The most popular Corvette among car thieves dates to the Reagan administration

May 14, 2012

1984 Chevrolet Corvette
1984 Chevrolet Corvette

The 1984 edition of the Chevrolet Corvette was the first all-new Vette rolled out by General Motors since 1963, and marked the beginning of a comeback from the dark times when America's most famous sports car came with an 85-mph speedometer and less power than most family sedans have today. It also marked a high point for a certain demographic -- thieves, who have stolen more 1984 Corvettes than any other model year.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau analyzed 90,000 Corvette theft reports going back to 1981, and production data to compile a list of most stolen Corvette model years. The entirely of the top 10 lies between 1976 and 1986, the less-than-celebrated years when the Vette's power was neutered by a combination of regulations and out-of-date technology, like the infamous 4+3 transmissions. By the NICB's count, '81 Vettes have been stolen 8,554 times -- or roughly one of every six Corvettes GM built that model year.

It's easy to say that 1984 would be the most stolen year, since that's also the year GM set the record for Vettes built, at 51,547. But there's no correlation with the rest of the top 10: the second most-stolen year was 1981, the depths of the bad Vette years. Meanwhile, thieves tend to stay away from more modern Corvettes; NICB reports 11 total thefts of 2011 models, and even after a few years on the road, theft totals only hit a few hundred.

The reason: Starting in 1986, GM made the Corvette its test bed for anti-theft technology. The Corvette was a GM pioneer of electrical circuits between keys and ignitions, and the system introduced in 1986 required an electronic match between key and ignition or it would shut the car down for four minutes. (The quality of those early systems was so poor owners would often get stranded, and aftermarket kits now offer ways to shut it off permanently.)

Today's anti-theft and vehicle tracking technologies like OnStar mean even if a thief tows away a Vette, they have to disable the electrical systems before they're activated. Even when they are stolen, it's much easier to find cars thanks to serial number tracking databases -- as the NICB shows with this case of a '67 Vette recovered 40 years later.