Stolen Sports Car Found in East L.A. 42 Years Later

Robert Russell never gave up searching for his beloved 1967 Austin Healey

By Steven Covelman
|  Monday, Jul 16, 2012  |  Updated 10:36 AM PDT
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Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department

After a 42-year wait, Robert Russell's 1967 Austin Healey is back in his garage.

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A mere 42 years after it was stolen from his Philadelphia home, Robert Russell tracked down his beloved 1967 Austin Healey all the way to East Los Angeles. 

While perusing eBay, Russell, who told the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department that he never gave up searching for the Healey, found what he believed to be his car listed for sale by the Beverly Hills Car Club.

After a little more sleuthing, he determined that the car was in fact his by comparing the Vehicle Identification Number listed on the online marketplace with the Vehicle Identification Number listed on the car’s Certificate of Title.

In May, Russell, who now lives in Texas, contacted the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

Detective Carlos Ortega then tracked down the car to a dealership in East Los Angeles.

After working with authorities in Philadelphia, the department told Russell that he could pick up his long-lost car.

"Detective Ortega took possession of the vehicle and informed Mr. Russell that his vehicle was recovered intact and in fair condition, although requiring some exterior and interior work," the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said in a statement.

Russell and his wife arrived in East Los Angeles a few days later and took the car back home.

"Mr. Russell told Detective Ortega he continued his search for the vehicle, not for its monetary value, but because it had sentimental value to him and his wife," the Sheriff’s Department said.

Russell told authorities that he bought the car for $3,000. It is now worth $23,000.

In a statement, the Beverly Hills Car Club said it did not know the car was stolen.

"Beverly Hills Car Club found the Austin Healey on Craigslist and purchased the car from a seller in New Jersey who claimed to have owned the car for 42 years," said Versa Manos of the Beverly Hills Car Club said in a press release. "The VIN matched the registration and paperwork, had no liens and was clear and unencumbered from the State of New York, when it was issued to the seller in 1970. In good faith, we purchased the car and paid to have it shipped cross-country, where it was detailed, photographed and displayed for sale on our eBay page."

When they found out that the car belonged to Russell, the Beverly Hills Car Club cooperated with authorities and worked to return the car to its rightful owner.

"We are all very happy that Mr. Russell has gotten his car back," Manos said. "However, we are victims in this situation. We have lost $27,000, which is what we paid for the car plus the cost to ship it to California."

According to the club, the previous driver of the vehicle drove it on a regular basis for 42 years. 

It's not clear how the previous owner got possession of the car.

Officials discovered that when the car was first reported stolen, the vehicle's identification number was incorrectly entered into the stolen vehicle system.

As a result, the computer systems never listed the car as stolen.

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