1979 Porsche 935 K3 loaded on DEA hauler (photo: David Soares)
1979 Porsche 935 K3 loaded on DEA hauler (photo: David Soares)

Le Mans-Winning Porsche 935 K3 Seized

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]

Show Comments (43)

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    1. That Is Brutally Cruel !!! Poor Bruce, But It Was All A Joke !!! Wow !!! I Thought Bruce Owned The K3 That Mr Hayashi Owned The White Pink And Gray 935. I Drove the earlier 935 at Fuji in 1978 #3 R.

  1. What a story. I was on the edge of my seat, thinking how awful this was for Bruce. You had me hook, line and sinker as well!

    Those are so great friends…well done to all involved.

  2. Heard about this through the Porsche grapevine, but didn’t know until know that it was a hoax until now. I would have ended up in the hospital.

  3. It was like some of the jokes Paul Newman pulled on Bob Tullius. Newman once left in hand cuffs at Road Atlanta CSPRRC………………………….SKIP

  4. I am a completely forgiving person when someone deliberately does me dirt…and it’s happened, believe you me. But as far as a JOKE goes–it might take me 20 years but I’d top this trick on the trick-puller…or maybe just let the air out of his tires forever, whenever I saw one of his cars. On the grid would be a very good place, methinx.

  5. Bonus points if they put lots of bags of, say, catnip or oregano in the trunk before the “feds” showed up…

    1. Speaking of the Wittingtons brothers. Newman and I were at Brainard Race Track sitting in the pits. The Chief Steward came to us and asked us not to go on the track. The track was closed because the Wittingtons were landing on the front straight, in their P-51 fighters. Just goes to show you what real-estate can do. LOL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! SKIP

        1. Chuck Lyford did the same thing at Pacific International Raceways in 1965 in the Bardahl sponsored Reno Air Race P-51. He also raced that day in, I believe, a Lotus 20.

  6. Have followed the Whittington brothers since the days when they showed up at Indy with no sponsorship whatsoever on their cars and wondering where the money was coming from! As to Bruce Meyers friends – I hope they have heard the term “Paybacks Are Hell!”

  7. I’m wondering if this prank was totally legal, mainly because I think impersonating a federal agent, is a crime. I am probably wrong, but you never know…

    1. ” impersonating a federal agent, is a crime”

      Not if your filthy rich.

      BTW, I bet the Whittington Bro’s love all the free publicity.

  8. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. No, really. It couldn’t have. Bruce, you have some great friends, but you already know that too.

  9. My information says it was a production contract for the prank. There was no intent on the part of the actors to obtain anything of value (permanently deprive) while acting as agents, and it’s my information that they were careful in their talking to not misrepresent certain things that could get them in trouble with real feds. Overall, just a great prank that day.

  10. Holy Dawg She-ott BATMAN ..! It’s a damn good thing ole’ Bruce has a great sense of humor and a healthy ticker to geaux along with this whopper of a gotchya…..
    The embarrassment alone would have been enough to make most of us drop a giant load in our pants, not including the friends your sure to make when the GD DEA brings along their nutty brothers in crime the IRS and the rest of Uncle Sam’s Black operators…. Jees-Louise..!

  11. The only recourse is to have his best friends arrested for impersonating Federal Law Enforcement officers / agents. Plus the insurer of the car should also be involved with taking property under false pretenses and so on, etc.. forever. RnR

  12. well boys thats pretty funny especially since i Knew the Whittingtons pretty well since i did all the fabrication for them at Indy and they rented from me at my gasoline alley shop, they used call me from prison to see what was going on. Arciero rented from me also for years. Small world!

  13. Sorry, but the whole story is bs or countless felonies were committed by all involved. Impersonating a peace officer, impersonating a federal officer, grand theft auto etc. And what if things went very wrong and someone got hurt? This was one big publicity stunt and everyone was in on it except people duped by the story.

    1. I agree Steve. Hate to be a spoil sport but after reading this, it was a legally fraught and wasteful prank! How much money did such a joke cost Canepa eat all? Couldn’t it have been better served by giving the money to one of Bruce’s favorite charities and hiring a Paul Newman look-alike to appear impersonating him?

  14. Wow can I just say pay backs a bitch. If who ever did this thinks that was funny, they should really be worried about whats headed there way in the future.

  15. I always wondered what kind of jokes do multi-millionaires play on each other? Sure beats the time somebody put a dog turd in my shoe at the track.

  16. The Feds seized the Whittington brother’s three Indy cars and a Porsche 935 and sold them at auction in 1989. I bought the three Indy cars and if I recall, Kevin Jeanette of Gunnar Racing had the high bid on the 935.

  17. Being at that event and Danni and I having lunch with Bruce and his Son that day , then walking out of the lunch room looking down on what was going on ! I thought Bruce was going to fall off the railing. This was a real deal in all our minds. Even Gil Campbell ( General Mgr. of LSR at the time) was told to stand down or be arrested for her telling one of the DEA officers to leave the property as she had not been contacted prior, being what she thought was proper for the seizure procedures. Then I got to thinking, looking at the paperwork presented to Bruce and him off in his trailer trying to reach his Attorney……I own the other Whittington 935 (#93) that was sized by the DEA and went to auction purchased by Kevin….HOLY S…! I immediately called the shop to make sure our car was buried in the racks, back in the corner in the dark, covered, cars to be parked in front telling Pete to not let anyone in. I also had release paperwork by the Fed’s from the auction! ……It felt very good to see the flat bed coming back into the track, emergency lights on, with Bruce’s car on it. I later told Canepa he was a EVIL MAN……and with his usual big kid grin, answered….”YES I AM”. This was one of those car adventures you will remember as one of the best times in your life!