GLENDALE — The owner of a red 1959 Chevrolet Impala that was stolen last summer got mixed news last week: Police tracked down and recovered the classic car, but the thieves repainted it green and made other modifications.
And since the owner had cashed out his last-minute insurance policy after the theft, the car goes to the firm, not him.
Acting on a tip, detectives recovered the Impala from a chop shop in Hawthorne last week after it was stolen nearly eight months ago on Cruise Night, Glendale Police Sgt. Tom Lorenz said.
The body-shop owner, Abel Saucedo Jr., 58, was arrested Feb. 2 on suspicion of receiving stolen property and operating a chop shop, according to police reports.
Detectives from the countywide Taskforce for Regional Auto Theft Prevention went to the body shop and found several rusted vehicles along with a mint-green Impala that matched the description of the stolen car, said Glendale Det. Mauricio Barba, who works with the unit.
Sixteen other vehicles found at the shop were allegedly either stolen or had their vehicle identification numbers removed, he added.
Detectives also found a 1964 Impala that was reported stolen in 1970 from Ohio, Barba said.
"These cars are customized and prepared for sale," he said.
The convertible Impala last sold to Azusa resident Joe Stupor wasn't immediately identifiable as the stolen car because its body had been altered and the vehicle identification number was switched out with another, Barba said.
Detectives were eventually able to ID the car after the original owner, who had restored the car for his wife, identified 25 key characteristics, including cracks and welding.
"It was pretty amazing," Barba said.
The owner, who lives in Tennessee, sold the Impala to Stupor for $41,000.
Soon after buying the convertible, Stupor took the car to Glendale's Cruise Night on July 17 and parked it at a lot for Charles Billiard Sport Bar. He placed a for-sale sign on the car, hoping to garner interest from other classic-car enthusiasts, but when he returned, it was gone.
Stupor said he was disappointed that the investigation took so long, but added that he had taken possession of the car just hours before it was stolen.
Stupor posted a $5,000 reward for details about the Impala's whereabouts because it wasn't insured at the time.
Lorenz said Stupor's insurance provider, State Farm, offered a seven-day grace period for customers who recently bought a car.
Stupor was then given roughly $40,000 for the Impala, which means police will return the Impala to State Farm, Lorenz said.
Stupor said he paid out more than $2,000 in reward money in the days immediately after the car was stolen, but his stake in the matter was severed when he received his insurance payout, although he added that he would rather have his car back.
Classic cars are often shipped and sold to buyers in other countries, Barba said.
The vehicles are often sold for up to $200,000 to buyers in Japan, where he said the classic-car culture is thriving.
"Too many people are losing their expensive collector cars, and not a lot is being done about it," Stupor said.