot was bequeathed to his cousin, Richard Mueller, who sold a percentage of the phantom vehicle to Florida car collector, Joseph Ford lll, …and the hunt was on.

Arrested in Switzerland where he escaped to after ducking out on house arrest in Italy, the thief, one Christopher Gardner (not to be confused with my friend, THE Christopher Gardner of Chicago, author of critically acclaimed “Pursuit of Happyness”, Entrepreneur, Speaker and Philanthropist), the bad boy Gardner is fighting extradition to the United States.

The story continues from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

In 2015, an Illinois dental company founder Rick Workman purchased the car from Christopher Gardner, an American living in Switzerland. The asking price? $7.6 million, with $6.8 million going directly to Gardner.

Gardner shipped the car from Switzerland to Chicago. Workman’s holding company — TL90108 LLC, named for the car’s serial number — tried to register it in Illinois, triggering a hit on a stolen vehicle report.

A federal grand jury in Milwaukee indicted Gardner this past May (2021) on four counts of wire fraud and one count of transporting a stolen car in foreign commerce. According to the indictment, Gardner stole the Talbot Lago from the Milwaukee factory, stored it until mid-2005 and forged documents showing he was the legal owner. He shipped the car to Switzerland in 2006 and restored it in France before selling it to Workman, falsely representing to Workman that he was the legal owner.

Workman’s attorney, Larry Heftman, said Workman bought the car in good faith and paid a fair price.

Mueller and Ford demanded TL90108 return the car to them and sued the company in 2017 when the company refused to hand it over.

Then-Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Rebecca Dallet, now a Wisconsin Supreme Court justice, dismissed the case, finding a six-year statute of limitations on such action expired in 2007 and the clock didn’t restart when the company acquired the car.

A state appeals court reversed Dallet. The company subsequently asked the state Supreme Court to reinstate her ruling.

The court upheld the appellate ruling, finding unanimously that Mueller and Ford aren’t time-barred from trying to recover the car because the clock started when TL90108 acquired it in 2015. Therefore their lawsuit was filed within the six-year window, the court found.

Dallet didn’t participate in the ruling.

Mueller’s attorney, Matthew Fisher, said the court got the ruling 100% correct. Ford, who is representing himself, said he was pleased with the decision.

Heftman said Workman disagrees with the ruling but declined further comment, saying the lawsuit is still pending.

Online court records didn’t list an attorney for Gardner.

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About the Author: Dave Miller

Dave Miller drives the fastest, coolest, sexiest cars on the planet. He travels the world uncovering the hidden gems in luxury transportation, meeting the owners, and connecting with extraordinary car enthusiasts. Dave is a member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association and writes for various publications. In addition to DriveWithDave.com, you can follow Dave's adventures via Drive With Dave Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and tune into the Drive with Dave Podcast via iTunes, Stitcher or Soundcloud.

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