On August 31, 1997, the Princess and her boyfriend Dodi Fayed arrived in Paris, France, by airplane. They went out to dinner at the Ritz, but their presence caused such a commotion among patrons and the local paparazzi that they decided to go to his apartment, where no one would gawk at them. By then, the Princess had been divorced from Prince Charles for exactly one year and, according to reports, was planning a new life with Fayed, which may or may not have included a surprise proposal that same night and a secret pregnancy. Also by then, she had already expressed fears that the Royal Family, the Firm as she called it, would seek to eliminate her from the big picture – in a staged car accident, no less.
Mercedes-Benz S280 they had rented from Etoile Limousines, with Henry Paul in the driver seat and Trevor Rees-Jones, from Fayed’s personal security team, in the front passenger seat.
Minutes later, in the tunnel under Place de l’Alma, after a brief collision with a white Fiat Uno and while desperately trying to shake off an entire motorcade of paparazzi vehicles, Paul lost control of the limousine and crashed, at a speed reportedly as high as 120 mph / 193 kph. Diana, Fayed and himself would die in the crash, with Rees-Jones being the only one to survive – because he’d been wearing his seatbelt.
The Mercedes limousine has been lost for years, and its rightful owner, Jean-Francois Musa, the owner of Etoile Limousines, is again speaking to the media, asking the authorities to return the wreck to him. Throughout the years, Musa has launched several legal attempts to recover the wreck, on the claims that he wants to have it displayed in a museum. So far, he’s heard nothing – neither from the French nor the British authorities.
So where is the car? That’s the multi-million dollar question, in the most literal sense.
The Mirror reports that, if ever found, it could sell on the collector market for as much as $11.6 million, which, given the notoriety of the case, is hardly a surprising amount. There is a very special niche of the collector market where an item like this would fetch a fortune – not despite, but because of its morbid past. The reported amount casts some doubt over Musa’s claim that his attempts to recover it is driven by pure historical interest.
Then, in 2017, The Sun conducted a private investigation and found that the vehicle was still around, kept inside a container just miles outside of Paris, at a junkyard that doubled as a homeless encampment. The two front doors were missing but, otherwise, the car was in the same condition as after the crash.
Despite the claims, the tabloid never obtained photos of the wreck, and it hasn’t been spotted since – but it did become the topic of a later documentary. You will find it in full below; it argues that the same S280 had been totaled in a crash in Val D’Oise in December 1994, then put back together and re-registered for road use.
“It’s legally mine,” Musa says, “I have no idea where the car is. All I know is it is legally mine and obviously I want it back. It should have been returned by now but that hasn’t proved possible. I always owned it outright.”
Musa has always denied the ‘94 crash story, saying he bought the car new from Mercedes. To his knowledge, there was never anything wrong with it.
Officially, Princess Diana’s death was ruled an accident, caused by speeding and drunk driving, and the reckless on-road behavior of the paparazzi. Her death was a tragedy of historic proportions, and it’s probably for the best if the limo never sees the light of day again.