On June 13, 2020, Worldwide Auctioneers offered at auction what it described as “General Patton’s Dodge WC-57 Command Car.” That simple title implies that the vehicle once belonged to General Patton. After bidding $150,000 (plus paying a 23% buyer's premium), the new owner will now have to decide just what part of the statement they accept.
You see, while the Dodge that old does look like one of the command cars General George Patton had customized for his own use, there is a lack of clear provenance to actually prove that it was. In fact, the auction company offered little evidence to support the assertion that the Dodge being offered is one that Patton used, other than emphasizing modification similarities to the original.
Within our small world of historic military vehicle restorers, preservers, and researchers, it is difficult to slip one by us. Just looking through my records, I have been able to establish a bit of history of the vehicle, though nothing that would link it to the famous WWII general.
PROVENANCE HAS A LONG WAY TO TRAVEL
Dean Kruse can be characterized as one of the classic car royalty of the late 20th Century. By the early 2000s, his company, Kruse International, had grown to be one of the largest automotive auction firms in the world.
Riding on the success of his classic car auctions, Kruse, along with his family, established the Kruse Foundation with the mission of “celebrating America’s heritage by providing the public with an entertaining, educational experience focused on the preservation, exhibition and interpretation of historical treasures.” In 2003, the Foundation opened the WWII Victory Museum. The foundation collection for the museum came from Europe.
About a decade prior to this, a Belgian collector by the name of Guy Franz Arend founded the Victory Memorial Museum in Messancy, Belgium, in 1989. This was not the Arend’s first museum, however. In 1950, he was instrumental in the creation of the “Bastogne Nuts Museum” in the famed Belgian village. When the museum moved in 1975, Arend turned his attention to creating a larger museum 30 miles away in the Arlon-Messancy area: the World War II Victory Memorial Museum.
By 1998, Arend’s Victory Memorial museum had failed to attract the attendance needed to sustain operations. Arend was forced to liquidate. Rather than dispersing the collection, Arend sold the entire contents to Dean Kruse who had a vision for establishing a WWII museum in the United States.
From October 2001 into January 2002, Kruse transported the collection to Auburn, Indiana. When Kruse opened his new “WWII Victory Museum” in 2003, the WC-57 was proudly displayed as “Patton’s Command Car.”
Ten years later, however, the Dean V. Kruse Foundation (which operated the museum then known as the National Military History Center) faced a court order to immediately repay a $2.9 million loan on which it had defaulted. In an effort to save itself, the Foundation took drastic actions -- including the sale of about two-thirds of the artifacts on display. The Foundation had sold a number of other non-military vehicles in the years leading up to this major liquidation. “Patton’s Command Car” was not offered for sale at this time, however.
The sale of much of Kruse's History Center went ahead. Many vehicles were sold, dispersing the once-significant collection.
Prior to and after the sale, however, questions about the catalog descriptions and attributions arose. At least one significant lawsuit over originality resulted.
Filed by the “THE ONTARIO REGIMENT (RCAC)) COMPANY and ALAN DUFFY (USDC IN/ND case 1:17-cv-00367-WCL-SLC document 73 filed 04/10/19 page 1 of 20 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT NORTHERN DISTRICT OF INDIANA FORT WAYNE DIVISION), the plaintiffs sued because several German WWII vehicles they had bought at the auction were “not authentic” in as much as they didn’t have engines or transmissions. In the end, however, judgement was in favor of the Foundation, stating, “the record lacks evidence from which a jury could infer that the Foundation knew or had a conscious objective to defraud. As a result, the Plaintiffs' claims fail as a matter of law.”
With the court case settled in the Foundation's favor, the clouds appeared to be clearing from the foundation and its assets. The National Military History Center continued operation, funded, in part, by the proceeds of the 2013 sale. That is, until 2017, when those clouds reformed. It appeared it was time for the Foundation to to raise some more money by selling parts of the collection.
That year, RM Auctions offered the Foundation's “Patton’s Command Car” with a $60,000 reserve against an estimate of $100,000-$150,000. RM Auctions presented the vehicle for sale with a description that loosely stated, “This Dodge WC57 Command Car is reputed to be General Patton’s actual vehicle. It features flags depicting General Patton’s rank, custom armor plating, as well as high volume horns and a siren.”
And this is where the story gets even murkier.
At that time, RM Auctions, had risen to major prominence in the classic car hobby. Incorporated in 1991, it had become a main competitor to Kruse international by averaging more than $300,000 per auction in 2007. Then, in a move that stunned the hobby, Dean Kruse took drastic measures to keep his empire afloat. He sold his Auburn Auction Park to RM Auctions on July 1, 2010.
So, when the National Military History Center needed to raise more operating capital back in 2017, it turned to Kruse’s one-time competitor-turned-savior to make the sale. But, alas, no bidder took the nebulous “Patton-Proved” bait. The auction failed to meet the $60,000 reserve even though that wasn’t far off the going rate for a parade-ready WC-57 without bing attributed to General Patton.
Now, in 2020, the WC-57 has reemerged on the auction scene, this time offered by Worldwide Auctioneers. And while it is difficult to find much on the history of Worldwide Auctioneers, the company’s “About Us” on their website is studded with Kruse-surnamed staff members.
Coincidences don’t just happen in this industry: Worldwide is headquartered in…you guessed it, Auburn, Indiana. And the Worldwide’s co-founder? Dean Kruse’s nephew, John Kruse. In fact, John is one of a trio of investors who bought the Kruse Museum’s property: The Kruse National Military History Center and Automotive & Carriage Museum.
So, it comes as no shock that Worldwide offered the venerable old Dodge with just only the slightest implication that it could have been, maybe was, and really looks like…General Patton’s WC-57.
A little bit of connection can go a long way in this business.
But where is the provenance to show that General actually used this vehicle? Such a bold claim needs to be supported by a solid paper trail.
Until that evidence is produced, no matter what museum displays it or high-end auction house sells it, this WWII Dodge will simply remain...
***UPDATE 6/15/2020. Lot 7591 sold in 18 bids for $150,000 plus 23% buyer’s premium (total of $184,500 before taxes).
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