Lance Miller, an avid Chevrolet Corvette collector and enthusiast, says he doubts recent claims made by Dan Mathis Jr., of Tampa, that he is the owner of the long-lost, recently discovered 1960 Corvette raced by sportsman Briggs Cunningham in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Mr. Mathis contends the car subsequently belonged to his late father, Dan Sr., who raced the car in central Florida for a time in the mid-1970s, until it was stolen.
Mr. Miller, who purchased the car last month and said he re-sold it two days later, had limited his comments on the matter until now, at his request. But, in an email late Monday, he wrote the following (his words are in italics), in response to articles published on this blog August 24, 25 and 26:
As you know, I recently purchased the car in Tampa, Florida. Based on a commitment my father made to a friend before he died, I transferred ownership of the car to that person, who wishes to remain anonymous for now. I will respect that wish until the buyer agrees to be named or I am ordered to do so by a court of competent jurisdiction. I transferred the car to the new owner for the exact same price I paid for it, based on my late father’s promise. I have no pecuniary gain in the transfer as that was never my intent or the intent of my late father. I was solely honoring a promise he made if the car was ever found and I was fortunate enough to purchase it.
What your blog post does not go into is the extensive due diligence I conducted before I purchased the Corvette from the Carr family in Tampa on July 20, 2012. I was told by Mrs. Carr (Richard’s wife) that she was present when the car was sold to her husband via a bill of sale. It was represented to me that he paid consideration for it and they were never aware of any police report claiming it was stolen. Also prior to my purchase, a fifty (50) state stolen vehicle search was conducted by a third party investigator which did not come back with any evidence that the car had been reported stolen.
The car had already been sold by me when the allegations of theft were made by Mr. Dan Mathis Jr. and Mr. Domenico Idoni. Contrary to what you wrote in your article, I was never advised that Mr. Mathis or Mr. Idoni requested a meeting with me or any of my family.
However, on Friday afternoon, August 24, 2012, the first day of our Corvettes at Carlisle show, I was contacted by an attorney in Tampa, Florida, purporting to represent a general partnership of Domenico Idoni and Dan Mathis Jr., who were asserting ownership of the car based on a Florida title. Given my schedule, I requested that my attorney contact him to seek further information about Mr. Idoni and Mr. Mathis’ claims. While the Florida attorney, Mr. Keith D. Skorewicz, Esquire, did not have much information other than what we heard through the grapevine, he did send our counsel the front page of a recent title dated August 17, 2012, well after the date of my purchase. My counsel requested a copy of the back page of the title and a copy of the police report indicating the vehicle had been stolen (as alleged by Mr. Skorewicz); as if [sic] this date we have received neither.
On Saturday, I was shocked when the Carlisle Police Department and Pennsylvania State Police showed up at our Corvette show demanding to search the Fairgrounds for the “stolen” Corvette, based on an alleged stolen vehicle report from Florida and a recently issued Florida title. At no time was a stolen police report [sic] ever produced. Upon further investigation, the local police determined this was not a criminal matter, but purely a civil one as to a dispute in the chain of title to the car. While many of the facts are not known or are in dispute, it is very clear that the car was has been [sic] in the possession of the Carr family for the last 35 years with the VIN numbers clearly attached. To my knowledge, no stolen vehicle report has ever been filed, even as of this date. If Mr. Jim [sic] Mathis Jr. or Mr. Domenico Idoni intends to file one, the matter may then turn criminal as opposed to civil if they do so without some more evidence.
As a purchaser in good faith of the vehicle, the answer to the “great question” posed to Mr. Dan Mathis Jr. or Mr. Domenico Idoni in your August 26th posting regarding how the Corvette passed from the possession of the Mathis family to the (Carr family) is easy – it was sold. I urge you to speak with the Carr family directly on this matter before making additional posts regarding the Corvette’s ownership history so that your articles portray the facts, not baseless allegations.
The ownership of the Corvette, in my mind, is not in dispute. Should Mr. Dan Mathis Jr. and Mr. Domenico Idoni continue to assert their claim of ownership, the matter should be settled in a court of law with all the facts presented. I will certainly cooperate with the appropriate authorities and the court system however possible, but I have sincere reservations about the validity of the title held by Mr. Mathis and his partner, Mr. Idoni, and the circumstances surrounding it.
About the same time Mr. Miller’s correspondence was received, Rick Carr also emailed.
About the same
Mr. Carr, who commented on a Hemmings.com discussion thread Aug. 3 about the discovery of the #1 Cunningham Corvette that Lance Miller “bought the car from me last week,” now says the car was actually sold to Mr. Miller by “a member of my family.”
Mr. Carr, in a lengthy rebuttal Monday to news reports that he contends defame and embarrass him and his family, says he also doubts the claims of ownership by Dan Mathis Jr.
“The wild allegations by Mr. Mathis presented by you in this article as fact, are wholly untrue,” he said.
“I did not sell the car to Mr. Miller,” he continued. “A member of my family sold the car to Mr. Miller. I merely facilitated the sale.”
In an effort to provide Mr. Carr, who I was not able to reach for comment earlier, a full forum for airing his views, I am also re-printing the remainder of his email here in its entirety (his words are in italic):
My father was not forced to retire from the bench. He simply did not seek reelection. He had no intentions of running for the position since he was fully vested and past retirement age at the time and had recently had open-heart surgery. My father was indeed reprimanded by the Florida Supreme Court for improper action in his courtroom, but his “slur” had more to do with gaining control of an unruly courtroom, rather than some form of racial putdown. His politically incorrect comment was made to a Italian man out of control in his courtroom. It should be noted that my late father’s widow is of Italian heritage and he used to joke with her and her family using the same language. It was a stupid mistake that blemished an otherwise great career, but it had nothing to do with African Americans as Mr. Mathis has since claimed. It should also be noted that my father continued to serve Pinellas County and the State of Florida as a distinguished Senior Judge for many years after his retirement.
By choosing not to juxtaposition Mr. Mathis’ story against comments by either Lance Miller or me, you created the appearance that what Mathis is telling you is the undisputed truth, rather than the myth that it is.
Here are some facts:
My father purchased the above-mentioned Corvette as a beat-up, rolling chassis with no motor, transmission or interior. He bought it from a gentleman in Tampa over 30 years ago. My father did not receive a title, but he did get a bill of sale. We are currently in contact with the Florida DMV and will produce all documents for investigators to determine if Mr. Mathis has participated in title fraud. It should be noted that “Bill of Sale” purchases are completely legal in Florida. This is common practice for parts cars, very old vehicles or for race vehicles that will never be driven on the street.
The car was never reported stolen. There is no paperwork to substantiate this most important claim. We have documentation proving my father contacted the Florida DMV as late as 1982 to apply for a title to this automobile. He used the correct VIN number to do so. Had the car been reported stolen, it would have been found by the DMV at that time.
Mr. Mathis only attempted to title this vehicle more than two weeks AFTER its discovery was announced on the Internet, some 30-plus years after my father purchased the car.
It appears that someone attempted to wedge a big block engine into the chassis at one time (cut motor mounts, disconnected steering column, etc.) but the workmanship was sloppy and incomplete. It is highly unlikely this car was ever driven on a drag strip, as Mr. Mathis claims. If so, it would have been extremely dangerous.
Mr. Mathis’ father did not paint the car its current color as he claims. There were major repairs made to the body and it was painted after my father purchased the car. This can be easily documented. Photographs were taken as it was being stripped and as the body was repaired and painted. The car was a completely different color when my father purchased it and brought it back to his warehouse. Therefore Mr. Mathis’ memories of the “cherry chocolate color” Corvette was simply a fabrication he concocted after seeing pictures of the car posted on the Internet.
It also occurs to me (and should have to you as well), if this car is stolen, why then does it retain the very VIN plate that has helped identify its history. Were it stolen, wouldn’t that be the first thing a thief would remove?
Your carelessness in posting unsubstantiated facts has caused my family great distress, as I’m sure it has for Lance Miller, his family and associates. Like Chip Miller, my father spent a lifetime building his reputation. It is unfortunate that neither of these great men is here today to defend themselves against these libelous statements.
In response, it should be re-affirmed that all statements from Lance Miller on this subject, to me and to the general public in regard to cancelling a public unveiling of the Corvette last Friday in Carlisle, Pa., have been faithfully and completely reported on this blog. Mr. Miller, in response to my request for even more information, said he would make further statements “soon”. When those statements were to be released to me, I promised they would be published here in full. And in fact, both emails from Mr. Miller and from Mr. Carr, with the exception of personal comments, are now being re-printed in full. [Editors Note: This additional correspondence is available upon request.]
Although contact information for Mr. Carr was not previously made available, efforts were made to contact him.
Efforts were also made to contact Lawrence Berman, who manages the BriggsCunningham.com website. He also, as of this writing, did not respond.
I also contacted Mr. Mathis in regard to general points made by Mr. Miller and Mr. Carr. He said he would respond soon. He was also asked to supply photographs of his father, who died in 1993, with the car. Mr. Mathis added that it was his opinion, if repeated efforts were made by Judge Carr to obtain a title, one should have granted unless “the vehicle was still registered to someone else.”
It should also be pointed out, as sharp-eyed readers of this blog’s series of reports on this matter will no doubt note, careful new distinctions are now being made as to the timing of events, who sold what to whom, and what was known when by whom.
The fact remains the Corvette in question dropped out of sight before it was scheduled to be unveiled with great fanfare August 24, and has not been seen publicly since. From this point on, however, I will let the lawyers fight it out. I’ll report the outcome, when the dust settles.
August 28, 2012