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1957 Chevy Bel Air stolen 30 years ago, miraculously returns to owner

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In 1984, Skip Wilson of Clearlake Oaks, Calif. discovered that his beloved and classic 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air had been stolen.

On Feb. 19, The Press Democrat reported that Wilson, now 65-years-old and battling cancer, had his Bel Air returned earlier this week; and it came back to him in better condition than when it was stolen almost 30 years ago.

“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.”

About three weeks ago, the retired mechanic was surprised to receive a telephone call from California Highway Patrol (CHP) investigator, Mike Maleta, who informed Wilson that his stolen Chevy was discovered in a Port of Los Angeles shipping container, just two days before the hot wheels were scheduled to be shipped away to Australia.

The Bel Air was found by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents during one of their routine inspections.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau matched the Chevy’s vehicle identification number as once belonging to Wilson; and that the car was currently listed as stolen.

Wilson said that when his Bel Air was stolen in 1984, “it was in sorry shape.” He bought the car back then for only $375 - not a bad price for a classic Bel Air, even in 1987 dollars.

Wilson also said that after he originally purchased the car and invested a fair amount of time and money working on it, that it was stolen – the first time – in 1983. The car was returned to him not too long afterwards, minus its engine and transmission, only to be stolen again in 1984.

Upgrades and rebuilds to the Chevy that came back to him on Monday include a fresh paint job, “with a custom black, ‘Chevy’ monogrammed interior,” racing wheels, a 350-horsepower V-8 with a Holley four-barrel carb, and, new rack-and-pinion steering and front disc brakes.

The frame and suspension are powder-coated in red. The odometer reflects that the remade Chevy has rolled all of nine miles.

“Somebody put a whole lot of work and money into that car,” Wilson said. “It was all disassembled and put back.”

Wilson doesn’t know anything about who stole his car or customized and rebuilt it, or who was planning on owning it once it arrived in Australia. But he did say, “I imagine somebody in Australia must be awful upset.”

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