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Texas man tracks down stolen car 42 years later in Los Angeles

July 15, 2012 | 12:35 pm


The cream-colored 1967 Austin Healey — a classic in its own right — has special meaning for Bob Russell.

The 66-year-old retired salesman and his wife went on their first date in the British roadster back in 1970, when they were graduate students at Temple University. The morning after the second date, he told the Dallas Morning News, Russell walked out of his Philadelphia apartment only to discover the roadster had been stolen.

He spent years keeping an eye out for the car, checking Healeys he saw on the road and eventually surfing the Internet on the off chance his would show up.

On May 11, luck was on Russell's side: A Beverly Hills dealer had listed a car with a vehicle identification number matching that of the stolen Healey for sale on eBay. Russell called the Beverly Hills Car Club immediately.

"I hate to sound indelicate," he told the dealer, according to the newspaper, "but you're selling a stolen car."

Russell not only had the matching VIN, he told the paper, but the original key and car title, along with signed affidavits saying Russell had never sold the car. What he didn't have, however, was a copy of the stolen-car report he filed 42 years ago.

After haggling with the dealer for several weeks, Russell asked authorities in Philadelphia and Los Angeles for help. An L.A. County sheriff's detective wasn't able to find a record of the stolen car at first, the department said in a statement, because its VIN was "incorrectly entered into the stolen-vehicle system and therefore computer systems never listed the correct identifying numbers as stolen."

Philadelphia police were able to track down the original report and helped correct the problem, Russell said, enabling L.A. authorities to impound the car.

Russell and his wife, Cyndy, made the trip to L.A. to pay roughly $600 in impound fees and ship the car back to their home outside of Dallas, where it arrived last month.

Russell said the car needs some work, but it's a project he's happy to take on.

"The chances of it being it one piece were slim to none," Russell told ABC News. "The chances of me finding it were slim to none. Fifty coincidences had to coincide to have this happen."

"I should have bought some lottery tickets."


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— Kate Mather

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Photo: Bob Russell and his wife Cyndy, pose in front of their 1967 Austin Healey at their Texas home. The car was stolen from Russell more than 40 years ago. Credit: Michael Ainsworth / Associated Press