It’s Ferrari Crash! Swede’s Flame-Out Stops L.A. Cold

One of the singular yet disarming pleasures of living in Los Angeles is that, once you exit the desert and enter the basin, you’re allowed to switch off your passion center. New York has heart. Chicago has soul. New Orleans has an indomitable spirit. L.A. has reflexive indifference.

So it’s actually a big deal—a shocking occurrence, in fact—when the citizens of this vast anti-metropolis are, almost to a one, ensnared by the same story. It happens once or twice a decade (the Rodney King riots, O.J., the Ovitz meltdown, Shaq and Kobe). For the past few months, the story has been that of the Ferrari Crash.

Ferrari Crash: That’s what it’s being called, a strangely brassy vernacular peg that has brought high concept down to the level of laconic sunrise banter over soy lattes and carrot muffins. The facts: In the dawning hours of Feb. 21, an ultra-rare, flamboyantly red, terribly exotic Ferrari Enzo—one of only 400 ever built (it’s a million-dollar ride)—was making abundant use of the 660-horsepower output by its V12 engine when, at an estimated 162 miles per hour, it struck a bump on the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, became briefly airborne (yes, Ferraris can fly), then struck a power pole and was sheared in half. The only thing missing was a fiery explosion followed by pounding theme music.

Holy Jerry Bruckheimer! If only there had been a chopper in the vicinity!

Remarkably (or not, if—as the L.A. Times’ Chris Lee pointed out—you consider how the safety-obsessed speed freaks of Turin engineered their baby), the Enzo’s owner, a Swedish expat video-game entrepreneur and (alleged) former gangster named Bo Stefan Eriksson, walked away from the wreckage with nothing more than a bloody lip.

Now this is where it gets good: What rouses the standard-issue Angeleno from his hedonistic coma—even the complete totaling of one of the planet’s rarest automobiles would barely elicit a “Dude, who crashed that car?” without a compelling back-story—is the intersection of the town’s favorite tropes. You’ve got a fast car, easy money and a criminal. It’s perfect.

And downright bizarre. When the authorities appeared, Mr. Eriksson, whose blood-alcohol level was later determined to be over the legal limit (and before 7 a.m.), maintained that the Enzo had been driven by a German known only as “Dietrich,” who post-crash had fled into the hills above the P.C.H. Eventually, it was revealed that Mr. Eriksson had brought the Enzo to California illegally, along with another black Enzo and Mercedes SLR McLaren (all three cars were leased, with banks in England holding the paper, and the banks didn’t know that Mr. Eriksson had decided to cross water with them). Meanwhile, Mr. Eriksson’s business venture, Gizmondo, a portable video-cum-cell-phone system that was supposed to be a GameBoy for the MySpace generation, had recently flatlined, after registering a burn rate that seemed derived from the example of a Third World oil despot.

This is tabloid enough, in a city with no true tabloids. But then the plot congealed into a yeasty, seductive brew. Mr. Eriksson claimed to be affiliated with a private police force, commissioned by the San Gabriel Valley Transit Authority, to provide security for a company that transports disabled people in vans. Mr. Eriksson’s business partner was involved with lawless firearms purchases. Two men who identified themselves as Homeland Security agents were among the first to arrive at the crash site.

The Los Angeles Times, a few months into the official police investigation, revealed that Mr. Eriksson had blown through untold millions, practically daring the Southland to wake up and see what a genre-redefining con man he really was.

“Dietrich” never emerged from the Malibu hills, but, in quintessential L.A. fashion, his identity developed into ironic shorthand for the tale. A T-shirt was created with the question “ … Dietrich?” printed on it, along with an image of half a red Ferrari Enzo being carted away on a flatbed truck. I myself have taken, when something dramatic yet cryptic takes place (mysterious rumblings above my apartment, the Clippers making the playoffs), to muttering a Ferrari Crash–inspired koan: “Ah, yes, that’s so very Dietrich.”

What really makes Ferrari Crash and its convoluted medium-wattage nefariousness so perfectly L.A. is just how simultaneously over the top yet feeble the various elements (apart from the Ferrari itself) actually are. I’m reminded of the curiously timed revelation from the Bush administration that an Al Qaeda plot to fly an airliner into the U.S. Bank Tower in downtown L.A. had been thwarted. I wasn’t sure the average resident of Hollywood or Hancock Park knew that there was such a structure in their fair city, much less that the spire in the far-distant east side of the polity was the tallest building west of the Mississippi. Better to target Trader Joe’s and cut off the supply of Two Buck Chuck.

It was inevitable that Mr. Eriksson and his accomplices would get caught. What’s dazzling is the progression of his go-for-broke fraudulence. It’s as if he knew that, for the most part, Los Angeles is deeply unimpressed by ordinary failure. Failure is the coin of the realm in these parts. You really have to do better than getting caught bleeding and naked at the Chateau Marmont with four Vuitton trunks full of counterfeit euros and six pounds of cocaine, a case of mezcal, early numbers for the weekend box, Katie Holmes’ passport, a letter of introduction to Hugo Chávez, a syringe signed by Barry Bonds and a baby monkey kidnapped from the controversially renovated city zoo.

No, you need a line of credit larger than the G.N.P. of Morocco, a past that would impress the Kray brothers, a killer-app video-game gadget and something to drive like Danica Patrick when the SLR is in the shop. And, oh yeah, be Swedish.

So sorry you couldn’t land the part or close on the Neutra or tickle the ivories with Jessica Biel. Come back after you’ve dodged Interpol, secured major financing and shredded the Enzo. Skoal, brother!

Joan Didion famously characterized Los Angeles as a land of last resort, where the final, crumbling precipice awaits the pale stragglers who arrive in haggard flight from other screw-ups, hopeful, ever hopeful. If it doesn’t work out here, where do you go? And when it doesn’t, why not go out with a furious bang?

Bo Stefan Eriksson seems to have embraced this insight and developed a sixth sense regarding his ultimate audience. Every spectacularly misjudged yet pathetically sordid move he made intensified his legend. The High Speed Swede made sure that he scripted his Pacific flameout to perfection, complete with enough twists, subplots and secondary characters—not to mention the right set of wheels—to guarantee immortality.

At least as it’s judged west of La Brea, between breakfast and power yoga, while waiting for the marine layer to burn off. Ferrari Crash: our story for springtime. Nothing to get excited about. Gosh, it’s been raining a lot! I’m either gonna lease the Cayenne or a Prius. Let’s go buy sunscreen. Cute dog. Yeah, it’s definitely a bubble … definitely a bubble ….

Vroom! Screech! KA-POW!!! Run away!

Let me have a bite of your spider roll. Sigh. It’s getting late. Hey Dietrich, pass the wasabi.