In 1970, Bob Russell was a cash-strapped graduate student at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His primary transportation was a 1967 Austin-Healey 3000
Mk III, which Russell had purchased from a friend for $3,000 for in 1968.
As a starving student, Russell couldn’t afford to carry comprehensive insurance on his car, and the morning after his second date with his future wife, he awoke to find the car gone. Russell filed a police report on the missing Austin-Healey, but he presumed the chances of being reunited with his car were somewhere between “slim” and “none.”
As The Dallas Morning News
(subscription required) explains, Russell never gave up the search despite the long odds. In the early days, it was a matter of stopping to inspect every Healey parked by the side of the road, or at any English car meet. Then the internet came along, allowing Russell to expand his search from the comfort of his home office.
In May of 2012, that search effort paid off when the man found his car for sale at a dealership in California. The dealership argued for ownership, saying that they’d legally purchased the car from the family who’d owned it since 1970 (oddly matching Russell’s own timeline).
While Russell still had his registration, ignition keys and affidavits from friends attesting to the car’s theft, he didn’t have a copy of the original police report. In fact, the police report had been seemingly lost to history, as a digit of the car’s VIN had been entered incorrectly.
In the mean time, the California dealership offered to sell the car to Russell for $24,000, prompting Russell to contact law enforcement agencies in Philadelphia and Los Angeles for assistance. After pointing out that the original police report contained a transposed digit, Russell was able to get Philadelphia police to re-open the case.
That gave police in Los Angeles the ability to seize the car from the dealership, and Russell and his wife quickly flew to Los Angeles to claim his missing property. Justice wasn’t free, however, since it cost the Healey’s former owner some $600 in impound fees, travel expenses and $800 to have the car shipped to his home.
Despite surviving for nearly five decades in remarkably good condition, Russell is planning a full restoration on the Healey. While such an effort is likely to increase the car’s value, it probably won’t offset the cost of the restoration.
We doubt that matters much to Russell after all this time, and we’re pretty sure that a LoJack system
will be one of the first upgrades installed.