- joe ford is a lawyer turned private detective who specializes in recovering expensive and rare cars that have been stolen or otherwise lost.
- ford makes money by offering his services for free in return for majority ownership of the car in question. when he finds one, he sells it and splits the profits with the previous owners.
- read about his quest to recover a stolen talbot-lago teardrop coupe in esquire.
for many car enthusiasts, the preoccupation with the mechanical has a slow sucking effect on our finances, as we pile money into repairs and restorations for cars that will never again be worth what they were when new. but joe ford, a private detective with a yen for rare cars who was profiled in esquire's september issue, has managed to turn his love of cars into a lucrative career.
ford first got involved in the car world when he turned to gray-market imports and exports of european cars to finance his law degree (you can read more about the nuts and bolts of that semi-lucrative business here). he has recently been on the trail of a 1938 talbot-lago t150c ss teardrop coupe, which esquire says was one of only two built with a 140-hp 4.0-liter inline-six race-car engine. a similar car was sold by rm sotheby's in 2011 for the equivalent of about $4,441,000 in 2011 money. ford thinks this one is worth $7.6 million.
the talbot-lago teardrop is a strikingly beautiful car with a long hood, swooping front and rear fenders, and an aerodynamic water-droplet shape that today's automakers have executed with infinitely less grace in cars such as the hyundai ioniq and the tesla model 3. the t150 in question was imported from france to greenwich, connecticut, in 1938 and eventually ended up in the hands of milwaukee businessman roy leiske. then, in 2001, it was stolen in broad daylight by thieves who dressed up as workmen and carried the car, piece by piece, from the warehouse where it was being stored to a waiting box truck. leiske died a few years later, leaving the stolen car's title to a second cousin, richard mueller, who assumed the car itself was lost for good. enter joe ford.
ford had learned about the stolen talbot-lago from a french mechanic while digging up dirt on a former friend who became an enemy when he allegedly cut ford out of a seven-figure paycheck for the sale of a 1954 ferrari 375 plus spider in which they shared ownership. ford got his frenemy on the record in a deposition saying he had purchased the car legally from an estate sale. then ford got in touch with mueller and offered to help him track down the car in return for a majority stake in it. if he managed to find the rare beast, he would sell it and use the profits to fund his various exploits.
it turns out finding it wasn't that hard: it was sold, using fabricated paperwork, to millionaire businessman rick workman for $7.6 million in 2015. when workman tried to register the car in 2017, it popped up on a government database of stolen cars, and ford and mueller were alerted.
but finding is not the same as possessing. workman says he purchased the car in good faith and refuses to return it. so the beautiful, rare coupe is still sitting in a workshop in massachusetts while the three men hash out their legal dispute.
joe ford may get part of his payday soon, though. the t150c and its engine were separated in the course of the car's long journey, and the fbi has recovered the original engine and will return it to ford and mueller. ford says it's worth $2 million all on its own.