By most accounts, Bruce Meyer has it pretty good. His world-class car collection includes the first production Shelby Cobra, the ex-Clark Gable Mercedes-Benz 300 Sc Cabriolet, the ex-John Von Neumann Ferrari 625 TRC Spider, a Ferrari 250 GT SWB Berlinetta “SEFAC Hot Rod”, one of the Briggs Cunnningham Corvettes entered at Le Mans in 1960, a Pebble Beach-winning 1932 Ford Doane Spencer Roadster, the So-Cal Speed Shop Belly Tankster…well, you get the idea.
Meyer is a member of the 200mph club at Bonneville, he’s involved in numerous charitable organizations and he’s always been willing to go the extra mile to grow and help the collector car hobby. What’s more, he’s universally known as just a really great guy all around, always quick with a smile and a handshake to anyone seeking just a moment of his time.
But when Bruce’s 1979 Le Mans 24-Hours winning Porsche 935 K3 was ‘seized’ on January 9th, 2014 by Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents at a private track day at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, we would’ve cut him slack for losing his mind.
A little history first. Meyer’s Porsche 935 K3 (chassis 009 00015) was entered at Le Mans by Don and Bill Whittington, who, along with co-driver Klaus Ludwig, drove the 700 horsepower twin-turbo monster to a glorious overall win at the world’s most important endurance race. The car also took second at Brands Hatch in the same year, and in 1980 it finished third at Sebring, first at the Nürburgring, and first at Watkins Glen.
After spending thirty years in storage, the car was refreshed with a complete tear-down and restoration by Canepa Motorsports. The meticulous 935 then won the hyper-competitive Porsche 911 Competition classes at the 2013 Pebble Beach and Amelia Island Concours. As the only 911-based Porsche to win overall at Le Mans, it’s also hard to argue with those who call it the most important 911 of all.
The story of the Whittington brothers takes up an article or two by itself, but the short version is that they have a rather checkered past that includes a lawsuit with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Foundation over ownership of the 935 as well as an ongoing investigation by the DEA, FBI and Homeland Security in which the Brothers are reportedly suspected of providing airplanes to South American drug traffickers.
Fast forward to the pleasant January track day at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, California. It was a lovely day for car sorting and the world of drug running and lawsuits seemed about as far away as it could get. That world came down hard on Bruce, though, when a group of DEA agents rolled into Laguna Seca to seize Meyer’s Porsche. Given the current investigation, coupled with the Indy Speedway dispute, it must have been in the back of Meyer’s mind that his Porsche could somehow be caught up in this mess.
Meyer walked Sports Car Digest through the nightmare:
During the test day at Laguna Seca, DEA agents approached me and asked if I was Bruce Meyer. They arrived with a black Chevrolet Suburban with U.S. Government license plates, a black Dodge Charger and a black car hauler. The three DEA agents were armed, badged and quite serious. At first I thought is was a joke, but it got more intense with each passing minute.
With all that has been publicized about the Whittingtons lately, about the government seizing and confiscating their assets, I was convinced the DEA was rounding up anything and everything with a nexus to the brothers Whittington.
It also occurred to me that, although the chain of ownership and paperwork clearly shows me as the rightful owner, it could take forever to get the car back. The DEA agents loaded up the car with the help of several race team crews, gave me an official-looking U.S. Government receipt for confiscated property and left the paddock. It was very upsetting.
Where did his priceless Porsche 935 end up? At some filthy impound yard next sandwiched between a drug-running Cadillac and an old boat? Could the feds really just take his property like that without warning? Was this priceless piece of Porsche history ever going to be seen again in public? It all didn’t seem real. It seemed like something out of the movies. And that’s because it sort of was.
After what Meyer said was “an eternity”, the DEA car hauler brought the Le Mans-winning Porsche 935 K3 back to Laguna Seca. Thankfully for him and for his Porsche, the whole DEA ‘takedown’ was all an elaborate hoax, the work of Bruce’s good friends, Bruce Canepa, Charlie Nearburg, Chip Connor and Al Arciero. The DEA ‘agents’ were actors flown in from Hollywood, and the lead agent was an attorney in real life, no doubt making his use of legal language all the more believable.This epic prank took months to put together, and Bruce Canepa, the mastermind of the big sting, said that so much work went into it that it felt like a full-time job over the last few weeks leading up to the big day. There was even a rehearsal the day before, all to make sure that it was as realistic as possible.
The DEA agents first circled the pits, as if they were assessing the situation, while the people attending the track day were having lunch. This did not go unnoticed. They then stopped at Meyer’s 935 and asked to see the owner. All the agents/actors were ex-military, which made their handing over a Federal Seizure Order, signed by a Federal Judge, perfectly legitimate. Once the paperwork was handed over, the DEA agents started taking steps to haul the car away, enlisting Canepa’s crew – who were not yet in on the joke – to help them get the 935 K3 on the flatbed.
Meyer, never at a loss for words and one of the more charismatic guys you’ll ever meet, was tongue-tied. His big smile was, as you can imagine, nowhere to be found. He could only standby and watch his beloved car leave the paddock and out onto the road, getting smaller by the second in the distance. Little did he know that the flatbed drove over the hill, with instructions to park down below for 15 minutes.
After the 935 got back into the pits, Meyer was doing his best to convince the DEA agents to leave the car. That’s when Canepa and the gang let Meyer know it was all just a big, elaborate joke.
“We one-upped the one guy that cannot be one-upped,” said Canepa.
Meyer summed up the caper best, calling it, “the most amazing Hollywood-style prank ever! With best pals like mine, one does not need enemies!”
[Source: photos: David Soares, Bruce Meyer]