Stolen ’57 Chevy Returned 30 Years and One Fantastic Fix-Up Later

Ian “Skip” Wilson’s prized 1957 Chevy recently resurfaced after disappearing from his yard three decades ago.

We here at E3 Spark Plugs are big believers in the notion that sometimes, life’s wrongs get righted in amazing ways. Such is the case for Ian “Skip” Wilson, a 65-year-old retired mechanic who recently got a phone call he never expected. On the line was a California Highway Patrol investigator asking if, per chance, Wilson had documentation of a certain 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air. Turns out the junker hot rod that he bought in 1975 and that disappeared form his driveway in 1984 had been found.

Wilson paid just $375 for the car, which he bought from his nephew in Pennsylvania. He used it as his daily ride for years and had big plans to fix it up, returning it to showroom condition. Eventually. But before he got around to it, someone made off with the ride.

I assumed somebody chopped it up and was using parts of it at the racetrack,” Wilson recently told reporters with the San Francisco Chronicle. Still, he held out hope that his beloved ride might still be tooling around in one piece. “Every time I saw one of them on the road, I thought it was her.”

In deed, hope springs eternal. And for Wilson, hope met reality when an eagle-eyed CHP investigator spotted something wonky with the car, found in an Australia-bound shipping container. A check of the serial number showed it was one character short, and a little subsequent digging turned up a 30-year-old police report of a stolen ’57 Chevy and a name – one Ian “Skip” Wilson.

That missing serial number character allowed the car’s dubious origin to go unnoticed for a solid three decades, allowing it to go through a series of four different owners. Luckily, Wilson still had the documentation proving the car was his. So today, it’s back in his Southern California garage, where it belongs. But she sure does look different.

A bit worse for wear when she was swiped in ’84, Wilson’s Bell Air had since undergone a full restoration, including a beauty of a cherry red paint job.

It’s got a new motor, upholstery, brakes, rims and tires, and the gauges – those are new, too – only say 9 miles,” a flabbergasted Wilson said. “It’s just unbelievable.”

While Wilson feels sympathy for the car’s unassuming last owner and its would-be buyer Down Under – after all, they got cheated, too – he’s thrilled to have his car home. And some say it’s a well deserved blessing that comes at just the right time, as Wilson is battling cancer. Here’s hoping he’ll ride out treatment and enjoy many more years behind the wheel of his gorgeous classic ride.