26 August 2015

Dream Cruise Reunion For a ’Vette and an Owner

The Woodward Dream Cruise, an annual automotive festival in Metro Detroit that draws about a million spectators and tens of thousands of hot rods, muscle cars and classics, is a consistent source of feel-good stories. Perhaps the best from this year, the event’s 21st edition, was that of George Talley and his silver Corvette.

On the morning of the cruise, General Motors presented Talley with the keys to a 1979 Corvette – his own car, which had been stolen in 1981, recovered 33 years later and then refurbished this year.

Talley, 72, a former GM employee who has owned four Corvettes, said that he never expected to get the car back after thieves swiped it off the street decades ago. But in June 2014, authorities in Michigan noticed that two Corvettes were registered under the same vehicle identification number, one in Mississippi and one in Michigan. The Mississippi Corvette’s engine number revealed it to be Talley’s long-lost car. When told that the car had been found, Talley said, he thought it was a joke.

The story attracted press attention, and Talley was interviewed on a Detroit radio station. Mark Reuss, GM’s product development chief, heard the broadcast and offered to ship the car back to Detroit.

Reuss was true to his word, and the car was returned to Talley. But with a destroyed interior, bad brakes and serious corrosion throughout, it was not the car Talley remembered. Nevertheless, he drove it a bit before putting it in storage for the winter.

“This past spring I wrote a letter to Mark Reuss and asked him to help me restore it,” Talley said in a phone interview. “I’m retired; I wanted it to be safe and look good.”

GM again came to the rescue. The car was taken to the automaker’s Heritage Center in Sterling Heights, Mich., in June. There, the facilities manager, Greg Wallace, treated Talley’s Corvette to a makeover. GM management asked Wallace if he could have the car ready for the Dream Cruise on Aug. 15. It would prove to be a challenge, given the car’s condition.

“It appeared to have been underwater at some time,” Wallace said. “It had weird rust, including a rotted-out ashtray and cigarette lighter. The brake lines were badly corroded, as were the steel door bottoms. The interior was shredded and water-damaged.”

Wallace and his crew buckled down to the task. All of the brake components were replaced, as were the tires. A new interior was installed, and the engine was cleaned, painted and tuned. Autometrics of Centerline, Mich., painted the body and buffed it to a shine like it never had before.

Two months of 16-to-20-hour days had the car ready to be unveiled on Dream Cruise Saturday, and it spent much of the day in the Chevrolet exhibit, though Talley managed to put a few Woodward Avenue miles on it as well.

“I think you have to give back,” Reuss said in a video that Chevrolet posted on YouTube. “He’s been a customer of GM forever and a veteran.”

Talley, of course, is most appreciative. “It’s brand new,” he said. “To have a brand new ’79 car is phenomenal. It’s hard to describe, but I’m happy.”

16 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Bob Baird Ashland, VA August 26, 2015 at 15:14
    I also have a story of a Corvette stolen in 1981: When I was in graduate school at the University of Kentucky in 1980, I bought a Laguna Blue 1966 Corvette Coupe, base 327, but with tele wheel, and spent the summer doing a body-off restoration on it, although not like I'd do an NCRS restoration today. On January 11, 1981, we went out to drive it to church only to find tracks in the snow where our 1966 Corvette had been. That was the last we've seen or heard of it. If anyone knows of this car, VIN 699, an early car, I'd be very appreciative to find out, as it was NOT insured. Thanks, Bob Baird, envcons@comcast.net
  • 2
    Darrel adams Dewey, ok August 26, 2015 at 16:08
    Great story, my dad had a 49 Chevy 1/2 ton stolen I learned to drive in disheartening when u were planning to fix up
  • 3
    Erik Colorado August 26, 2015 at 16:31
    Please don't take offense, but I'm going to share a comment that many are likely thinking but hesitant to say... Why would you drive a '66 in snow with no insurance!!!
  • 4
    Charlie Johnson Detroit MI August 26, 2015 at 16:37
    I am confused as to your vin reference: 1966 CORVETTE VEHICLE IDENTIFICATION NUMBERS (VIN) 194376S100001 - 194376S127720 (Corvette Coupe & Convertible) 1 (First Digit) - Make/Manufacturer. 1 - Chevrolet 9 (Second Digit) - Model series. 9 - Corvette 4 (Third Digit) - Engine type. 4 - V8 Engine (all types) 37 (Fourth and Fifth Digits). 37- Corvette Coupe / 67 - Corvette Convertible 6 (Sixth Digit) - Model Year. 6 - 1966 S (Seventh Digit) - Vehicle Assembly Location. S - St. Louis, Missouri 1XXXXX (Seventh thru Twelfth Digits) - Plant Sequence Numbers. The last six digits begin at 100001 and run thru 127720, accounting for all 27,720 Corvette Coupes/Convertibles built in 1966. Each Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) is unique to an individual car.
  • 5
    Joel Crandall Boston, Ma August 26, 2015 at 17:10
    I just wanted to say that what GM did was above and beyond and makes me consider buying a new GM product. And, Mr. Baird. Graduate students can rarely keep full insurnce coverage on a car. I do feel your pain as the same happened to my prized 1973 VW Superbeetle Cabrio when it was only 4 years old while I was a student.
  • 6
    Norm R. Connecticut August 26, 2015 at 17:16
    It is very easy today for online purchasing of vehicles particularly e-bay. So if I were to buy a car, completely restore it spending more cash and time, only to find that it was stolen, what happens to the car and my efforts?
  • 7
    R. G. LaFONTAINE PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. 12901 August 26, 2015 at 18:45
    Sorry to hear of your stolen1966 Corvette. Today owners of Corvettes are fortunate to have the services of OnStar to aid in many situations that owners appreciate. Too bad you didn't have that option on January 11, 1981. Many cities have the problem of stolen autos and all of us could be a victim! Good luck finding it someday like George Talley did!!!
  • 8
    Mike Muller Adirondacks, New York August 26, 2015 at 19:30
    George Talley is one extra lucky guy to get his Vette back and it all starts with a very alert motor vehicle clerk who noticed the duplicate records of one VIN number being recorded in two different states. I'm not quite sure how that motor vehicle clerk actually cross referenced those records from two different states ....... but for sure, I guess we need to reconsider that a few of those mean looking motor vehicle clerks have a heart of gold.
  • 9
    Steve Restelli Barre, VT August 26, 2015 at 19:39
    There is no feeling like getting a car back again that you once had. In my case it was a 1961 Porsche that I bought in 1970 and sold in 1973. For 40 years I would see similar cars and I often wondered if my car survived? I sold it to someone who raced the car and I would occasionally see its condition get worse over time. Eventually I moved away and assumed the car would eventually become scrap metal. Much to my surprise it appeared for sale on Ebay, and when I contacted the seller and proved to him it was my car he ended the auction and told me that he would see that I got my car back again. There are wonderful people out there that care. And this car is now mine for the rest of my life. One never knows how much goodness lies ahead after some difficult times.
  • 10
    Larry G. New York City August 27, 2015 at 14:47
    Well guys here's my story: In 1988, I bought a used, 1987 guards red Porsche 911 coupe from Moore Motors in North Philadelphia. It had been used as a press car and had 16,000 miles. In 2001, I traded it in on another used Porsche purchased from Don Rosen Porsche of Conshocken, PA which had purchased the Moore franchise. 55.000 miles in the odometer; 39,000 miles in 13 years. In 2004, I bought a new 911 on 2004 from Don Rosen, a vehicle I own to this day. But my 26 year old son, who grew up in the back seat of the 87 911, decided, in 2015, that father & son should locate the red 1987 911 sold in 2001 with the idea of buying it back. I finally tracked down the VIN #, which I did not have and hired an investigator to find the red 911. Indeed it was located it the hands of a New Jersey Porsche dismantler - it had been in an accident of unknown description - who had shipped it to Germany for a complete restoration; he offered the car to me thereafter with the attendant costs. The $$$$ did not make sense. While the chase was exciting, the result was not, and I continue to long for my red 911 to this day.
  • 11
    Jim Williams Harper Woods, MI August 27, 2015 at 14:58
    Great article.... I had a '79 Corvette as well and with the same color and engine. Brought back memories as we drove it in a few of the Dream Cruses a number of years back. Sold it to a friend how lost it by putting it up of clitoral on a house purchase and lost. Sad out come but hay... life goes on.
  • 12
    Raymond Crescio nyc ny August 27, 2015 at 19:12
    I had a 1967 mark 4 Austin Healy stolen in 1971 in NYC . I loved this car and was wondering if there is any way of seeing if this car is still around.
  • 13
    Dean H. Somers, CT August 27, 2015 at 10:44
    @ Charlie Johnson, I'm assuming his car is 100699 (699 of 27,720) since he said it's an early car. @ Norm R., your car and your efforts are gone! The car goes back to the actual owner.
  • 14
    john Easterlin stevensville md August 28, 2015 at 15:47
    I too had my corvette stolen it was a green 1991 turquoise coupe with 13000 miles on it stolen almost exactly 1 year to the day I purchased it august 1992.still miss that car today
  • 15
    Ray T. Cleveland, OH August 31, 2015 at 13:37
    After having two cars stolen (one right out of my driveway, an '87 Olds Custom Cruiser.) I can truly feel the pain. I did get them both back, but it was an ordeal I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. I often said that if the hooligans who stole them would have just approached me first, I would have been more than happy to drive them around while they drank beer and smoked weed. I just want my car back in one piece.
  • 16
    Pete M Toronto ON September 3, 2015 at 14:04
    In our area if theft insurance was paid out to the owner and the car eventually shows up then the insurance company owns the car. They may be willing to sell the car back to you but probably goes to the highest bidder. If uninsured for theft, then yes the car goes back to owned it when it was stolen

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