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Discovery of Mercedes Gullwing

Mythical SuperFinds, by Martin Emmison

First published in Sports Car Market, June 2005

What are the chances of there being two basket-case Gullwings in Indonesia, with consecutive chassis numbers?

Say you’ve just come into some extra cash. Well, we’ve found the perfect way to spend all that money – buying collector cars from Indonesia.

Of course, just like other internet scams, this one is going to benefit someone – it just won’t be you.

 

The Setup

A client called me one recent morning, asking if he should send money for a car he had found on the internet and could we secure it for him by a rapid contract? It was a Mercedes Benz 300SL Gullwing, complete, but in need of a full restoration.

Mercedes Benz Gullwing

 Above: Image from SuperFinds

The car was said to have been stored in a container for the last 40 years, and was offered for sale at $45,000 by a man named Richard Siregard, in the town of Medan, Indonesia. The same car was also advertised on the website motorcities.com, with chassis and engine number added (chassis 1980406500091, engine 1989806500099), except there the asking price was $70,000.

At first, it sounded as if someone somewhere was just trying to make a fast buck, flipping the car before they’d actually bought it.

My man had been assured by phone that his offer of $30,000 had been accepted, and all he had to do was send a $15,000 deposit and the car would be held for him. In addition to photos of the car, the seller had sent e-mail images of the documents, which appeared to be Indonesian registration papers that quoted the same chassis and engine numbers. The seller had even supplied the contact details for his lawyer in the same northern town of Medan, a man named R. Sartana Limbong.

 

Avoiding The Hook

Beware parting with any money, I advised my client, until you have seen the car in the metal, have checked that the seller owns it free and clear and can pass good title, and that you can export it from Indonesia without major problems. Then I picked up the phone and called the seller’s attorney.

It was a very muffled connection and his English was not good, but his message was clear: the money must be sent to the bank account as already advised. I told him that by the terms of our contract the $15,000 would be held in an escrow account in London, earmarked for this purchase, until our buyer had inspected the car and verified the seller’s title. But that was no good, Limbong said, your client must send the money first.

After our conversation, I sent him a short contract, which provided for money to be held in London pending verification of the details. That email was clearly received, but to date, three months later, there has been no reply.

 

Detective Work

It was becoming apparent that this was a big-time con, so I put in a call to my favourite 300SL specialist, to check that the quoted chassis and engine numbers tallied, and ask whether he knew anything about a car with these numbers in Indonesia. He wasn’t available, so I then tried to check that Limbong was indeed a lawyer practising in Indonesia, but had no success there either.

So my client and I did some more research on the internet. We found freelancesecurity.com, a website for locating private investigators and detectives, which indicated that my man was not the first person to have had an offer accepted for a 300SL Gullwing located in Indonesia.

We learned that a Belgian man had offered to buy what sounded like the same car from someone named Ivonne Patricia in Pekan Baru. He had sent $15,000 to Patricia’s bank account and $3,300 to the account of a Bhertrand Kevin Panggabean, trading as Singapore Airborne Limited, who had emailed to confirm that he held the car ready for shipment.

As you might guess, the Belgian’s money was gone, but no 300SL had appeared.

 

Mercedes 300 SL

 Above: Image from SuperFinds

Forged Documents?

The Belgian had posted images of the 300SL’s Indonesian registration documents on the website. He, like my client, had received them by email from the seller. They show Ivonne Patricia’s details, and the chassis and engine numbers for a 300SL almost identical to those typed on the similar document that was emailed to my client, with only the final digit being different.

What are the chances of there being two basket case Gullwings in Indonesia, having consecutive chassis numbers?

It looked as if someone was forging Indonesian registration documents as part of an advance payment fraud, so my client pulled the plug on his would-be deal, less than 12 hours after he first called me. The next day my Gullwing specialist returned my call and confirmed what we had already learned. ‘Don’t touch it,’ he said immediately. ‘It is a well-known scam.’

 

A Larger Hoax

I wrote to the Belgian who had been conned, in the hope that he could fill in more details. A reply came from a friend of his who had been trying in vain to recover the money or secure the Gullwing – if it even existed.

The friend told me that he had been contacted by an American who had also been investigating cars that were advertised on the internet as being located in Southeast Asia. His research indicated that the shipping company, Singapore Airborne Limited, did not exist as a legitimate freight forwarder.

I was also directed to a number of other Indonesian cars offered on the internet at very keen prices, all of which were shown in photographs that certainly looked like they were taken elsewhere, quite possibly in the United States. These included two E-types, some Big Healeys, two Aston DB6s and a couple of Ferraris, among others.

 

It’s clear these con artists are going to keep at it until they’re either caught or the entire collector car community gets wise to their scheme. And let us stress the old Latin maxim caveat emptor - let the buyer beware.

While the vast majority of those who trade in the collector car world are upstanding individuals - or at least legitimate vendors - there is always the potential to be had. While we’ve all been tempted by that intriguing advertisement which suggests an exciting barn find or a juicy bargain, if something appears to be too good to be true, it probably is.

For the last 30 years Martin has specialised as a lawyer in the collector car field. Starting in November, he will be a consultant to Damen Bennion’s new firm, Bennion Law Ltd, concentrating on transactions and advice as to all types of high value cars. His email address will be martin@bennionlaw.co.uk.

Other articles by Martin Emmison

 

SuperFinds

If you liked this article we think you might also like one of our forthcoming titles, SuperFinds by Michael Kleibenstein.

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