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Stolen '57 Chevy comes back to owner 30 years later

Justin Hyde
February 21, 2014
Stolen 1957 Chevy returned to owner
Ian "Skip" Wilson with his 1957 Chevy Bel Air

If you're unlucky enough to have your car stolen, there's roughly an 80 percent chance that your car will be found. Those numbers paid off for a retired northern California mechanic when his stolen 1957 Chevy Bel Air was recovered by law enforcement — 30 years after it went missing, and in far better condition than when it was snatched.

As first reported by the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat, Ian "Skip" Wilson got a call three weeks ago from the California Highway Patrol asking after the Bel Air he reported stolen in 1984. Wilson told Yahoo Autos he had paid $375 for the car back in the '70s on the East Coast, and had driven it daily for years before someone swiped it in 1982. Wilson had gotten the car back that time without an engine, and was working on it when it was stolen again. 

"I always figured somebody local took it, cut it up and put it on the fairgrounds racetrack," Wilson said. "I never imagined it could end up in Los Angeles."

Yet the car that rolled back into his garage had been restored, repainted and rebuilt throughout, with a new 350 V-8 engine, custom leather interior and show-quality chrome. It had also somehow been legally bought and sold four times despite Wilson's theft report. The car was a couple of days from being shipped from Los Angeles to a new owner in Australia when U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents discovered its criminal history, seized it from a shipping container and turned it over to California officials to reunite Wilson with his car.

Wilson says after calling him, the authorities took some convincing before they would believe the car was his. In addition to retrieving the 30-year-old copy of his theft report, Wilson had to describe the car in detail — and succeeded only when he mentioned how it had a hole in the floor from the days when it was used by the previous owner to smuggle cigarettes. Even then, it took weeks of working through red tape before it landed in his driveway — the first time he laid eyes on it since it went missing.

"My friend who picked it up said 'Oh you're going to be happy when you see this,'" Wilson said.

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In recent years border agents have seized a growing number of stolen vehicles heading out of the country, beyond the reach of U.S. law enforcement. Wilson says he feels for whomever was supposed to own his Bel Air, for which he has now paid an additional $900 in hauling fees, and plans to let his grandchildren enjoy it as well. "I’ll never drive this car unless it's a beautiful sunny day," he said. "It’s just unbelievable."


Photos: Christopher Chung, courtesy Santa Rosa Press-Democrat