Real Or Fake? Motorworld’s Table Discussion

Absolutely authentic or an impudent fake? This question arises for many prospective buyers of classic cars, and not just where top-of-the-range classics such as a pre-war Bugatti, Alfa Romeo GTA or Porsche RS are concerned. “Bread and butter cars” are affected as well. A round table discussion with (from left to right in the photo) moderator Alexander Gregor, Martin Stromberg (Classic Data), Peter Deuschle (Ingenieur-Büro Deuschle), Dr. Götz Knoop (Deuvet) and Ansgar Klein (BVfK) sought clarity at Motorworld Classics Berlin 2017. And found advice for prospective buyers and classic car enthusiasts in the Palais am Funkturm…

“Of the 40 Mercedes-Benz 500 SSK that were originally built, “xxx” still exist.” And that’s today, mind you. Maybe a few more will be “found” in a few years’ time. What is often quoted as a prime example when talking about the hot topic of “fake vehicles” is a phenomenon that no longer only affects the top-of-the-range price segment. “Practically every model series from different manufacturers that produced attractive and sought-after top models is at risk,” said Peter Deuschle, expert appraiser for classic vehicles, right at the beginning of an expert panel discussion held at this year’s Motorworld Classics Berlin trade fair. Alexander Gregor from Motorworld Manufaktur moderated the discussion on Friday, October 6, and immediately invited Martin Stromberg, managing partner of Classic Data, to join the circle: “Generally speaking, we are still talking about classic cars as being a serious hobby. Regrettably, the rise in value of certain vehicles has attracted too many people with too much money who have little or no idea at all about what it is actually all about. This unfortunately attracts the attention of fraudsters, which in turn harms the entire scene.” Even especially popular vehicles in the lower price segment such as the Golf I GTI or the NSU Prinz TT have fallen victim to fakers.


Substantial extent of damage

However, the complete altering of a vehicle’s identity already documents a case that testifies to considerable criminal energy. At the other end of the spectrum are descriptions of the condition that are simply not true, bogus service records, concealed modifications, or tampering of the speedometer. These are clearly not trivial offences, but fraudulent acts. This ultimately results in a financial loss since the deviation from the actual condition can have a significant impact in money terms. The spectrum ranges from several hundred or thousand euros to seven-digit figures – depending on the vehicle and the extent of the falsification. A bill that is paid by the bona fide buyer. And in the event of a rude awakening, or following arbitration or protracted litigation, it is sometimes the vendor or dealer who has to bear some of the cost as well.


One can sell anything, as long as …

So how can this problem be tackled? Ansgar Klein, managing director of the Bundesverband freier Kfz-Händler e.V. (Federal Association of Independent Car Dealers), formulated his dealer’s point of view so: “In principle, you can sell anything, it just has to be described correctly”. This also includes a clear indication of any “identity problems”. “I don’t really know anyone who would complain about an inauthentic Alfa Romeo GTA or a Junito with a 2.0 litre engine as long as the owner is honest about it,” agreed Stromberg. But when this honesty is lacking is when one lands right in the midst of the problem. Dr. Götz Knoop, automotive lawyer and DEUVET vice-president, replied that the mere presence of an “H” registration plate or a simple technical report would hardly suffice in a serious case to unequivocally determine the exact identity of the vehicle. And if vehicle documents, entire histories, essential parts, identification numbers and vehicle identification numbers stamped in the chassis are falsified with a lot of criminal energy, it becomes a challenging problem to say the least even for proven experts in a model series. Again and again, stolen vehicles are retrospectively given a “squeaky clean” vehicle history in this way so that they can be sold apparently without any legal deficiencies. Incidentally, this poses a further risk: “Whoever buys such a car is by no means the rightful owner – regardless of whether knowingly or not,” says Knoop. In this case, there is a risk that the car will have to be subsequently surrendered. Where counterfeiting is revealed, the vehicle registration could also be at stake.



Check before you buy. Thoroughly!

But how can buyers defend themselves against vehicle fraud and tangible deceit, Alexander Gregor wanted to know. The panel was quick to agree on this point: The more appealing the vehicle and the offer, the more caution needs to be displayed. In short: “Be critical, check everything, and do a lot of research!” The involvement of an independent appraiser is advisable – obviously before the purchase! And caution is required here as well: The title “expert appraiser” is namely not protected by law. Ideally, one engages a sworn and publicly appointed expert who has proven his expertise by examination. Not only the technical condition of the vehicle should be checked. A meticulous and repeated examination of the vehicle and its documents to make sure they match up (keyword here: typing errors in the vehicle identification number, etc.) is something else that must be checked without fail before buying it. Checking for vehicles in search databases would also help to acquire a car without legal deficiencies. A good vendor should always be of assistance here and himself provide for transparency. In doing so, he is also protecting himself against subsequent liability and recourse. A good dealer knows anyway that acting with undue haste in splurging out on a car usually results in the buyer regretting his decision afterwards. And if there is a question of material defects, a legal dispute is sure to follow. Martin Stromberg has one final appeal to the scene as a whole: “Go back to regarding old cars more as a hobby than an investment. That will help everyone.” Even those who may look down from the Mt. Olympus for classic cars, such as the SSK models mentioned at the beginning of this piece.

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