The first man in history to drive a car 600 miles per hour
is trying to put the brakes on his relationship with Chicago’s Museum of
Science and Industry, alleging in a lawsuit that a car he used in his attempts
to break the land speed record and loaned to the museum suffered significant
damage while in the museum’s care.
Norman Craig Breedlove, a five-time holder of world land
speed records, filed a complaint against MSI June 3 in federal court in
Chicago, alleging the institution failed to adequately protect a car he loaned
it in the 1960s. Currently a California resident, Breedlove said the Spirit of
America automobile MSI displayed for years now is severely damaged, requiring nearly
$400,000 in repairs and restoration.
Breedlove’s complaint details his involvement in pursuing
and establishing land speed records, including being motivated by John F.
Kennedy’s speeches, partnerships with Shell Oil and Goodyear and how he
inspired the Beach Boys to record the song “Spirit of America” on their
car-themed 1963 album “Little Deuce Coupe.”
In 1964, Breedlove was driving 539.89 mph when he crashed;
an event the complaint notes “was highly publicized internationally.” The Spirit
of America car from that crash was shipped to “to the legendary Quinn Epperly’s
professional race car fabrication facility in Gardena, Calif., … for repairs
Breedlove planned to attempt exceeding 600 mph in 1965, but
instead Shell and Goodyear told him MSI was interested in having the car on
loan for a Spirit of America exhibit. So the car was cleaned and repaired, but
not restored to driving condition. Breedlove and MSI reached an oral agreement
in August 1965 stipulating Breedlove’s written consent would be required for
displaying the car anywhere aside from MSI, the car would remain available for
motion picture filming requests and if the car were to go off display, it would
be returned to Breedlove.
The car stayed on display until October 2015. In a letter
announcing plans end the exhibit, MSI wrote it had “endeavored to be good
stewards of the Spirit — and (it) continues to be in mint condition even after
50 years of public display!” MSI offered to either return the Spirit of America,
act as his agent in selling the car or accept permanent possession as a
donation. Breedlove elected to have the car sent to him in Rio Vista, Calif.,
and it arrived Oct. 30.
Earlier that month, Breedlove visited the car at MSI, at
which time “he observed a significant amount of damage in the nature of
exterior panels that were not fitting properly, stretched intake duct mountings
for the jet engine, which appeared to have come from people putting their feet
on or into the jet engine intake ducts and standing on them, and other cosmetic
Breedlove alleges the museum allowed children to have
“unimpeded physical access” to the car, and “many carved their names and
miscellaneous graffiti on the vehicle’s historic hand-formed, aluminum skin
panels and custom historic paint surfaces.” He further said MSI had the skin
panels “repaired and repainted by incompetent and unqualified personnel,
thereby resulting in further damage.” He also said at some point the “frame had
been unprofessionally cut and re-welded” and that several parts and accessories
were missing. A restoration shop pegged the cost to repair and recreate the
missing parts at more than $395,000.
Breedlove seeks at least $395,000, as well as punitive and
exemplary damages and legal fees. His complaint alleges gross negligence, breach
of fiduciary duty, breach of contract and breach of implied covenant of good
Attorneys for Breedlove are Freeman, Freeman & Smiley, of
Los Angeles; and Horwood Marcus & Berk Chartered, of Chicago.