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by Adam Lynton
Buying a car with undocumented history can be a risky, and in cases like this, expensive gamble.
Dutch car collector Frans van Haren wasn't pleased when his ultra-rare 1937 Mercedes 500 K Roadster, bought at an RM Auctions event last year for $3.767 million, was seized by German police while it was on display at the Techno Classica car show in Essen, Germany. And he'll be even less impressed with a German's court ruling on the issue of the car's provenance that the rare vintage Mercedes was a "spoil of war," illegally liberated from Germany.
As a result, the descendants of the original owner now have a legitimate claim to the car's ownership. The car was seized following a claim made to the police by a custodian acting on behalf of the family of German industrialist Hans Friedrich Prym, the car's first owner. Prym's heirs believe the rare 500 K - only 392 were made, just 29 of which were bodied as roadsters - was stolen, and not sold to an American soldier in 1945 as is believed. With the car returning to the country where the alleged crime took place, this is the first time police were able to seize the car under court order.
Having resolved the longstanding issue over the car's provenance, the German courts are yet to decide what to do next with the car, but the Pyrm family's attorney, who will now file suit for it to be returned, has confidence it will be following the court's ruling. "We think the decision is right and it's an important step toward restitution. I am extraordinarily happy for the Pyrm family." As for the rare vintage car's current owner Frans van Haren, he will simply be left to rue the day he spent almost $3.8million on a car that came with undocumented history prior to 1970. An expensive lesson learned.