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French luxury dynasty battle in court over Mona Lisa of Ferraris

Guéret, France

THE descendants of a French luxury leather dynasty sparred in a bitter court case last Friday over the ownership of a vintage Ferrari racer described as a Mona Lisa, valued at tens of millions of euros.

On the second and final day of the case in which Patrick Bardinon is being sued for betrayal of trust by his brother and sister, the proceedings came to an abrupt end when he was taken ill in court. While paramedics attended to him, the case adjourned for a ruling on March 7.

"My brother and sister have never accepted that (my father) gave this car to me," Mr Bardinon told the court as proceedings opened on Thursday in Gueret, not far from the family's estate in central France. According to his younger brother Jean-Francois and older sister Anne, he sold the prized 1964 Ferrari 250 GTO for a record 38 million euros (S$59.2 million at current rates) to a Taiwanese collector four years ago.

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The racing model, one of just a few dozen made by the storied Italian carmaker, was a crown jewel in the legendary collection built up by their father Pierre Bardinon. He was the fifth generation of the family behind Chapal, a specialist in leather and fur created in 1832, and which is run today by Mr Jean-Francois Bardinon.

The brand would become famous for its aviator bomber jackets, including the one that Charles Lindbergh wore on the first solo flight across the Atlantic.

A car lover from an early age, Mr Pierre Bardinon even built his own race track adjacent to the family estate in Mas du Clos while collecting competition Ferraris, at one point owning around 70 rare finds. Enzo Ferrari himself once declared that he had no need for a museum dedicated to racing models, since Mr Bardinon already had one.

The car at the heart of his children's dispute, one of just three built in 1964, was bought by Mr Bardinon in 1978 for the princely sum of US$700 - about US$2,800 in today's money - though he spent another US$1,500 fixing it up.

The 250 GTOs, built from 1962-64, have since become some of the most fabled Ferraris in the world, deemed the "hottest car of all time" by the magazine Popular Mechanics in 2017. "A stunning shape and incredible 3.0 litre V-12 makes this the definitive exotic. And it couldn't be more gorgeous," the magazine gushed.

For Mr Patrick Bardinon, the story begins in 1978, when he suffered a horrendous accident while driving in a race. "My father thought I had died that day," he told the court last Thursday. Feeling a terrible guilt for having passed on his passion for cars, the father gave his son the GTO, a friend of the family testified.

"My sister received payouts from my father her entire life, without ever working, and my brother got money when his businesses weren't doing well," Mr Patrick Bardinon said. "I find it unseemly of them to challenge our father's decisions now."

But his brother's lawyers say that Mr Patrick Bardinon "secretly removed the car from the collection one morning at dawn", Mr Pierre Bardinon died in 2012 and his wife soon after, leaving a fortune which exposed his heirs to hefty French inheritance taxes. AFP