When 356 Does Not Equal 904, by Martin Emmison
As an English lawyer specialising in collector cars, I have handled many disputes, more than a fair share of which have featured Porsches. Starting in the 1980s, the surging value of the 911 2.7 RS spawned many tributes and replicas based on the 911 shell. This was fine, except for those cars that were fraudulently renumbered, specifically to deceive the unwary for profit.
Given its rarity and handsome shape, the 904GTS has long been a prime replica candidate, but has featured less often in identity disputes. However, if you have a good 904 replica, there is always the temptation to seek a profit by numbering it up as one of the 100-odd genuine 904s. This article tells the tale of two wrongly-numbered replicas of the 904.
The first was identified early last year, owned and built in the Netherlands. The owner readily acknowledged his fault in claiming the identity of our client’s 904, and quickly gave the ‘cease and desist’ undertakings we required. The other replica led to a protracted cross-border dispute in the USA, which would have been litigated in US Federal Court, had it not been settled in June with the help of our Oregon car-lawyer friends, John Draneas and Brooks Cooper.
First, permit me to reminisce on a similar dispute that I handled in 2004 for the owner of the Jaguar C-type, XKC 023. My article about this dispute ‘A Doppelganger Discredited’ was reprinted in a previous PPI Newsletter. That car was raced from new in California, suffered two racing accidents, was reclothed in a Devin body, and then disappeared for at least 30 years.
In 1998, Arizona Jaguar guru Terry Larson tracked it down in a dismantled state, restored the car and sold the car to a Swiss Jaguar collector. During its missing period, various C-type replicas had been created, for which the identity ‘XKC 023’ was claimed. The best was a tool-room C-type copy created by expert Peter Jaye. It was subsequently stamped up as ‘XKC 023’ by an Italian owner, who secured historic papers and a Mille Miglia entry. In due course, it passed to a German collector, who refused to accept that our Swiss client owned the genuine C-type XKC 023.
When we arranged inspection of both cars, the experts quickly determined that the Swiss-owned car was the genuine C-type, which was a good outcome. However, for me the most enjoyable part was our team’s detective work.
The point is this: How do you convince the collector world that your 1980s replica is genuine, when the original car was last seen damaged in a 1956 race accident? Answer: dream up a believable story of where your car was hiding and who owned and restored it between 1956 and 1985. Even better, generate an ownership document in the name of the alleged long-term owner, to back up your hooky story.
British FIVA (Fédération Internationale des Véhicules Anciens) expert Jim Whyman not only proved, by tracking down a daughter, that the alleged long-term Scottish owner/restorer never owned a C-type. He also demonstrated without question that the doctored British logbook was a poorly executed fake.
904-054 – THE SWEDISH YEARS
904-054 was sold new to German racer, Günther Selbach, who raced it in seven events in 1964, before advertising it for sale in November. It was quickly snapped up by Swedish photographer, Sten Axelsson, who learned about it when visiting the factory. Axelsson promptly won the 1965 Swedish Sports Car Championship with 904-054. He also gave the car its closest brush with fame, with Swedish grand prix star Jo Bonnier driving it in two international races that year.
Above: Sten Axelsson on the grid at Skarpnäcksloppet circuit, near Stockholm, in 1965.
Axelsson next traded up to a 906, and sold 904-054 to Torsten Andersson, who sold it to Leif Hansen, then Porsche agent for Sweden. He in turn passed it to keen Swedish racer Boo Brasta, who repainted the car blue and white. It then passed to Swedish dealer Sven Andersson, who sold it in 1969 to the final Swedish owner, Claes Eliasson, who would own the car for 44 years.
Claes loved his 904. Early on it was his everyday car, driven in winter without a heater. He took it to the factory for a 911 launch, where one of the managers, Gunnar Rogart, advised him to repaint it a fashionable Porsche brown. In company with 904-060, Claes drove 904-054 on many trips, including to the Monaco GP. Eventually, he repainted it silver and kept it registered ‘HKE-129’ from 1974 to 2013.
Above: Porsche’s Gunnar Rogart advised Claes to repaint the car brown.
RETURN TO GERMANY
In 2013, Eliasson sold the car to Danish collector Thorkild Stamp. German dealer Jan B. Luehn then acquired the original engine for 054. Early in 2015, he arranged the sale of 904-054 and its engine to the present owner in Germany, ‘Dieter’ for purposes of this article.
Above: The authentic car, as sold in 2015 by German dealer Jan B. Luehn. Note the chassis number. Jan B. Luehn
An impressive history file came with the car, which Dieter has much improved. It includes copies of the registration documents of the successive Swedish owners, and photos showing the various colour changes made by the Swedes. Dieter has proved conclusively that this is the 1964 Selbach 904, not only from the papers and photos, but because it has the original transmission, the correct roller-painted dashboard number and original type plate. Dieter has tracked down several of the Swedish owners, who by good fortune are still with us. He has also exposed, on hidden parts of the car’s coachwork, the succession of its different paint colours.
Above: Careful detective work exposed the car’s previous paint colours.
BIRTH OF A REPLICA
Meanwhile, in Lexington Kentucky there arrived on the 904 stage Ken Allison, Porsche 356 enthusiast and engineer. In 1990 he saw an advertisement for a non-running Porsche, offered by Vietnam veteran Roger Dale Suttles of Mars Hill, North Carolina. Allison drove there, was disappointed with the car’s condition and came away ‘empty-trailered’. A month later, Ken called again, only to learn that Suttles had died. In due course his widow probated his estate, in which the inoperable Porsche was valued at $500. Ken bought the car, and trailered it home.
At risk of spoiling the story, Allison had bought a 356C Cabriolet.
This is where the fun starts. It was not until 10 years later that Ken Allison began his project to build a replica Porsche 904. In the copy documents provided to Dieter by Heinz Heinrich of The 904 Store, Inc. (who earlier this year tried to sell Allison’s 904) there is a January 2000 fax from Ken to Jurgen Barth at the Porsche factory. He referred to the “stencil of the car’s ID plate, 904 054” which had already been forwarded to Barth via “Jeffery of Perfect Motion in Florida”, and attached “photos of the car’s body”. Ken asked to borrow the factory’s blueprints of the 904 chassis frame for creating his chassis.
From that fax we may conclude: (a) that Ken was already claiming to own the mortal remains of 904-054; and (b) that a chassis plate stamped ‘904 054’ already existed, to support Ken’s request to borrow the blueprints.
After signing Porsche’s confidentiality agreement, Ken secured the blueprints, which enabled his frame to be fabricated. Over the next five years, Ken assembled all the necessary parts to complete his car, including a 904 engine ‘019’ from US supplier Warren Eads and a gearbox, and had the body built. We may safely assume that many of these parts were supplied by or with help from Heinz Heinrich.
Ken Allison never street-registered his 904, but he showed it, identified and stamped up as ‘904-054’, at various concours events, including 2008 Amelia Island Concours and the Cincinnati Concours in 2018. No-one seems to have queried his unjustified claim of this chassis identity, although in 2012 some critical comments were posted on the Pelican Parts 911 Forum.
When Ken Allison died in October 2018, the probate valuation of his estate listed four Porsches. Three were 356s, including a 356C Cabriolet. The fourth was his 904GTS, with a stated value of $2.1m.
REPLICA FOR SALE
In January 2020, Dieter noticed an internet advert for a Porsche 904GTS, numbered 904-054. Ouch!
The advertiser was TPE Ltd in Japan, whose salesman told Dieter that the other 904 claiming this identity (which Jan B. Luehn had offered in 2014) was a replica. Dieter’s persistent enquiries as a potential buyer led to an email exchange with Heinrich, who was engaged by Allison’s widow to sell her 904. Heinrich began asking $1.5M, later reduced to $500,000 in light of the dispute. The explanation of how Ken Allison came to own the ex-Selbach 904 was supplied by Heinrich.
ALLISON’S BACK STORY
So the story ran, in 1965 Roger Suttles, a 19-year-old US Army private based at Bad Kreuznach, Germany, bought 904-054 from Selbach; then Uncle Sam shipped it back to the States; that Suttles registered his 904 in North Carolina; it later suffered a street accident, which he never had the money to repair; that Suttles sold off many parts including motor and transmission, which explained why Allison acquired the 904 from Suttles’ estate as an incomplete wreck, and had to start again from scratch.
However, as proof of its provenance, Heinrich provided copy documents: Selbach’s cancelled 1964 Fahrzeugbrief (vehicle registration papers) and a North Carolina title of 904-054 in Roger Suttles’ name.
Above: The front page of Roger Suttles’ 1972 NC title document for ‘904054’.
THE DETECTIVE WORK
As the dispute got underway, Mrs Allison engaged California car lawyer Michael Rogers. While we, on Dieter’s side, demonstrated his car’s perfect provenance, and set about disproving the ‘Allison 904’ story and documents. We knew that Suttles retired from the US Army as an SP4, effectively a corporal. So, as a private in 1965 surely Suttles could never have afforded an almost-new 904GTS, let alone have kept it in the car park at his army base in Germany – when his CO probably drove a Chevy. And what happened to his 904 when he was posted to Vietnam?
However, proof only came when our car historian, Jeff Murray, tracked down Marc Suttles, Roger Suttles’ nephew. Marc had fond boyhood memories of his “cool” uncle, who had a broken Porsche in his garage. Marc knew his Porsches OK. It was definitely a 356, because Marc acquired a hubcap as a trophy, and while a 356 Porsche had hubcaps, a 904 did not. Marc recalled that when his uncle’s Porsche was first driven upon arrival from Germany, the engine seized because no-one at the US end knew that the oils had been drained.
Our arguments did not convince Mr Rogers that Allison’s story was hogwash, until John Draneas had a major result from his enquiries of the North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). While they could not locate the historic title of a 904 Porsche in Suttles’ name, DMV located the application papers lodged by Suttles in April 1972 – for a 1965 Porsche 356C Cabriolet, chassis ‘161441’, which Suttles acquired from a German named Petermann.
That was it – game, set and match!
Finally, Cam Ingram of Road Scholars inspected the Allison car for our side, and pronounced it a total replica. Mrs Allison then agreed a settlement, whereby all the false numbers were deleted from her car, and all papers claiming ‘904-054’ were either delivered up or destroyed. Dieter received the original cancelled 1964 German title for his car, but no-one could locate the original of the alleged North Carolina title for 904-054 in Suttles’ name. Because it never existed. We believe the copy document that supported Allison’s claim was a forgery.
So, once again the good guys won, thanks to the undeniable provenance of Dieter’s car, and our US team’s fine detective work.
SOME FINAL QUESTIONS
In the aftermath of this somewhat unsavoury dispute, I believe it is fair to ask:
- After his purchase of the 356 Cab, who persuaded Ken Allison that he had acquired the wreck of a 904GTS, or did he dream this up himself?
- Who supplied the cancelled German title document for 904-054, which clearly led to Allison claiming this identity for his replica?
- Who suggested doctoring the North Carolina title document, which came with the 1965 Cab ‘161441’, to read a 1964 Porsche ‘904054’, and who did the deed?
- Who stood to gain most from this skulduggery?
Answers on a postcard please, to the editor.
For the last 30 years Martin has specialised as a lawyer in the collector car field. He has recently become 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 is email@example.com.