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Vintage Ferrari owners’ favourite mechanic charged with theft, fraud

Vintage Ferrari owners’ favourite mechanic charged with theft, fraud
The badge of a derelict 1965 Ferrari 275 GTB/6C Alloy. Classic Ferraris are rarities that only a handful of well-trained mechanics can repair.

Few mechanics post photos of themselves on Venetian canals, brag about buying $30,000 artworks or frequent the George V Hotel in Paris and Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles.

But this was the life Donnie Callaway portrayed via social media to wealthy clients, who sent him their vintage Ferraris and Alfa Romeos for his reportedly magical mechanical touch. 

On 1 April, Callaway found himself booked in the Lower Buckeye Jail in Arizona’s Maricopa County on charges of theft, trafficking stolen property, forgery and fraud.

The 60-year-old mechanic had been arrested hours earlier after he allegedly attempted to sell a Ferrari Daytona and Ferrari 512BB to an Arizona collector who apparently had come to suspect that Callaway did not rightfully own the vehicles he was selling. 

The collector then set up a “sting” operation. 

Callaway is being held on a $400,000 cash bond, according to the Maricopa Sheriff’s Office.

Fall from grace

Callaway was boosted in recent years by such influential automotive commentators as Matt Farah and Jay Leno, who featured him on his popular car-themed YouTube show. Now, some of California’s most affluent Italian-car enthusiasts are scrambling to pick up the pieces of vehicles they had entrusted to him. 

“Not many mechanics in the US can work at this level,” says Steve Serio, a broker who sources blue-chip cars for collectors that include Jerry Seinfeld. “There might be 20 people in California, but there certainly aren’t 50. It’s a dying business. It’s hard to find capable people.”

No one seems to doubt that the repairman knew his way around the engines of the cars he kept in the airfield hangar that doubled as his workshop and residence in Lancaster, about 112km north of Los Angeles. He would often post images of his projects, such as a half-built Ferrari 512 engine, on social media. (He isn’t related to the family that owns and operates Callaway Cars, according to company president Pete Callaway.)

“His work is beyond reproach,” Farah said in a phone interview on 5 April. “He gave me a fair rate for excellent-quality work.”

Others report a similar experience. Alexander Knox, who goes by @thego_getter on Instagram, wrote a post on 21 July 2022 that described Callaway as a “Ferrari savant” with an extraordinary skill set “who happens to be incredibly humble”. He continued: “I am most grateful for his wisdom, shared life experiences, advice and lessons.” (Knox clarified over e-mail after publication that he didn’t use Callaway for mechanical work but wrote that post, since edited, after receiving a tour of his workshop.)

“A true class act” is how Dyuna Morgan described Callaway in an Instagram post on 13 June 2022. Morgan, who goes by @thegentlemanofleisure, appeared to have joined Callaway in Venice in 2021, according to his Instagram posts. Morgan did not respond to request for comment.

But among many positive comments posted on the prominent Ferrari Chat news and commentary website are those from users complaining about Callaway’s opaque fees and propensity to overcharge. 

“This guy should be SHUNNED — not to be made out to be some super mechanic,” one called versamil wrote in a 2023 thread about a $130,000 service bill on a Ferrari 328. 

Another, under the name Nuvolari, agreed: “Prices like the ones shown are what give mechanic shops a bad name and discourage people from owning Ferraris. They are monstrously high even by the standards of a Beverly Hills Ferrari dealership let alone a one man show operating out of an airplane hangar in the middle of nowhere.” 

The backstory

Callaway’s history reveals legal skirmishes dating back more than two decades, according to legal documents obtained by Bloomberg. He has been charged with multiple instances of theft and fraud and had a burglary conviction in 2001; a possession of a controlled substance conviction and a grand theft conviction in 2003; a domestic violence conviction in 2006; and perjury and extortion convictions in 2012, among others.

On 21 February, Thomas Shaughnessy, a longtime Ferrari consultant and historian, filed a legal declaration with the Superior Court of the State of California for the County of San Diego stating that, at the Retromobile car show in Paris, he had witnessed Callaway trying to sell a rare Ferrari Monza owned by someone else. Callaway was selling the Monza as if it belonged to him, the declaration stated. The declaration appeared to be related to a separate ongoing lawsuit against Callaway. The lawyer retained for that suit declined to comment. 

Meanwhile, a new Instagram account has appeared under Callaway’s name, describing him as a “swindler”. As of 10 April, the only posts on it were screenshots of his mugshot and criminal case history. It is unclear who created the account. 

Another lawsuit, filed on 11 August 2023 by Arthur Teerlynck of Kuurne, Belgium, alleged unfair business practices, violations of California’s automotive repair act, breach of contract and fraud, among other allegations. 

That lawsuit requests, among other things, restitution of a 1973 Ferrari Daytona valued at $950,000; a 1961 Maserati 3500 Spyder Vignale valued at $825,000; a 1986 Ferrari 328 valued at $100,000; a 1995 Rolls-Royce Flying Spur valued at $40,000; and various parts and titles. It seeks compensation for overcharges, plus fees and other damages, and a trial by jury.

“Plaintiff has paid over $1,465,989.00 to Defendant Callaway for brokerage fees and repair services performed on his vehicles,” the lawsuit says.  

It claims, among other things, that Callaway did not have the license legally required to work as an automotive repair mechanic. It alleges that Callaway wrongfully assumed control over the plaintiff’s vehicles and was actively trying to conceal the vehicles. It also alleges that, on a trip to Belgium, Callaway was left unattended in the plaintiff’s repair shop and intentionally placed small metal pieces in the spark plugs of a $200,000 Ferrari Testarossa, causing the engine to fail. 

“After [Callaway] had departed from Belgium, Plaintiff noticed [he] began to make posts on social media regarding the Testarossa, where [he] made such statements, ‘Never to be seen on the road again,’ and ‘It’s [sic] Last Drive,’” the lawsuit says.  

Through his lawyer, Teerlynck declined to comment. Callaway’s lawyer in the Teerlynck matter also declined to comment. A court hearing on the status of the case is set for 14 May.

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