Thieves Stole a Formula 1 Driver’s Ferrari. It Turned Up 28 Years Later.

As a driver on the glamorous, jet-setting Formula One circuit, naturally the Austrian Gerhard Berger drove some serious iron, even away from the track: a red Ferrari 512M Testarossa.

So it was very likely with some dismay that he watched his car unexpectedly drive away with someone else behind the wheel.

The theft took place at the 1995 San Marino Grand Prix in Imola, Italy. Berger jumped in the path of the car, according to reports at the time, but had to leap out of the way as it zoomed off.

He then gamely gave chase in a friend’s Volkswagen Golf, which went about as well as you would have expected it to. The Ferrari was gone.

Good news, however: The car has been recovered. And it took only 28 years.

The car’s whereabouts were unknown until earlier this year, when Ferrari contacted the Metropolitan Police in London about a suspicious vehicle being sold by a British broker.

The police determined the car had been sent to Japan shortly after being stolen and then brought to Britain late last year.

No arrests have been made. A second Ferrari stolen at the same Grand Prix from the French driver Jean Alesi remains missing.

Why would this car in particular attract a thief, or the people who hired them to steal it?

The Testarossa is one of Ferrari’s most famous makes, initially manufactured in 1984. The 512M variant that Berger drove was made between 1994 and 1996; only 501 of them were produced. It was the final Testarossa.

Mr. Berger could not be reached for comment. He finished third at the 1995 San Marino Grand Prix, but may not have the best memories of the week in Italy.

The theft was brazen not only in how it was carried out, but because of the target itself. As Dave North of Wayne, N.J., a Ferrari expert and a member of the Ferrari Club of America, Empire State Region, noted: “It takes a lot of nerve to steal one. Everyone knows their Ferrari serial number.”

Stephan Markowski of Nyack, N.Y., another Ferrari expert who has worked on the automaker’s cars for years, had a theory as to the car’s enduring popularity. “I happen to fall right in that perfect age of people who love the Testarossa,” he said. “Miami Vice was on TV, and the Testarossa was that iconic white Miami Vice car.”

“It was so ’80s, but it held up remarkably well,” he said. “It’s amazing how well that car has aged.”

Mr. Berger was not the only famous person to choose the car. The baseball star Gary Sheffield pleaded no contest to a reckless driving charge in 1994 after being caught going more than 110 miles an hour on Interstate 4 in a Testarossa. Michael Jordan picked up a ticket in 1989 when his Testarossa was going 90 m.p.h. in a 60 m.p.h. zone. Jean-Claude Duvalier, the former Haitian dictator, drove a red Testarossa while in exile on the French Riviera.

The New York Times was also not immune to the charms of the Testarossa, to say the least. “Want to meet gorgeous members of the opposite sex?” a news columnist asked in 1996. “For guaranteed results, buy a Ferrari and cruise the malls. While we’re on the subject, don’t buy just any Ferrari. Make it the F512M, arguably the most beautiful and certainly the most recognizable Ferrari ever built.”

The column added: “No other car that is legal to drive in the United States offers a comparable combination of glamour, aesthetics and performance.”

In 1988, not long after the Testarossa was launched, Enzo Ferrari, the company’s founder, died. That increased the car’s value for collectors even further, as it was one of the last cars directly associated with him.

Sold on it yet? The police said Mr. Berger’s car had a value of 350,000 pounds (about $445,000). Other 512Ms were recently listed for sale online between $500,000 and $700,000.

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