Monday, May 15, 2006

Did You Hear the One About the Ferrari, the (Alleged) Gangster, and the Chinese TV Network?

One doesn’t expect China to figure in a story about $500,000 race cars, an alleged Euro-trash gangster, and a titanic Internet-stock boondoggle.

But in LA anything is possible.

Southern California has been atwitter concerning the Ferrari crash case. It began as an ur-California event—an early morning drag race on the Pacific Coast Highway, the Ferrari becoming airborne at 162 mph, bisected by a telephone pole, debris scattered hundreds of feet down the road, the alleged driver, Bo Stefan Eriksson, walking away from the wreck nothing more than a bloody nose…all freedom, fun, and reckless self-indulgence, no victims, and no consequences.

But the case quickly took a turn for the worse for Eriksson. It transpired that he had brought the car to LA illegally, he had wangled bogus cop credentials from a little public bus service for the elderly and handicapped in the San Gabriel Valley, he was an executive of a disgraced tech company, Gizmondo, that blew through hundreds of millions of dollars meant to finance the “Swiss army knife” of handheld computer dervices but seemed to function primarily as a piggy bank to fund the lavish lifestyles of directors and executives…

…and today’s LA Times depicts Eriksson as a sleazy, self-made gangster who created a thuggish persona and career for himself on the not-so-mean streets of Uppsala, Sweden.

The illustration for the front page article caught my eye.

It shows Eriksson squatting awkwardly next to a Formula One race car with the logo CCTV—China Central TV—emblazoned on the body.

A China connection between Eriksson and CCTV? That’s news!

Not too much to see here, however.

The car belonged to Jordan Grand Prix, the Formula One team owned by racing legend Eddie Jordan, which had secured a sponsorship deal with CCTV .

Gizmondo had promised $3 million to Jordan for a sponsorship deal. Gizmondo didn’t deliver, and finally coughed up $1.5 million and some (now worthless) stock to Jordan in an out of court settlement.

Despite Jordan’s distinguished history as F1 team leader and personality, his underfinanced team wasn’t able to achieve the success necessary to capitalize on the longshot deal with CCTV, or ensure Jordan Grand Prix’s survival as an independent. He sold the business and the team now races under another name.

But in 2003, Jordan, CCTV, and Gizmondo were still on the same page, failure and disgrace were still in the future, and a picture in today’s paper unexpectedly captures that far-off time.

The uncropped version of the photo on the LA Times website shows Jordan next to Eriksson, holding what must be the notorious Gizmondo device.

Photo by Russell Batchelor / Batchelor/Sutton Images