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Historic Ferrari Worth Millions Stolen During Test Drive

Nancy Bilyeau
Ferrari 288 GTO, much like the one that was stolen. Photo by ilikewaffles11 CC BY 2.0
Ferrari 288 GTO, much like the one that was stolen. Photo by ilikewaffles11 CC BY 2.0

A stolen Ferrari was reported in a daring theft in plain view. A 1985 Ferrari 288 GTO, considered a “historic vehicle,” went on quite a test drive recently–one lasting more than 24  hours–until the stolen car was recovered, hidden in a garage in a small German town. The car is valued at more $2 million.

It all began when a vintage car dealer was approached by a man saying he was interested in buying the Ferrari and over several weeks negotiated a test drive with the seller, Düsseldorf police said in a statement.

The Ferrari 288 GTO is a limited edition, exotic variant of a production Ferrari car, the 308 GTB, reported CNN. Just 272 of the cars were produced between 1984 and 1987 to  compete in the Group B Circuit Race, a version of the popular Group B Rally circuit. “The series was canceled before it even started, but the 288 GTO is now one of the most sought after Ferraris from the 1980s,” according to CNN.

Ferrari 288 GTO
Ferrari 288 GTO. Photo by 350z33 at en.wikipedia CC by CC BY-SA 3.0

The owner of the 288 GTO drove the car for the first part of the test, and when the two jumped out to swap seats, the thief accelerated and drove off. “In the days after the theft, it was revealed that former Formula One driver Eddie Irvine previously owned the car, which inevitably adding to its value and desirability,” said Car Scoops.

Similar vehicles to the 288 GTO are frequently listed with prices of more than $3 million. They are often sold through specialist auctions such as Sotheby’s. This car did not have a large auction house overseeing its sale. The distinctive car– in bright Italian “Rosso Corsa” red–did not stay missing long. It was quickly found after police appealed for witnesses. The vehicle was discovered hidden in a garage in the town of Grevenbroich, not far from Düsseldorf.

Peter Haynes, a spokesman for specialist auctioneer RM Sotheby’s, told CNN: “It is not a very sensible car to steal because it is a very difficult car to sell. It is like a famous painting — most people would find it quite easy to identify.”

Ferrari 288 GTO
Ferrari 288 GTO. Photo by Peter Hoch.

Co Down racer Irvine, the onetime owner, had a prominent career from 1993 to 2002. He finished runner-up in the 1999 World Drivers Championship after Ferrari teammate Michael Schumacher’s season was cut short by a broken leg. Irvine lost out to McLaren’s Mika Hakkinen although Ferrari took the constructor’s title.

The suspect who posed as a customer in the recent theft was still at large as of May 20th, 2019. A photograph widely circulated showed a middle-aged man with thinning hair.

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This model of car has been featured in a number of 1980s Hollywood TV series and films, including Miami Vice, Magnum, P.I. and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and was also a favorite of James Bond. Less valuable cars have occasionally been stolen during test drives, but a stolen Ferrari is something very rare. To prevent this, sellers are urged to collect a deposit or in some way hold the identification or credit card of someone who is driving the car.

Ferrari 288 GTO
Ferrari 288 GTO. Photo by GTHO CC BY-SA 4.0

However, thieves have been known to make off with vehicles even after precautions are taken. A woman who took a Mercedes-Benz for a test drive alone in Kansas City last year never returned the vehicle. She had provided a temporary driver’s license, phone number, address and also signed a form that stated she would accept insurance responsibility should the car be damaged during her drive.The dealer called local authorities, who later said the woman’s driver’s license number was falsified, as was her name. according to the New York Post.

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“This has never happened before — she went the extra mile to take the vehicle,” an attendant at the dealership told Fox News. “She provided a drivers license with a picture, everything seemed legit.” The dealership was unable to track the vehicle because its navigation was not enabled at the time it was stolen. The car was eventually recovered, but police did not locate the woman.

Nancy Bilyeau, a former staff editor at Entertainment Weekly, Rolling Stone, and InStyle, has written a trilogy of historical thrillers for Touchstone Books. Her new book, The Blue, is a spy story set in the 18th-century porcelain world. For more information, go to