Council debtor has $3.2m Aston Martin
A rare Aston Martin car – once stolen by the Japanese mafia – and a contaminated rural property near Nelson form the unlikely backdrop to a row over unpaid rates.
Colin Gordon, 66, has the Tasman District Council's largest outstanding rating debt, owing $27,374. He has not paid any rates since 2006.
The Wakefield pensioner has told the council he will pay everything he owes when he sells his 1949 Aston Martin DB1.
The car is one of only three Aston Martin DB1s remaining worldwide, out of the 15 ever built, and is listed for sale for $3.2 million.
The car's colourful history includes it being modified for British alpine adventurer Robert Lawrie to compete in the famed Le Mans 24-hour endurance race in 1949. It remains in very good condition.
Mr Gordon, a vintage car enthusiast, bought the vehicle in England in 1991 and he thought he had sold it to a Japanese buyer three years later.
Instead he fought a 16-year battle to recover the car that had been stolen by a boss in the Japanese mafia or yakuza (see story below).
Mr Gordon estimated that his efforts to finally regain control has cost about $650,000. Serious health problems affecting him and his wife over a number of years have also been a financial drain, leaving the car and two properties as their main assets.
They had no money to pay rates from their pension after paying their mortgage and other bills, he said.
He has had three offers for the car, but the top bid of 1 million did not reflect the car's value, he said.
He was serious about selling, but wanted to get the vehicle's Federation Internationale de l'Automobile heritage certificates that took months but added another 50 per cent value to its value.
Mr Gordon is upset the council has approached his bank to recover its debt, despite his conditional offer of repaying everything.
He fears he will lose his house and said the council has wrongly accused him of trying to sell the car since 2008, when it was only put on the market early last year.
Adding fuel to his grievances is that one of the Wakefield properties he pays rates on is a former Baigent's Timber property, which is a registered contaminant site.
The property was extremely contaminated and had strict restrictions on how it could be used, Mr Gordon said.
He had the property valued at $68,000 and says the council has been wrongly rating him at the council's valuation of $360,000. He believed others owning contaminated sites might also have been wrongly billed for years.
"They say they [the TDC] are being fair to ratepayers, but what about ratepayers with contaminated sites. Are they being fair to people with contaminated sites?"
He had told the council of his valuation and lodged an objection with Quotable Valuation (QV) on its recent valuation, he said.
Mr Gordon has outlined his complaints in a long and at times personally abusive letter to the Tasman District Council's acting chief executive Dennis Bush-King.
In reply last month, Mr Bush-King said Mr Gordon had made it clear he and his wife had serious health conditions, owed considerable sums to other advisers, and wanted to maximise the price they got from the Aston Martin.
He was not making light of those issues, but said Mr Gordon had not paid any rates for six years. He also had a letter from 2008 saying Mr Gordon was trying to sell "a valuable non-essential asset".
"In fairness to the ratepayers of Tasman District Council, including all those who do pay their rates on time, I am not able to allow this situation to continue," Mr Bush-King wrote.
QV valuer Hugh Fitzgibbon said QV did not know if a property was listed as a contaminated site when it carried out valuations.
That information would come up on a Land Information Memorandum report of a property and QV did not have a copy of the registrar of contaminated sites, he said.
REAL-LIFE DRAMA OVER RARE CAR
It sounds like the plot of a James Bond thriller – villains, fistfights, foreign adventures and an Aston Martin.
But for Wakefield pensioner Colin Gordon the tale of his rare Aston Martin DB1 has been a real-life drama with more spills than thrills.
The car was manufactured in 1949, one of only 15 ever made by the luxury sports car manufacturer.
It was built by Aston Martin for alpine adventurer Robert Lawrie to race at the fabled Le Mans 24-hour race. Lawrie had never raced before and used his influence to get an invitation to race in the event. He and co-driver Dr Dick Parker finished an impressive 11th overall.
While the car's first decades are impressive, it is the years that Mr Gordon has owned it that read like a page-turning novel.
Vintage-car enthusiast Mr Gordon bought the vehicle in 1991 from Stephen Langton Ltd in Surrey England. He paid 100,000 for the vehicle, the equivalent of $380,000 today.
In 1994, Mr Gordon shipped the vehicle to a potential buyer in Japan.
The Japanese man who brokered the deal turned out to be a fraudster who also scammed a number of people around New Zealand for considerable sums.
Mr Gordon's car was stolen off the wharf at Kobe, Japan, by the Japanese yakuza (mafia) and the car ended up in the possession of a yakuza boss.
Mr Gordon said he was nearly killed and spent $650,000 over the next 16 years trying to get the car back.
"I played every violin string I could to get the thing back, and I risked my life."
In 2002 he went to Japan with two associates and confronted the yakuza boss at a warehouse where the car was stored.
Mr Gordon said the yakuza boss called over his son and another "heavy" who were both martial arts experts and who proceeded to severely beat him up.
He was left with broken ribs and concussion, and lost three teeth.
He admitted he had been naive to visit them, but said it had been daylight and he had had associates with him.
"I showed him the paperwork and all they did was beat the s... out of me."
One of Mr Gordon's associates was arrested for carrying a knife and spent three days in a Japanese jail.
Mr Gordon said a Japanese heavy made another attempt to get the car back in 2002, but it only resulted in a brawl.
In 2007, Mr Gordon heard the Japanese mafia boss had been shot dead outside a gambling parlour. The yakuza boss' wife invited him to go to court to establish he owned the car, which he did at considerable expense.
He had to go back to the High Court in Japan after Japanese Customs found the car did not have the necessary paper work for export, and thus had to borrow more money to fly back to Japan and fight for the car.
The car had nearly cost him his life and his marriage, but he threw everything at it to get it back.
"I'm a typical Kiwi-born Scot."
- © Fairfax NZ News