An avid car enthusiast was reunited last week with a gem he believed was long gone: his 1957 Chevy Bel Air.
Ian Wilson, 65, bought a rundown Chevy Bel Air for $375 in 1975. He put a good amount of time and money into the car before it was stolen in 1983. Police recovered and returned the vehicle, but the engine and transmission were missing. Just one year later, the car was stolen again. This time, police weren’t able to find it.
For over 30 years, Wilson figured he’d never see the car again.
Then, about three weeks ago, Wilson got a call from California Highway Patrol investigator Mike Maleta. While doing a routine inspection of outgoing cargo at the Port of Los Angeles, authorities found the Bel Air in a shipping container headed to Australia. Agents from U.S. Customs and Border Protection ran the VIN number on the car to make sure it was cleared to leave the country. The VIN check listed the car as a stolen vehicle that was last legally owned by Ian Wilson. Authorities seized the car and returned it to Wilson.
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When Wilson saw his Bel Air for the first time in three decades, he couldn’t believe his eyes.
“Somebody put a whole lot of money and work into that car,” he said.
The car is repainted in classic Competition Orange. The interior has been redone in black leather. Rack and pinion steering and 4-wheel disc brakes were installed. The frame and suspension were powder coated, and the engine was outfitted with a fresh Holley four-barrel carburetor. Wilson’s ragged Chevy stolen from him in 1984 was returned as a car collector’s dream.
“There's all kinds of chrome added under the hood,” he said. “The headers look brand spankin' new. The tires, they look like they haven't even been around the block.”
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Wilson has nothing but gratitude for Customs and Border Protection Agents, realizing that without their work his car “would have ended up in Australia.”
As happy as he is to be reunited with his Bel Air, Wilson can’t help but feel for the prospective buyer waiting to receive the gorgeous car and the seller who likely invested thousands of dollars in it.
“I imagine somebody in Australia must be awful upset,” he said.
Pity aside, Wilson, a retired mechanic battling cancer, couldn’t be happier to have his long-lost car back.