RE: Stolen Vette recovered after 37 years
Alan Poster had been going through a rough time that winter. A Brooklyn native and a 26-year-old guitar salesman, he had just divorced and moved from Queens to a 21st Street studio in Chelsea. He bought himself a flashy treat that he could barely afford but could not resist: a blue Corvette.
Jim Wilson/The New York Times
Alan Poster is 63 now and president of a company that makes cases for cameras and musical instruments. These days he drives a Mercedes.
New York Police Department
Alan Poster's '68 Corvette, taken in New York and found in California last month.
He had owned it for only two or three months when it was stolen from a parking garage on 23rd Street. It was Jan. 22, 1969.
Years passed, and there were other cars, but he never forgot that 1968 Corvette. "Probably the only car I've ever really loved," Mr. Poster, now 63, said in an interview last week. "That car and my new life started together."
The new life took him to California.
Turns out, the car followed.
Almost 37 years after the Corvette was stolen, Mr. Poster got a call last month that it had been recovered, just days before it was supposed to be shipped to a buyer in Sweden. It was flagged during a routine Customs Service check of the vehicle identification number, sending two New York City detectives on a long-shot search through thousands of crime reports to connect the car to its first owner.
"We can call this a miracle," Mr. Poster said. "I stand in the shower going, 'Why me?' Has anything like this ever happened to you?"
The car is to be returned to Mr. Poster today, at a news conference in Carson, Calif. It is silver now, with a red interior, and the engine was replaced at some point. Inexplicably, it has no transmission. "Up until this moment, I thought it was chopped up and shipped away," Mr. Poster said. "It's in great shape, I understand." He said he does not plan to drive it much. "I am going to be a collector of a Corvette."
The 1968 Corvette represented a breakthrough for Chevrolet, created in the so-called Mako Shark design and ushering in the third generation of Corvettes. There were 18,630 Corvette convertibles made that year.
One of those convertibles, painted International Blue, rolled out of the factory and to a dealer in Great Neck on Long Island on July 16, 1968. Mr. Poster paid $6,000 for the car a few months later, he said.
"I didn't have a lot of money," he said. "I went out on a limb to get this thing. It was an egocentric muscle car that just came out. Back then, Corvette was hot as heck. That was an absolute fantasy of mine."
A 1968 Corvette in mint condition would be worth anywhere from $20,000 to $60,000 now, depending on the type of engine, according to Classic Corvettes and Convertibles in Tarpon Springs, Fla. Most of the 32 1968 Corvettes listed for sale yesterday on the Hemmings Motor News Web site were in that range, with some priced at more than $100,000.
He liked, in no particular order, to drive fast with the top down and impress girls. "I was dating back then," he said. "I used to drive up the West Side Highway to Jersey. Trips like that. For the little time I had it, it was fun."
On the night before the Corvette was stolen, Mr. Poster foiled an attempt to steal it from a curbside parking spot on the Upper West Side, he said. He was picking up a date and saw the car pulling away, but managed to pull the man out. "I let him go," he said, and he did not report the incident. The next night, a garage attendant went to get the Corvette, but returned and said it was gone. Mr. Poster did not have insurance against theft because he could not afford it, he said. He went years without owning another car.
"It was a wake-up call," he said. "It made me believe you can't fall in love with things. It was kind of an interesting awakening."
The police report, dated Jan. 22, 1969, offered little hope that Mr. Poster was ever going to see his Corvette again.
It stated, in full: "Comp reports that at the t/p/o his car below was taken from the above premises in some unknown manner."
If it seemed - full as it was with police abbreviation - that the officer was in a hurry, there was good reason: With 1969 just 22 days old, Mr. Poster's was the 6,620th car reported stolen in New York City so far that year, and one of more than 78,000 by year's end. On average, about 215 vehicles were stolen in the city every day - more than four times the current rate.
He eventually left New York for California, founding the Ace Products Group, a company that makes cases for cameras and guitars, drums and other musical instruments. He settled in Petaluma, north of San Francisco. He is a single father with a 17-year-old daughter. He drives a Mercedes.
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Alan Poster in the 1970's. He said the Corvette "was an absolute fantasy of mine."
The National Insurance Crime Bureau keeps a database of stolen vehicles, a database that is routinely checked before a vehicle is exported. On Dec. 7 last year, Customs checked three cars being sold by a collector in Long Beach, Calif. One of them had been reported stolen in New York City on Jan. 22, 1969. No further information was available. No name of the owner, no address, not even a police precinct or borough.
The case was given to two detectives in the auto crimes division in Queens, Cliff Bieder, 44, and William Heiser, 41. They went to police headquarters in Lower Manhattan, and to Room 300, the daunting records room, to search on microfilm. If they had not found the report by Jan. 1, the car would have been shipped to Sweden, they said.
"It was the equivalent of finding a needle in a haystack, that report," Detective Heiser said. "One of the guys bet us a steak dinner we wouldn't find it."
With 44 years' experience between them, the detectives spent four days in Room 300, squinting at fine print - "Our eyes were hurting," Detective Bieder said - when Detective Heiser found the report on Dec. 23. He told his partner. "I thought he was going to pass out," he said.
Finding Mr. Poster was easier. The detectives tracked him through the buyer of his last house in the New York metropolitan region, who said he lived in California. Mr. Poster said Detective Bieder called him at his office.
"He said, 'You had a car stolen in '69? A Corvette? What color was it?'" Mr. Poster recalled. "I said, 'Blue.' He said, 'We have your car.' "
Less is known about what happened to the Corvette over the past 36 years than what did not happen to it: apparently no one ever tried to register or insure it, the detectives said, or the same flag from the database would have surfaced.
"It's almost like it was just put somewhere and then pulled out a year ago and put up for sale," he said. The man who was selling the car to the buyer in Sweden is not suspected of any wrongdoing, the detectives said. The detectives are trying to trace the car's history backward. "It could have been through so many hands already," Detective Bieder said. "It's hard to find who's culpable."
Auto thefts in New York have dropped sharply, to 17,875 last year, the police said. The detectives have been gloating over their success since the day they found the report. "We came back and said after the new year, we'd be eating steak dinner," Detective Heiser said. "Somewhere nice. Not Sizzler."
The whole affair put Mr. Poster in a reflective mood.
"Things don't happen by accident," he said. "Things come back to me. I have no idea why. Maybe it all comes back to you at some point."