Usually, when something ends up in a museum, it is expected to be treated with the utmost care. Unluckily for Craig Breedlove and his famed and historic Spirit of America turbojet car, this apparently wasn’t the case.
Breedlove, who is 79 years old now, is famous for breaking many land-speed records in the 1960s with various turbojet-powered cars that he designed and built—all called Spirit of America. He was the first person to reach 500 MPH on land at the Bonneville Salt Flats in 1964.
At the end of the run, however, the car ran out of room to slow down after it lost its parachutes and ended up crashing into a saltwater brine pool far away from the course. The Spirit of America was brought back to a race car facility in California, where it was repaired and modified in preparation for a 600 MPH record attempt the following year.
But the car never ran again, because the Museum of Science and Industry contacted Breedlove and requested him to loan the vehicle to it for an exhibition in 1965. The two parties made an oral agreement, with conditions of the loan being:
(1) the Spirit of America would not be shown commercially anywhere other than at the Museum without Breedlove’s prior written approval; (2) the Spirit of America would be made available in the event that a motion picture about the record runs of the vehicle was going to be made; and (3) in the event that the Spirit of America was to be removed from exhibition, it would returned to Mr. Breedlove at his request.
When it was returned to him in 2015, he discovered that it had been damaged, reports the Chicago Tribune.
According to the lawsuit, the car was not in the “mint condition” that was stated in the museum’s letter that alerted Breedlove of its intention to return the car. The Tribune writes:
Damage included exterior panels that no longer fit, stretched intake duct mountings for the jet engine and graffiti where schoolchildren carved their initials in the aluminum finish, the lawsuit said.
In addition, Breedlove said the vehicle’s frame had been cut and “unprofessionally” rewelded, and the driver’s seat was missing. The car was taken to a professional restoration shop, which estimated repair costs at $395,000.
Other missing parts included water, oil and fuel tanks and the Spirit’s historic turnaround dolly.
In the court statement, Breedlove alleged that in the museum’s attempt to “hide its negligent care,” it “further harmed the car” by having “the vehicle’s aluminum skin panels repaired and repainted by incompetent and unqualified personnel.”
The museum was able to get previous claims of negligence and breach of fiduciary duty dismissed, but Breedlove filed an amended complaint, according to the Tribune. The second complaint included supporting documents that listed the standards and best practices from the American Association of Museums (which the Museum of Science and Industry is part of).
That, apparently, was what the court needed to see in order to decide.
Judge Ronald Guzman cited a section of the AAM standards in his ruling:
“Stewardship is the careful, sound and responsible management of that which is entrusted to a museum’s care. Possession of collections incurs legal, social and ethical obligations to provide proper physical storage, management and care for the collections and associated documentation, as well as proper intellectual control.
Collections are held in trust for the public and made accessible for the public’s benefit. Effective collections stewardship ensures that the objects the museum owns, borrows, holds in its custody and/or uses are available and accessible to present and future generations.”
The AAM tried to argue that its standards were not yet put in place when the museum took in the jet car and that the Museum of Science and Industry has only been accredited by the AAM since 1975 only, but Guzman rejected the arguments.
He ruled that Breedlove can indeed move forward with the suit.
Breedlove’s lawyer told the Tribune that he’d like to see the case resolved without either party needing to “spend more money,” but also that a settlement is “unlikely.”
“If it doesn’t (settle), we will go forward... and ultimately, we will see the museum in court,” he said.
You can find the judge’s ruling and the suit below.
(h/t to Jordan and Jeffrey!)