Famously reunited with stolen Corvette, Alan Poster will soon let it go
Alan Poster, much to his chagrin (and astonishment), has already received more than his 15 minutes of fame, all because his new 1968 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray convertible was stolen less than three months after he bought it.
Actually, the theft of the Corvette wasn’t what made Poster famous; it was the return of that stolen Corvette that made him famous. That’s because the car was gone for 37 years before it was miraculously returned to him.
Now, more than five decades after Poster first saw that C3 in a New York dealership and spent pretty much every cent he had on it, he’s saying goodbye to the car once again. Willingly, this time.
“It’s a crazy story,” Poster says of the Corvette’s wild journey, “… a really crazy story.”
It was January 1969, and the 26-year-old guitar salesman was fighting the winter blues. Fresh off a divorce, the Brooklyn native took solace in driving his blue Corvette ragtop, even on snow-covered roads. Although The New York Times later reported that Poster purchased the C3 to ease the pain of his breakup, Poster says he bought it before his divorce. The sports car, based on Larry Shinoda’s radical Mako Shark concept, rolled off the assembly line on July 16, 1968 and was shipped to a Chevrolet dealer in Great Neck, on Long Island. Poster, perhaps already mourning the demise of his personal relationship—or maybe expediting it—was enthralled with the Corvette and shelled out about $6000 for it. That would be $55,320 today.
“I got the Corvette in the divorce,” he says now, “and she got everything else.”
Poster told The Times in 2006 that it was a financial stretch to buy his dream car. “I didn’t have a lot of money. I went out on a limb to get this thing. It was an egocentric muscle car that just came out. Back then, Corvette was hot as heck. [Owning one] was an absolute fantasy of mine.”
Poster lived in Queens at the time and drove the Vette fast whenever he could. He also liked to impress women with it. In fact, on the night before the car was stolen, he was picking up a date and returned to the car just in time to thwart an attempted theft. “People were yelling, ‘Kill him!’ but I let the guy go,” Poster says. “I actually started laughing. I thought that was a little severe.”
As it turned out, he had only postponed the inevitable.
The following night, when Poster went to pick up the Corvette at a parking garage, the attendant returned and said it was gone. Poster reported it stolen on January 22, 1969. Just three weeks into the new year, his C3 was the 6620th automobile swiped in New York in 1969. By year’s end, that number had risen to 78,000.
Poster never received an insurance settlement for the Vette because he didn’t have the money to insure it. “I was heartbroken,” he says. “It was a big wake-up call. I never thought I’d see it again.”
As the years passed, the odds of recovering the car grew. Poster moved to California and settled in Petaluma, just north of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. In 1976, he founded Ace Products Group, which makes gear for musicians—things like bags, cases, cables, stands, adapters, and connectors. His business became a huge global success, and it allowed him to travel around the world “a hundred times,” he says. It also afforded Poster a yellow 1974 Corvette. “I was still trying to live my dream,” he admits. He eventually sold the car and moved on.
Then, nearly four decades after his 1968 Corvette convertible was swiped in New York, Poster received a phone call from the New York Police Department, saying his car had been located. He thought the call was a prank.
It wasn’t. Somehow, Poster’s Corvette had mysteriously followed him to California. Although he hadn’t insured it way back when, the theft had been reported to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, which maintains a database of stolen vehicles. Before an automobile can be shipped out of the country, U.S. Customs routinely runs the VIN through that database. On December 7, 2005, as three classic cars were about to be shipped to Sweden, Customs got a hit: One of the cars, a ’68 Corvette, was flagged as stolen in New York on January 22, 1969. There was no other information—no name, no address, not even a record of the police bureau where the theft had been reported.
Contacted by the California Highway Patrol, the NYPD suddenly had a lot of work to do, and they had to do it quickly. If the owner wasn’t found by January 1, the Corvette would be released to its Swedish buyer.
As The Times explained in 2006, Cliff Bieder and William Heiser, two detectives in the auto crimes division in Queens, were assigned the case. “It was the equivalent of finding a needle in a haystack,” Heiser said at the time. After four days of meticulously searching through microfilm, “Our eyes were hurting,” Bieder said. Then, on December 23, Heiser scored. “I thought [my partner] was going to pass out.”
Locating Poster didn’t take very long; the two detectives spoke to the buyer of Poster’s last house, who said he had moved to California. They soon found Poster through his company, and on Christmas Eve, Bieder called him at his office.
“He said, ‘You had a car stolen in ’69? A Corvette? We have your car,’” Poster explains. “I thought, ‘This is a scam, a cruel joke.’ They had to convince me that it was true.”
The CHP picked up Poster and drove him to see the Corvette for himself. The media, which had been alerted ahead of time, was waiting for him to arrive.
“It was really something,” Poster says. “When I got out of the police car, there were cameras everywhere. It seemed like 40 or 50 people were asking questions. It was insane. I thought, ‘I’m not built for this.’ In retrospect it was fun, but going through it was not.”
The story was on TV, radio, and in newspapers all over the country, and Poster was inundated with calls and emails for weeks. “The woman that I’d taken on that blind date the night before it was stolen, she called me. I got a call from an old girlfriend that I hadn’t seen in years. I even got a proposal, but I had no interest in that,” Poster says with a laugh.
“My accountant was in Brazil at the time, and he saw my picture on the front of a newspaper there and he thought, ‘Oh, oh. What did he do?’ It was a big deal. That story was everywhere. It was crazy for a while. One day I thought, ‘I don’t want to be famous anymore.’”
Poster initially had big dreams for the car, but it never materialized. “I drove it only once after I got it back,” he laments. “It had been painted silver before it was returned to me, and the interior had been changed to red, so I had it repainted blue like it was (Le Mans Blue Poly 976, to be exact, over a blue interior). I tried to rekindle my excitement for it, but it felt different—that was another life. I was going to take it to shows and tell the story, but it never happened. Everything had changed. Looking back, I should have done something with it; I regret that I didn’t. It was big news.”
Even comedian Jerry Lewis saw the story, and he wanted the car. “His people contacted me and offered me a hundred grand for it,” Poster says. “I told them ‘Nah, I’m going to have fun with it.’”
He didn’t. Instead, the car sat for years. Several months ago, Poster decided to bring the Corvette up to snuff so he could sell it, and he enlisted the help of Nathan Stratton, who assisted him in selling a 1988 Mercedes-Benz 560SL years earlier. They refreshed it cosmetically and mechanically, but most importantly they installed an original (but not the original) 327-cubic-inch V-8 engine, since the one with which the Corvette was born had been swapped out somewhere along the line.
“We did our best to make it look like it did before it was stolen,” Poster says, “and I think it does.”
The car’s odometer shows 60,000 miles, but most of those were driven by strangers. The New York Post reported at the time that there were three prior owners of the Corvette dating to 2001, including the person shipping it to Sweden, but since those people apparently had no idea the car was hot, they were not charged. The thief who stole the C3 in January 1969 has never been identified.
Sometime in the near future, Poster’s Corvette will be offered on BringATrailer.com. And since a ’68 Corvette Stingray convertible in #2 (Excellent) condition has an average value of $53,700, Poster will finally get his $6000 back. But that isn’t the reason he has decided to part with it.
“I just turned 80 … 80! I can’t believe that,” Poster says with a laugh. “My life is a lot different now than it was back then. I live on a houseboat in Sausalito—the SS Maggie (built in 1889), which I bought four years ago. I didn’t used to believe in ghosts, but I do now. That thing (the houseboat) is haunted. Plus, I have an apartment in New York. I own a Range Rover. I’m in a different place.
“You know, I’m just so grateful. A lot of great things have happened to me, including getting the Corvette back. Now it’s time for it to go to someone else.”
This time around, however, if Poster wants to check on his old flame from time to time, he’ll know where to find it.