News

Legal battle erupts over Panzer tank from Littlefield collection

A Seattle company led by Microsoft Corp. co-founder and billionaire Paul Allen has filed a lawsuit in in a dispute over ownership of a German World War II-era tank. A Panzer IV, built in 1944, was offered in a July 2014 auction of some of the military vehicles owned by the late Jacques Littlefield of Los Trancos Woods.

The lawsuit, filed Sept. 10 in San Mateo County Superior Court, alleges a breach of contract by the Collings Foundation of Stow, Massachusetts, for its refusal to turn over the Panzer to Vulcan Warbirds Inc., Mr. Allen's company. The suit also names the foundation's auctioneer, Auctions America, as a defendant.

In its lawsuit, Warbirds says it entered into a contract with Auctions America and paid $2.5 million for the tank and that the money has been transferred.

The Collings Foundation acquired Mr. Littlefield's collection after he died in 2009. Rob Collings, the executive director, said he's seen two offers for the Panzer from Warbirds and has refused them both. Funds sent from Warbirds to Auctions America for the Panzer were to be returned, he said.

The Panzer IV is one of five in the United States, the lawsuit says. Warbirds considers them "extremely rare."

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Warbirds leases its military vehicles to the Flying Heritage Collection in Everett, Washington, which has a museum and a particular interest in World War II-era tanks. The Collings Foundation runs a military vehicle museum in Massachusetts and is planning an outdoor amphitheater for battle re-enactments.

Amy Christie of Auctions America said by email that it's unfortunate to "find ourselves caught between two of the hobby's most important collectors. We are diligently working with both parties to reach an amicable resolution."

Money changed hands

The tank was captured from Syria by the Israelis in 1967 and later stored in an Israeli museum, according to the Auctions America catalog. Mr. Littlefield acquired the tank in 2003.

The following chronology is drawn from the lawsuit, which included copies of emailed messages between Warbirds and the auctioneers.

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At the auction, Warbirds opened with a $1.5 million bid on the Panzer, listed at $2.4 million minimum. Someone countered with $1.75 million but with no more bids, the tank remained unsold.

Three days later, the auctioneer emailed Warbirds saying that offers above $2.25 million for the Panzer IV "will be considered" by Mr. Collings and foundation trustees.

Warbirds responded, offering to buy the tank "for the price listed," completed a bill of sale, and agreed to wire $2.5 million for the Panzer as instructed.

The tank was one of several purchases by Warbirds. A summary on Auctions America letterhead shows a total outlay of $4.2 million. Included were a troop carrier for $1 million, a SCUD-A missile for $300,000, an anti-tank gun for $45,000, a howitzer for $35,000 and various spare engines.

Warbirds says it wired the $4.2 million, that the funds were transferred, and that "at no point" did the auctioneers say they lacked authority to sell the tank to Warbirds.

Some weeks later, Warbirds wrote to the auctioneers regarding a telephone conversation between Flying Heritage Collection Executive Director Adrian Hunt and Mr. Collings earlier that day in which Mr. Collings said the foundation "would honor the price paid by Warbirds" if the foundation found "a replacement tank."

Mr. Hunt requested the tank's release and Mr. Collings refused, the lawsuit says. The tank is in storage at the Littlefield facility, Mr. Collings said.

The auctioneer suggested a conference call, but Warbirds replied that it had arranged for pickup of the Panzer and that the company's legal department was now involved.

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Legal battle erupts over Panzer tank from Littlefield collection

by / Almanac

Uploaded: Thu, Sep 18, 2014, 12:10 am

A Seattle company led by Microsoft Corp. co-founder and billionaire Paul Allen has filed a lawsuit in in a dispute over ownership of a German World War II-era tank. A Panzer IV, built in 1944, was offered in a July 2014 auction of some of the military vehicles owned by the late Jacques Littlefield of Los Trancos Woods.

The lawsuit, filed Sept. 10 in San Mateo County Superior Court, alleges a breach of contract by the Collings Foundation of Stow, Massachusetts, for its refusal to turn over the Panzer to Vulcan Warbirds Inc., Mr. Allen's company. The suit also names the foundation's auctioneer, Auctions America, as a defendant.

In its lawsuit, Warbirds says it entered into a contract with Auctions America and paid $2.5 million for the tank and that the money has been transferred.

The Collings Foundation acquired Mr. Littlefield's collection after he died in 2009. Rob Collings, the executive director, said he's seen two offers for the Panzer from Warbirds and has refused them both. Funds sent from Warbirds to Auctions America for the Panzer were to be returned, he said.

The Panzer IV is one of five in the United States, the lawsuit says. Warbirds considers them "extremely rare."

Warbirds leases its military vehicles to the Flying Heritage Collection in Everett, Washington, which has a museum and a particular interest in World War II-era tanks. The Collings Foundation runs a military vehicle museum in Massachusetts and is planning an outdoor amphitheater for battle re-enactments.

Amy Christie of Auctions America said by email that it's unfortunate to "find ourselves caught between two of the hobby's most important collectors. We are diligently working with both parties to reach an amicable resolution."

Money changed hands

The tank was captured from Syria by the Israelis in 1967 and later stored in an Israeli museum, according to the Auctions America catalog. Mr. Littlefield acquired the tank in 2003.

The following chronology is drawn from the lawsuit, which included copies of emailed messages between Warbirds and the auctioneers.

At the auction, Warbirds opened with a $1.5 million bid on the Panzer, listed at $2.4 million minimum. Someone countered with $1.75 million but with no more bids, the tank remained unsold.

Three days later, the auctioneer emailed Warbirds saying that offers above $2.25 million for the Panzer IV "will be considered" by Mr. Collings and foundation trustees.

Warbirds responded, offering to buy the tank "for the price listed," completed a bill of sale, and agreed to wire $2.5 million for the Panzer as instructed.

The tank was one of several purchases by Warbirds. A summary on Auctions America letterhead shows a total outlay of $4.2 million. Included were a troop carrier for $1 million, a SCUD-A missile for $300,000, an anti-tank gun for $45,000, a howitzer for $35,000 and various spare engines.

Warbirds says it wired the $4.2 million, that the funds were transferred, and that "at no point" did the auctioneers say they lacked authority to sell the tank to Warbirds.

Some weeks later, Warbirds wrote to the auctioneers regarding a telephone conversation between Flying Heritage Collection Executive Director Adrian Hunt and Mr. Collings earlier that day in which Mr. Collings said the foundation "would honor the price paid by Warbirds" if the foundation found "a replacement tank."

Mr. Hunt requested the tank's release and Mr. Collings refused, the lawsuit says. The tank is in storage at the Littlefield facility, Mr. Collings said.

The auctioneer suggested a conference call, but Warbirds replied that it had arranged for pickup of the Panzer and that the company's legal department was now involved.

Comments

Legal Eagle
Atherton: Lloyden Park
on Sep 18, 2014 at 6:04 am
Legal Eagle, Atherton: Lloyden Park
on Sep 18, 2014 at 6:04 am
Like this comment

(a.k.a Tanks vs. No Tanks)


UC Davis Grad
another community
on Sep 18, 2014 at 11:54 am
UC Davis Grad, another community
on Sep 18, 2014 at 11:54 am
Like this comment

And the people involved are supposed to be adults?

This sounds more like something one would encounter on an elementary school playground.


resident
Menlo Park: other
on Sep 18, 2014 at 12:14 pm
resident, Menlo Park: other
on Sep 18, 2014 at 12:14 pm
2 people like this

These are billionaires with million dollar toys, not normal adults


SteveC
Registered user
Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 19, 2014 at 6:33 am
SteveC, Menlo Park: Downtown
Registered user
on Sep 19, 2014 at 6:33 am
3 people like this

Yes, a school yard fight. Really, grow up.


Unfortunate
Portola Valley: Los Trancos Woods/Vista Verde
on Sep 19, 2014 at 8:36 am
Unfortunate, Portola Valley: Los Trancos Woods/Vista Verde
on Sep 19, 2014 at 8:36 am
2 people like this

Not really a schoolyard fight, so much as it appears to be breach of contract. If the Warbirds Foundation truly has all the documentation listed, then either Auctions America screwed up, or Collings had a change of heart/received a larger offer after the contract had already been signed with Warbirds.


Remember WW II
Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 7, 2015 at 5:41 pm
Remember WW II, Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 7, 2015 at 5:41 pm
2 people like this

Please remember that history will repeat itself. The point in this rare tank is to remember all those who died in Would War II. My hope is they did not die in vain if we prevent that from ever happening again. Our generation has not suffered the way people did in World War II. Please respect everyone's right to their own opinion in a free country


UC Davis Grad
another community
on Apr 7, 2015 at 7:30 pm
UC Davis Grad, another community
on Apr 7, 2015 at 7:30 pm
4 people like this

@Remember WW II -- HUH?


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