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Offline AshSimmonds

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$700,000 of automotive history put on ICE
By Richard Starnes, The Ottawa Citizen
Customs agents cart off 1994 Cizeta V16T, citing 'a real threat to public safety'

One of the most mouthwatering vehicles ever put on the road is sitting in a U.S. immigration pound today.

I was finding it impossible to envisage what a $700,000 U.S. car could possibly look like until I came across a less than flattering picture of one being unceremoniously winched onto the back of a flatbed truck.

Last Monday, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents -- they carry the catchy title of ICE -- swooped down on a classic car showroom in San Juan Capistrano, California, and whisked away what they called a "one-of-a-kind" 1994 Cizeta V16T.

Actually the Cizeta V16T is not one-of-a-kind. Since the first was rolled out in 1991, there have been eight -- including the one impounded over alleged customs and environmental law violations.

Mind you, it's taken a very long time for anyone to act.

The allegation is that one of the men behind the dream some 30 years ago -- automotive engineer Claudio Zampoli, who lives in California's Orange County -- brought the car to the States in February 2001.

The affidavit suggests Zampoli's import agent submitted import customs documents back then claiming the car was worth $125,000 when $600,000 was nearer the estimated value.

The import form apparently also said the car would be in the country for only a year and that it was there for maintenance and repair. Finally, the ICE guys say the car does not meet environmental regulations.

What a shame such a beauty should be treated this way. After all, it -- and the other seven that were built -- are part of automotive history.

Way back in the 1980s, Zampoli and music composer Giorgio Moroder decided they wanted to produce the rich man's dream car. It was to be everything the super-wealthy could possibly want in a sports car.

So they headed for Modena, the Italian town many would call the Mecca of the finest in Italian car production -- the place, for instance, where the Maserati Merak was born. There, they gathered a special team with special skills in highest quality design. Many of them, for example, had worked on the Lamborghini Countach.

The car made a dramatic debut at the Geneva Car Show in 1988 and three years later was offered for sale.

What did it boast?

How about a futuristic V-16 engine that could go from a standing start to 100 kilometres an hour in four seconds and a top speed of 328 kilometres an hour?

Chief designer Oliviero Pedrazzi should take credit for the engine design. It actually teams up two V8s mounted transversely just in front of the rear wheels. It has 64 valves, eight camshafts and two radiators.

The body is aluminum, apart from the steel roof, and everything on the inside is of the highest quality -- things like the leather upholstery, the audio and more.

Zampoli and Moroder hoped there would be enough of a market to sell one Cizeta a week. There was an order or two, including one from the Sultan of Brunei. But a world recession was hitting and even the wealthiest pulled in their horns so production halted.

Back in California this week, ICE special agent Miguel Unzueta was talking tough. "Make no mistake, the illegal importation of grey market vehicles like this is not just a technical violation," he said. "Cars that don't meet U.S. standards are outlawed for a reason. These vehicles can pose a real threat to public health and safety."

So what will happen to the Cizeta?

Moves are beginning to have it handed over to the feds and, if that happens, it will go up for public auction, and since it doesn't meet environmental laws it will have to be exported immediately.

So all you need now will be some $600,000 and a ritzy offshore home to take it.


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