|Ron Leung was reunited with his pristine 1956 Ford Thunderbird last Thursday in Southern California. The car been stolen from him in Palo Alto in 1976.
The car was recovered by police late last month in Ventura County.
Leung, who had never expected to see the car again, drove it back to an auto business he runs in Milpitas, arriving on Sunday.
"It was fantastic," he said, of the experience of driving it again. It had been so long since he sat in it that he momentarily forgot how to start it.
Leung, a former Palo Alto police officer and retired San Mateo County Sheriff's deputy, bought the vintage car in 1974 and spent two years restoring it.
The only changes to the car in the interim were that the formerly white car was repainted baby blue and the hard top for the convertible was long gone.
It had been kept in show-car condition by what were apparently a series of owners.
The car caught the attention of the Department of Motor Vehicles when a woman from Ventura County bought the car on eBay from someone in Ohio. She had it shipped to her and then went to the DMV to get a new license plate.
The DMV couldn't find the vehicle identification number (VIN) and called in Christopher Throgmorton, a California Highway Patrol officer who specializes in finding VINs on old cars.
Throgmorton not only found the VIN, he also found that the car had been reported stolen in 1976 from Leung in Palo Alto.
Leung said that being recovered after 31 years may be a record for recovering a stolen car in California.
While driving up from Southern California, Leung also remembered why he didn't drive his show car often. "It doesn't have power steering," he said.
The 51-year-old car had only 24,979 miles on the odometer when it was recovered last month. Leung put a few hundred more on it.
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