Photographs of the 1956 Ford Fairlane show a glossy-black car with yellow and orange flames flaring back from the gleaming grill. Part of the massive engine — a 540-cubic inch V8 — protrudes from a cutout in the hood.
Minutes after the date-stamped photos were taken in October 2015, the hot rod was a wreck, resting in a ditch along East Douglas Street in Wichita.
Now it’s the focus of a lawsuit playing out in federal court in Kansas City, Kan.
Michael LaZear of Comer, Ga., entrusted his hot rod, which he valued at $500,000 to $700,000, to Devlin Rod & Customs on East Douglas in Wichita so it could do some mechanical magic. But a Devlin employee wrecked the car.
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LaZear’s lawsuit seeks damages of at least $700,000 and names as defendants Devlin Rod & Customs LLC, owner Timothy Devlin and Devlin employee Ryan James. LaZear said the business promised that no one would drive the car without his permission and that the shop had millions of dollars in insurance if anything happened to the car.
Devlin Rod & Customs denies those claims and maintains that LaZear knew the shop would have to test-drive the car. The business also contends that LaZear owes it $18,984.51 for work on the car, a court document says.
Devlin said he couldn’t comment on the lawsuit. LaZear’s attorney, Brett Randol, said he couldn’t comment.
LaZear’s lawsuit says that on Oct. 20, 2015, James rapidly accelerated the 1956 Ford Fairlane to “peel out, burnout, ‘fish tail,’ ‘hot rod,’ or otherwise show off” as he was driving the car from another Wichita business where the car had been worked on.
The hot rod went out of control, rolled several times, crashed into a ditch and ended up “a total loss,” the lawsuit says.
James pleaded guilty to recklessly driving LaZear’s Fairlane, and a Sedgwick County District Court judge ordered that his license be restricted for 90 days beginning June 1, 2016, records show.
In a court document answering the lawsuit complaint, the Devlin shop denied that “actions were taken for the purpose of ‘showing off,’ ” and denied “that it … was an ‘attempt to burnout.’ ”
LaZear told the business “do what you have to do” to drive and test the car, the business said in the court document.
LaZear’s lawsuit describes the car as “a custom-built, one-off 1956 Fairlane ‘Pro Touring’ 2-Door Sedan.” The frame, chassis and roll bar were fabricated by hand, the body shaped by hand and the interior “custom restored.”
“Through years of work, labor and significant expense,” the lawsuit says, “LaZear transformed the shell of the Fairlane into the custom, one-of-a-kind show car of his dreams.”
Devlin Rod & Customs was not supposed to let anyone drive the car without LaZear’s permission, and the business assured that the car would be transported only by trailer, the lawsuit says. The car had never been driven when it was left in Devlin Rod & Customs’ “exclusive possession,” it says.
At the time of the crash, the lawsuit says, the car’s odometer read 27 miles.
The case is set for mediation in September.