Corvette returned to Kansas owner after 6-year VIN debacle

Flickr | Peter Miller

The smallest details can make or break a restoration. Sometimes in very interesting and frustrating ways, as Richard Martinez has learned over the last six years. That is how long it took for the seizure, ensuing court battle, and, finally, the return of his 1959 Chevrolet Corvette.

All this, over two rivets.

The fasteners in question held the VIN plate to the car and only caused all this ruckus because of a Kansas law intended to curb VIN-swapping of stolen or otherwise questionable cars. During an earlier restoration of the Vette—critically, one that occurred before Martinez bought it—someone replaced the two round-head Phillips screws that originally secured the VIN plate with a pair of pop rivets. Only when Martinez registered his 1959 Corvette was the discrepancy called out, an action which triggered the seizure of the car by the Kansas Highway Patrol. The car remained in impound, despite no evidence that it was stolen or otherwise tampered with. The FBI even decided in favor of Martinez—to no avail.

As a seized asset, the classic Chevrolet languished outside in an impound lot while a legal battle raged. The case was elevated all the way to the Kansas state legislature, who ultimately sent House Bill 2594 to governor Lauren Kelly’s desk. She signed the bill into law on March 22 of this year. It went into effect nine days later, laying the path for the Corvette to be returned to Martinez. He had sustained a significant financial loss: Martinez spent an estimated $30,000 in legal fees to reclaim a car he bought for $50,000, according to Martinez. It would be easy to be frustrated with the Highway Patrol, but according to KCTV 5 in Kansas City, the thought never crossed Martinez’ mind. The law was clear and enforcement fair; the law simply needed reform.

The return of his Corvette should feel like a victory, but Martinez is clear that this journey has been financially and emotionally draining. The car and $20,000 have been awarded to Martinez, but reports cite that there could be as much as $28,000 in damage to the vehicle. $20,000 is the cap that can be awarded by Kansas to Martinez for repairs, which the Corvette desperately needs, after sitting outside for six years. As of this writing, it does not start.

This is not the outcome anyone would have predicted, and it also falls somewhere in between good and bad on the scale of results we would have wished for. Regardless, we applaud Martinez for sticking with the case, and Kansas lawmakers for acknowledging the law needed an update that allowed for vintage vehicles undergoing a restoration that might require the tag to be removed—and honestly replaced. Good on the state for following through to make sure another owner won’t have their car improperly seized.

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    Truly an amazing story. I wonder if they would have let him in the lot somehow someway to completely cover the car early on. It wouldn’t have stopped ground up decay, but would have helped the exposure. I would have found a way. 6 years, my gosh!

    I agree. They should have let him put a cover on it, as a minimum. Also prepare it as if it were going into storage; place it on blocks, squirt oil and/or MMO in the cylinders, put rodent traps or rodent prevention in various places, periodically add water/antifreeze, etc.

    Personally, I think the whole story is absurd. He should be allowed to sue the state for damages and financial recovery. At the very least, I would like to seem he create a gofundme page. I would kick in 10 bucks to help the guy out.

    Killer is that the VIN is in several places on most cars. All that would have needed to be done was to check for corresponding numbers. Lazy govt. hacks.

    Just another example of zero common sense that takes place in our Government! I hope a lawsuit gets filed.

    I hope he sues the crap out of them and wins. Thank God I didn’t have this problem when I sold my 74 Vette!

    Outrageous. How hard would it have been for the KHP to verify the VIN elsewhere, review the car’s paper trail, and apply common sense ? Hope the car’s owner sues the State and the person who turned this into a disaster.

    How many more states have similar laws with good intent, but unintended and bad consequences? I commend Richard Martinez for not giving up on getting his ’59 Vette back. Thankfully, the Kansas legislature and governor came to their senses and recognized the need to redress and cure the defects in the law.

    I had an experience here in Kansas about 20 years ago when appearing for Hiway Patrol inspection of the VIN while applying for a title on a recently purchased old car from Ohio. Soon after it was delivered, I brought it to the DMV for a $10 VIN inspection and payment of sales taxes, registration fees, license cost, etc. It was a beautifully restored convertible from an independent manufacturer in the early 1960s. The irritable inspector questioned the mileage on the odometer and pulled out a book that he used to inspect the factory applied VIN plate which has a stamped number with some letters. He questioned the number of spot welds as there were three and his book indicated there should be four. He began to discuss impounding, etc. but to my good fortune, he asked his supervisor to review the plate. The older gentleman took one look, and loudly exclaimed, “Why are you giving this man a hard time?” The younger fellow shrugged his shoulders, and I was happily on my way with an approved inspection document. Can you even imagine what could have happened?

    We, as car people should open a go fund me account and donate to this man. He has worked hard to change the laws so this won’t happen to someone else. I glad he has his car back and feel for his emotional pains.

    6 years, GONE from this man’s life, no big deal if he’s 20 but if he’s my age at 60, it’s a big deal… All the law enforcement agency would have to do is apply a little common sense. What a bunch of Idiot’s I’m ashamed my family is from Kansas now.

    He did a big favour for Kansas Classic car owners and they should crowd fund for him to help cover his costs!

    I live in the same metropolitan area as Martinez, but on the Missouri side of the line. As a classic car dealer, I can tell you one thing I try to avoid is coming within a country mile of the over-the-top, irrationality of the KS highway patrol when it comes to classic cars. This is not the only story I know of regarding their behavior. It’s almost like they look for reasons to ruin someone’s ability to enjoy their classic. There’s due diligence, then there’s whatever the KS Hwy Patrol says is due diligence. Not the same. Hopefully the law change will rein them in, but I have my doubts.

    Law enforcement should know there is a secret frame vin on drivers side of all C1 vettes (C2 & C3 Have 2 hidden vins) . I had a C3 with a vin discrepency the DMV Deputy knew exactly where to look, he stuck his phone in there took a video & saw the partial stamping . VINS were hand stamped back in those days , mistakes happen, likea 5 & an S are a very commen switch

    It’s a serious thing that the state of Kansas did this to someone and while doing it didn’t give a crap about the car and let it rot. I would be beyond frustrated. Glad the law got changed but this man still had to pay the price for this baloney.

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