Court rules driver can't get his car back from museum

It's a story as old as time -- you loan something to somebody, they thank you for it, and then when you want it back later, they suddenly "forget" that it was supposed to be a loan! Doggone it! I want my CDs back!

Okay, that may not be exactly how this next story actually shook out, but it's in the ballpark. Reginald "Don" Whittington, a five-time Indy 500 starter, won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1979 driving that Porsche 935 K3 you see at right. Whittington then, shall we say, arranged for the car to be displayed at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame.

That "arranged" is the key. Was the arrangement a loan or a gift? Whittington says "loan," the museum says "gift." All was just fine until 2004, when Whittington decided he wanted the car back. The museum said no, but Whittington was welcome to visit the car any time. And since Whittington is probably too old to pull off a Mission: Impossible-style liberation of the car, he turned to the other option: the courts.

Unfortunately for Whittington, the courts weren't as friendly as Le Mans, and the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago ruled in favor of the museum. The problem was, the agreement between Whittington and the museum was a handshake deal, and as one of the judges wrote, "The lesson for Whittington should be that an unwritten contract isn't worth the paper it isn't written on."

Whittington is quite the character; in addition to running Indy and Le Mans, he raced vintage World War II aircraft and smuggled marijuana, for which he was sentenced to 18 months in prison in the late 1980s. But, according to the courts, his actions regarding the car were more characteristic of someone who had gifted the car rather than loaned it.

So, a disappointment for Whittington, no doubt. Though judging from his man-of-adventure history, perhaps this story isn't over yet.

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