A Lake County man is celebrating the return of his stolen car after 30 years and savoring just how kind the years have been to his ride.
When Skip Wilson’s 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air vanished in 1984, it was a junker with no engine or transmission. When the car was finally recovered and returned this week, it was a restored classic and souped up.
“It’s got a new motor, upholstery, brakes, rims and tires, and the gauges – those are new, too – only say nine miles,” the 65-year-old resident of Clearlake Oaks (Lake County) said. Wilson bought the hot rod in 1975 from his nephew in Pennsylvania for a whopping $375 and used it as his daily wheels for years before it was ripped off from his front yard.
The retiree, who is battling cancer, never thought he’d see the car again. “I assumed somebody chopped it up and was using parts of it at the racetrack,” he said. That assumption evaporated when Wilson got a call from a California Highway Patrol investigator in Southern California asking him if he had any documentation that could prove he was the owner of the long-missing ride.
The CHP and U.S. customs had found the car in a shipping container just days before it was to set sail, bound for a buyer in Australia. Given the three decades that had passed since the car went missing, Wilson didn’t have the police report handy, but after some digging, he was able to produce the necessary documents that proved the car was his.
A few weeks and a $900 transportation fee later, Wilson was reunited with a car he hardly recognized – a vehicle fit for a car show or a parade. He said the state Department of Motor Vehicles told him that the car had been through four owners but that the serial number had never caught attention because the first character had been left off.
Wilson feels bad for the previous owner, who likely poured a significant amount of money into the restoration, and for the would-be buyer in Australia – but said he’s tickled to have his car back. “Every time I saw one of them on the road, I thought it was her,” he said. “It’s just unbelievable.”