Ian "Skip" Wilson, 65, a retired mechanic in Lake County, said the engine and transmission of the classic car were removed by thieves when it was stolen in 1983 and hadn't been replaced when it was stolen again the following year, the Santa Rosa (Calif.) Press Democrat reported Friday.
However, the car was in significantly better condition when it was recovered by U.S. Customs and Border Protection two weeks ago from a Southern California shipping container bound for Australia. The California Highway Patrol contacted Wilson and arranged to have it shipped back to him.
He said the car now sports a 350-horsepower V-8 engine and has only 9 miles on the rebuilt odometer.
"Somebody put a whole lot of work and money into that car," Wilson said. "It was all disassembled and put back."
Wilson said he found out the car has gone through several owners since it was stolen, and he feels bad for the seller and buyer, who likely did not know it was stolen property. He said he does not know how the previous owners were able to register a car that had been reported stolen.
"I imagine somebody in Australia must be awful upset," he said.
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