Stolen Chevy returned to owner 30 years later

  • Skip Wilson, of Clearlake Oaks, had his 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air returned to him by the CHP 30 years after it was stolen in 1984. The car was found in a shipping container in Los Angeles, bound for Australia. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

A sweet but forlorn and inoperative classic-era Chevy stolen 30 years ago from Ian "Skip" Wilson just came back to him — reborn.

"There's all kinds of chrome added under the hood," said Wilson, a retired Lake County mechanic doubly astonished that his 1957 Bel Air has returned and that it's been gorgeously customized.

"The headers look brand spankin' new," he said. "The tires, they look like they haven't even been around the block."

A '57 Bel Air is one of the world's most prized collector's cars. This one was stolen from Wilson's place in Clearlake Oaks not just once but twice in the early 1980s.

Wilson, who's 65 and battling cancer, had long before quit hoping to see it again when, about three weeks back, a California Highway Patrol investigator named Mike Maleta phoned him from Southern California.

Maleta told him a Chevy possibly of interest to him was found in a shipping container at the Port of Los Angeles, awaiting transport to Australia.

The discovery came after a routine inspection of outbound cargo containers sparked suspicion by officers of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

"They check a lot of cars" in the process of being shipped overseas, said Lee Harty, a spokeswoman for the federal agency.

Officers isolated the container with the Chevy inside and called in officers of the non-profit National Insurance Crime Bureau. They confirmed that the car's vehicle identification number was listed as belonging to a stolen car.

Of all the cars in the shipment to Australia, Harty said, "This happened to be the only one that was stolen."

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