Classic car owners, including those who own muscle cars, streetcars, hot cars, antiques and vintage trucks, are facing uncertain times as car thefts are on the rise and thieves are becoming bolder and more brazen in their actions.
I recently saw a story written by a man who owned a 1963 Blue Corvette coupe, all matching the numbers. The original classic sports car has a flawless dark blue interior, with only the carpet replaced. The 327 engine is said to produce a rhythmic swing that will not only bring a smile to your face, but also make you dream of parking this beauty in your garage. Then disaster strikes, and you wake up from your dream into his nightmare!
The owner of this beautiful piece of American history brought his prized car to what he called a small “backcountry” show that he and a friend decided to attend on the spur of the moment. As Bakersfield, Calif., owner Jacob Morgan describes it, “The event is an annual unofficial gathering of classic car enthusiasts, and I was excited to get my car down. Unfortunately, parts of Florida where the event is held are very dry due to the drought. About three or four hours after arriving, a man with a red GTO (I can’t tell you the year, because frankly I don’t care afterwards) decided to start his ride for the spectators. It just backfired but it was enough to set the hay alight — guess where my Corvette stopped?
My Corvette was one of nearly 30 classic cars destroyed by the fire caused by the counterproductive GTO. Sure, I had the car properly insured, but they just didn’t make the 1963 Corvettes anymore, and the only one I could find was $10,000 more than my policy paid for. I guess if there’s a moral to my sad story, it’s to avoid out-of-the-way auto shows at all costs, because they’re unregulated, haphazard and dangerous for classic cars like my beloved 1963 Corvette Coupe.”
This may not be the traditional way for you to lose valuable classic cars, muscle cars, streetcars, vintage cars, vintage trucks, or other collectable old cars, but it does teach us about the need for caution even in the most innocent of circumstances like a car show! The freak accident that Mr. Morgan experienced can and does cause hobbyists a lot of damage – not just theft or vandalism.
Sadly, theft is not an uncommon occurrence, and the methods are becoming increasingly bizarre. Guy Algar and I stole some pieces from one of our own cars and we were towing them back to our shop when we stopped for a bite to eat! We’ve used a lot of hubcaps over the years. Also, one day when we were at the parts store picking up parts for a customer, the brake lights were actually ripped off our car transporter! We have a customer told us a story he take his wife out to dinner, and carefully to his 1969 corvettes stopped at a local restaurant, in the bright light, seems to be a “safe” area, only 45 minutes to an hour, found that all his marks and decoration from the car down! There have been known incidents of thieves removing entire car transporters (classic models on top) from the trailer’s hook ball and transferring the trailer to their own trailer while people are on the road, attending auto shows or other types. These are bold moves by people who do not fear the consequences.
Other thefts reported across the country include:
Dr. Phil had just stolen his’ 57 Chevy Bel Air convertible from a Burbank repair shop, and he brought it to the shop.
A 1937 Buick worth more than $100,000 was taken from a gated community parking lot in Fort Worth, Texas.
Tom of New Mexico reported the theft of two of his collection cars to Hemming. In all, Tom owns about six collection cars, and to store them all, he rents a storage unit. Unfortunately, when he went to check them recently, for the first time in about six months, he discovered that two were missing — a 1957 two-door Chevrolet Belair and a 1967 Mercury Cougar GT.
There was also a report from a man in Jefferson City, Missouri, who actually recovered his stolen car when he saw a 1969 Chevrolet Camaro stolen 16 years ago during a Google search!
In suburban Los Angeles, a woman came home without her prized 1957 Chevy Bel-Air, worth more than $150,000, in her garage. The beautiful convertible has been featured in multiple magazines and TV shows, and has won dozens of awards at auto shows around the country. A neighbor’s surveillance camera caught the thief in action and showed Bel-Air being pushed down the street by a pickup truck that pulled into her driveway minutes after she left. The thief probably loaded it onto a waiting trailer. It is thought the thieves spotted the car at one of the car shows and followed it home, then waited for their chance to make an operation to steal it.
A Seattle collector was the victim of a targeted “smash and grab” at the warehouse where he kept his cars. Burglars apparently looted the building and drove off in a 396/425 four-speed 1965 Corvette Stingray; And 20,000 miles 396/four-speed 1970 Chevelle SS.
A 1959 Chevrolet Impala was stolen on cruise night. The owner got good news – bad news when the police tracked him down, because although they did recover the vintage car, he had made a theft claim against his insurance policy after it was stolen months earlier, so the car went to the insurance company instead of being returned to him. Apparently, detectives recovered the impala from a chop shop nearly eight months after it was stolen, repainted and modified.
Hemmings News also reported that a reader’s 1970 Ford Maverick was stolen from his home in Missouri. The car was found and returned, but investigations apparently showed that the thief had been watching the owner for two years with the intention of stealing it and using it in a race. Chilling things to find out.
A 1979 Buick Electra 225 limited edition was stolen from a suburban Detroit grocery store parking lot, and the thief escaped with an urn in the trunk that contained the remains of the owner’s stepfather.
After saving for more than 40 years, a Man from Virginia bought his dream car, a 1962 Dodge Lancer. Buying his dream car, he began his restoration project, which was about 60 percent complete when he moved to Texas. With no garage to store it in after moving, he stored it in a 24-foot enclosed trailer along with a 1971 Dodge Colt, which he planned to turn into a race car and park in a warehouse. By the end of July, the trailer and everything in it had disappeared.
The last story actually had a happy ending, as it was withdrawn because it alerted the owner to suspicions that someone wanted to unload the Lancer for $1,500, including many parts boxes. After some research, the owner was reunited with his car. Guy and I have been contacted many times by people wanting to sell their cars. Some people have difficult stories of callers willing to unload cars for real bargains. We always pass on these offers, mainly because we’re not in the business of buying and selling cars (we’re not dealers or resellers), but also because we’re cautious about “too good” – real “prices. One call in particular really made us very suspicious as the caller insisted the sale had to be completed by Monday (she called our store over the weekend) and the price of a fairly rare Mustang model was extremely low. Alerting shop owners can help recover stolen vintage cars.
But not all stories have such happy endings. Classic cars, muscle cars and antiques can break into stores and end up damaged and abandoned, or even resold on Internet sites like eBay and Craigslist!
Just yesterday, I reported on a 1954 Chevrolet pickup truck that was stolen from a woman’s driveway in Oklahoma City. (Ironically, the article was already written and scheduled for release at today’s press conference. I added her case because, unfortunately, it underscores just how common theft has become.) She wisely turned to the Hemmings fan community for help. Hemmings.com has a huge following, known as “Hemmings Nation,” and enlisting help from such a community of enthusiasts can help provide vital information to police and authorities to help track down and recover stolen vintage cars. We applaud Hemmings for their work.
And, as you can see, the methods thieves use are as varied as the types of vehicles! Even small, seemingly innocent car shows and parties are places where you need to be careful. As I reported in a July article, carjackings involving vintage cars are even becoming more common.
Surprisingly, in some cases, the Internet can help with the recovery of classic and muscle cars. There are many stories, like the Camaro owner above, and another man who found his 1949 Ford through a Listing on Craigslist (the two men in charge were arrested and charged with dismantling the vehicle after the owner identified it as his), and the owner has been able to find their car through an Internet search.
For those less fortunate, insurance is the only consolation. We highly recommend classic or “collector” car insurance. There are many companies that offer this kind of specialized insurance, and it’s usually worth it. Classic Car News provides an article on buying classic car insurance, which contains a list of companies and links to contact them. I also recommend Hagerty Insurance’s publication Deterring Collector Car Theft, which contains anti-theft tips.
In addition to quickly stripping thefts, thieves often always filter, delete or forge VIN numbers, which can make it more difficult to identify a car or truck. A vehicle identification number (VIN) is a serial number used to distinguish vehicles of a similar make and model. Just like social Security numbers, each car has a different VIN. The VIN plate is usually found on the dashboard of new cars, but is often found in clogs in the doors of older models. The VIN can be interchangeable with another vehicle for quick cover-up.
The point here is to be aware of your surroundings, including where you park. Just because you attend an event with other enthusiasts, don’t take it for granted that nothing bad will happen. Take precautions by protecting your old car or truck. “Don’t forget to take precautions even at home,” advises Guy Algar. You may feel you have a car in your garage two ‘safe’ is safe, but remember, even if you don’t have a can let a person peep at the window and found that your precious car, the thief can also track your home from work, cruise ships and even grocery stores, and monitor your home and see your schedule plan after the theft. If your ride draws attention, remember it can also draw the wrong kind of attention!”
Hagerty Insurance – Prevents collector car theft
Classic Car News – Buy classic car insurance
The safety of a classic or muscle car is extremely important to most car owners. Everyone wants to protect their bikes in a way that works and doesn’t break the bank. We drew on the expertise of the experts in Classic Car News’ upcoming series entitled “Keeping Our Cycling Safe”, which appears every Wednesday. -Andrea
Andrea L. Algar is co-owner of classic automotive performance and restoration design in Leesville, Texas. Motorheads Performance specializes in the repair, maintenance, Performance upgrades and restoration of cars and trucks from the 1920s through the 1970s. Her husband, Guy L. Algar, is a mechanical engineer with over 25 years of experience. He holds five ASE certifications from the National Institute of Excellence in Automotive Services and has worked on used cars and trucks for over 37 years. Together, they share their passion for old cars and trucks with other enthusiasts from across the country.