Man Finds Stolen Car on eBay Four Decades Later

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Guillermo Granja / Reuters

A 1966 Austin Healey car drives past a rally in the streets of Bad Kissingen village, Germany.

A Texas man whose car was stolen managed to get it back after spotting the vehicle on eBay while surfing the Internet – only a good 42 years after it disappeared.

Bob Russell was a graduate student at Temple University in Philadelphia when he had his 1967 Austin Healey roadster stolen from him back in 1970. According to the story, he had parked the car outside of an apartment complex just after a date with his future wife. The next morning, the car was gone.

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Undeterred, Russell began looking for the car, keeping an eye out over the decades. Earlier this year, he spotted a likely looking vehicle listed by a Los Angeles car dealer on the online auction site. It was definitely his — everything checked out, including the VIN number listed. He contacted the dealer, who responded by offering to sell it back to him for $24,000.

Russell then contacted Los Angeles police, who were unable to help him because they were unable to find a record of the stolen car in the database. On a hunch, he went to the Philadelphia police, who figured out that the car’s VIN had been entered incorrectly into the FBI database.

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Luckily, once the mistake was rectified, Los Angeles police were finally able to impound the car. Russell and his wife drove to California, paid $600 in fees and took their beloved car back home. Now, that’s devotion.

Erica Ho is a contributor at TIME and the editor of Map Happy. Find her on Twitter at @ericamho and Google+. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

14 comments
bora
bora

It's good the man got his car back, but it is unfortunate the thief got away and a third party took the fall. The victims have merely changed from one to another, I would say there is only partial justice here.

mamamcf
mamamcf

his insurance company must have given him a payout. he has no claim to the car

KS-UT
KS-UT

Fortune smiled on him.

Bran Deditems
Bran Deditems

You just never know. I had a motor cycle stolen in CA. It was recovered almost 5 years later. A CHP officer saw a guy on my Honda pull to the shoulder of the freeway out of gas. He ran the plates and busted the guy and recovered my motorcycle. I got both some closure and some justice.

Tinwoods
Tinwoods

Good for Bob and shame on yet another despicable Los Angeles car dealer (I've worked for a few).  Dealer should have assisted the man instead of demanding payment for property that he already owned. 

Albert Shortleg Dachshund-Dogg
Albert Shortleg Dachshund-Dogg

Yes he does. If he was carrying only liability or no insurance at all (common back in those days) the car is his.

px4
px4

Despicable car dealer? I know it's popular to hate on car dealers, but where is your logic here?

The dealer is out tens of thousands of dollars because the police errored and the car was never branded as stolen. Was the dealer supposed to hand over an expensive car just based off of this mans word that went against police and FBI records? The dealership did absolutely nothing wrong, but due to a bureaucratic bumplef00k, the business must eat a substantial loss.

The owner is lucky that it all got cleared up eventually. The dealer has no such recourse. There's no learning from their mistake either, because they made no mistake. They bought a car that was legally titled.

The insult added to injury here is the unpunished incompetence of the PPD that allowed all of this to happen.

I just find it amazing that with everything between the loser who stole the car initially, to the police that never reported the car stolen, the person you choose to vilify is the only innocent victim in all of this that will never be made whole.

Tinwoods
Tinwoods

Not what I said at all.  I said the dealership "should have assisted" the man.  And it certainly isn't the actual owner's fault that the dealership did not do it's job and determine the actual ownership of the vehicle when they first acquired it.  If they had compared the incorrect paperwork VIN that they had to that what was stamped on the car, they probably would have quickly discovered that it did not match; make, model, and origin would have been different from the car.  Management's laziness, ineptitude, and lack of service illustrates so much of what I saw in my experience working at a dealership.

Dave Petty
Dave Petty

Used car dealers are still pretty much the scum of the earth - and business insurance would have more than covered this.

px4
px4

Yes tinwoods, your reading comprehension is terrible. Heck, you even got my name wrong. Pxr?

You have repeatedly shown that you are making up your own set of facts as you go along.

Someone of such a low mental capacity has only one setting when confronted with an opposing argument, and that's to attack blindly, facts be damned.

So despite you being wrong, repeatedly, I'm now the bad guy. A lacky with poor punctuation. Even if that were true, it wouldnt distract from your obvious bias. You dont care what actually happened... you're just a bigot.

Also, please dont tell me I have to explain the difference between "implausible" and "impossible" to you.

The story wreaks of implausibility, that's why it made national headlines.

Your argument has no basis in fact. The only thing that is clear is that you didnt read and/or comprehend the article.

You're just throwing B.S. at the wall, hoping some of it sticks.

Tinwoods
Tinwoods

@pxr:  First, you dare criticize MY reading comprehension when you write with this example of atrociously lacking grammar skills?  Obviously, you didn't "comprehend" a word I said.  You're obviously a dealer lacky because no average citizen not involved in the car trade would defend the retail car industry with such an angry, vindictive, and irresponsible rant unless they were employed within it.  And speaking of a lack of reading comprehension skills, again, I never said anything about just"handing over title."  And "implausible"?   You moron, this happened -- so how is it implausible?   What is it with you moronic car guys and your inability to comprehend a clear, yet opposing, argument?

px4
px4

The dealership WAS the actual owner. 

 They bought the car, paid taxes on it, and were issued a title by the state that says they legally owned the car, all because 42 years ago, inept police never reported the actual VIN as stolen. The dealerships paperwork was all correct. They did nothing wrong

The only laziness and ineptitude seems to be between your reading comprehension and the police typing skills. 

"Lack of service" is a joke.  If someone called told you to hand over your titled, licensed, and paid for car because of an unverified and implausible story, would you do it?  Or would you laugh and hang up the phone? The man had no police report, the local PD and FBI had no record the car was stolen, and the dmv had issued you a clean and clear title, all of which would not have been possible if the car had ever actually been reported and recorded as stolen.

px4
px4

Yes yes, *insert vitriolic, outdated, and inane car salesman joke here*

Business insurance doesnt cover buying stolen property, even in cases where the state was culpable. 

The original owner however would have been reimbursed for his original loss, which should mean that the actual owner of the car now is the insurance company. But, seeing as how he got his car back, i'm guessing he never had insurance on it.

Tinwoods
Tinwoods

No, that would be lawyers.  I've had plenty experience with both.