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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Comments

    During the 1980s our Corvette club newsletter person did an extensive story on 17 Corvettes that were stolen at one time during its lifetime. What they all had in common was the owners were attempting to trace the history of their vehicles. The 17 Corvettes that were stolen had at some point reached a payoff by an insurance company. What happened after that is anyone’s guess. But during the effort of trying to receive information from the insurance companies, the insurance companies claimed legal ownership and took receivership of the vehicles. I don’t recall all the details, but I do recall some of the owners did get their cars retuned to them, and some didn’t. After reading this lengthy story is when I decided to stop pursuing my cars’ history. 🙂

    If the insurance company paid the owner for the loss after the theft, the recovered cars belong to them not the “previous” owners. This happens allmthe time

    That’s what happens when government runs the people instead of people running the government as the constitution was written.

    Before blaming the cops too much, read the WHOLE story. They did check the hidden VINs and someone had obliterated them. See the following excerpts which tell you a lot more than the tear-jerker above does (copied from from this site https://www.sportscarmarket.com/columns/legal-files/the-case-of-the-contraband-corvette )

    “State trooper Dave Albers immediately noticed something amiss: ‘The VIN affixed to the driver’s side hinge post was incorrect and was attached with non-factory rivets.’ He also noticed a discrepancy in the fourth character on the VIN. It should have been an “S” to reflect that the car was built at the St. Louis plant. Instead, that character was a “5,” which made no sense. Albers then inspected the secret VINs on the Corvette. Every manufacturer places the VIN or some other identifying number in one or two secret locations on its cars, to assist in identifying them later. Albers knew there were two places on the frame where the VIN would be stamped. Both areas, however, showed extensive grinding, and chemical treatment to raise the numbers was also unsuccessful. Albers pointed out that these were the ONLY places where the grinding was performed, indicating someone had tried hard to obliterate the VIN.”

    Now, none of that means that Mr. Matinez was guilty of anything at all, and none of that makes his plight any less unfortunate for him. But assuming those statements quoted above are true, then it DOES mean the police were doing their job and doing it correctly. A 5 rather than an S on the VIN tag means someone besides Chevrolet made that VIN tag. So not just the wrong rivets, but a fake / forged VIN tag. Put that together with the ground away hidden VINs, and who knows what the REAL vin of that car was when it was built? Of course the cops could not PROVE it was stolen, because the original VIN number could not be determined!!

    What should have happened is Mr. Martinez should have sued the seller of the Vette. Then they could sue the person they got it form, and so forth, until the REAL bad guy was held accountable for the entire fiasco.

    So for everyone that thinks the new law is good, what it ultimately does is allows someone to steal a car and resell it and get away with it in KS, so long as they do a really good job of getting rid of the actual real VIN number of the car, even if they do a really bad job of making and attaching a fake VIN tag.

    I’m not sure the classic car community, or a classic car insurance agency, should be celebrating that outcome!

    Gov’t gives power to little minded people–who “develop” Bureaucracies into monsters. The instance recorded herein is but one of bah-jallions which occur every day! Shame on the people who work for Gov’t Agencies which appear to take delight in managing peoples’ lives, causing as much angst as possible. Generating hate does not endear The People to Government! What happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? (oh, yes–I recall now–that ole document is out–the new is in)

    The bottom-line question is this. How far can “stupid” go in today’s world?
    I don’t need to elaborate on a particular answer because I believe that the collector car community (in general) is already acutely aware of what terminal stupidity looks like!

    I can understand what happened here with the restorer installing rivets instead of the Phillips head screws causing this problem. A similar thing happened to me in 84 in Pasco County Florida although I got my car back by proving ownership. It all started when I had my 70 Boss 302 Mustang at a friend’s body shop. A former employee who had issues with the owner reported all cars there stolen including mine. The Sheriff Dept. raided the shop and the owner called me to tell me my car was being impounded as stolen then put the detective on the line. Knowing how John liked to pull pranks I told the detective to quit lying and probably a few choice words were included. The detective hung up and said the Mustang was the first to be towed. John called me again to tell me it was no joke. I showed up at the body shop and my car was gone. In a meeting with the sheriff himself, because the son of a prominent citizen had his car, which was also not stolen, impounded. The stupid detective, and I mean stupid detective wannabe, showed me a picture how the VIN on the dash under the windshield was supposed to appear. Trouble is the idiot used a picture of a full size LTD instead of a Mustang, there was nothing wrong with the way my VIN was displayed. He also took issue with the VIN stamped in the RR quarter panel that had been replaced with a used piece 8 years earlier. The sheriff shut him down on that. Then the claimed the VIN wasn’t in Florida’s data base. I didn’t know it but when I transferred my title from out of state the clerk make a typo so there was one letter off. Showing my title and the bill of sale when I originally bought the car in Denver convinced the sheriff my car and I were on the level.

    I’d like to know why you did not post my earlier comment that gave a link to the entire story — that the KS State Police determined the VIN tag not to be an original 1959 Corvette tag, and that they DID check the hidden frame VIN stamps and found them to have been intentionally and completely obliterated. This story is very misleading due to its lack of completeness; and the statement “All this, over two rivets” is simply false. With all the comments you DID allow to be posted to bash the police (who the “whole story” shows were simply doing their job and doing it correctly), you should be ashamed for not posting what I submitted earlier. I would like an explanation via email. And at a bare minimum the story should be rewritten to provide the complete facts and context. Thank you.

    This is a terrible story no doubt, one that I can only imagine to be very painful for the owner of this car! Financially and mentally draining. However as we all know there are two sides to a story. I agree that KHP might have been doing their job, and think if there is a back story to this or additional information on this seizure you should update the facts.

    Maybe the link to someone else’s story is what got my prior comment blocked. I will try again without the link —

    Before blaming the cops too much, read the WHOLE story. They DID check the hidden frame VINs, and someone had obliterated them. See the following excerpts which tell you a lot more than the tear-jerker above does (copied from this site: [link omitted] ):

    “State trooper Dave Albers immediately noticed something amiss: ‘The VIN affixed to the driver’s side hinge post was incorrect and was attached with non-factory rivets.’ He also noticed a discrepancy in the fourth character on the VIN. It should have been an ‘S’ to reflect that the car was built at the St. Louis plant. Instead, that character was a ‘5’, which made no sense. Albers then inspected the secret VINs on the Corvette. Every manufacturer places the VIN or some other identifying number in one or two secret locations on its cars, to assist in identifying them later. Albers knew there were two places on the frame where the VIN would be stamped. Both areas, however, showed extensive grinding, and chemical treatment to raise the numbers was also unsuccessful. Albers pointed out that these were the ONLY places where the grinding was performed, indicating someone had tried hard to obliterate the VIN.”

    Now, none of that means that Mr. Martinez was guilty of anything at all, and none of that makes his plight any less unfortunate for him. But assuming those statements quoted above are true, then it DOES mean the police were doing their job and doing it correctly. A ‘5’ where there should have been an ‘S’ on the VIN tag means someone besides Chevrolet made that VIN tag. So NOT just “All this, over two rivets” as stated in the story above. It was the wrong rivets, AND a fake / forged VIN tag, AND what appeared to be intentional obliteration of hidden VINs by grinding them away. Put all that together, and who knows what the REAL vin of that car was when it was built? And of course the cops could not “PROVE” it was stolen, because the original VIN number could not be determined to check and see if it was stolen!!

    What SHOULD have happened is Mr. Martinez should have sued the seller of the Vette. Then they could sue the person they got it form, and so forth and so on, until the REAL bad guy was found and held accountable for the entire fiasco.

    So, for everyone that thinks this new law is good, what it ultimately does is allows someone to steal a car and resell it and get away with it (in KS at least), so long as they do a really good job of getting rid of the actual real VIN number everywhere on the car, even if they do a really bad job of making and attaching an obviously fake VIN tag. I’m not sure the classic car community, or a classic car insurance agency, should be celebrating that outcome!

    I bet the trooper slept soundly that night knowing he screwed over that guy over two rivets. I imagine the dental plan is awesome.

    Have had my share of BMV stupidity in Ohio! My 1955 MGTF1500 had an “error” in the vin (a “/” recorded as a “1”) that gave it an impossible vin number. Multiple trips to the BMV with documentation including British Motoring Trust Certification & copies of factory build records that were only attainable 30 years ago via mail with no luck. Finally resolved by a clerk that told me to bring her the vin plate. I did so , but that was stupid as Moss Motors sell’s “blank ones” that you can put anything on! Years latter a friend from Vermont bought pieces of a 1948 MGTC on a bill of sale from Ohio. (No vin #!) I had agreed to collect it and make ready for shipping to him. With the exception of the body tub, wheels, & engine it was complete & also had over $15k+ in new parts with it. In the course of “packing” I found hints (pictures & receipts) of it having been in a shop about 200 mile south of where my friend bought it. Did some detective work looking for the rest of the car as well as making sure the vin# (from front dumb iron) was on the receipt. Car was still titled in another Ohio county but the BMV would not tell me “to whom” and even refused to pass my contact info on to the owner explaining I suspected it may be stolen. It took me 6 months of running Craigslist add’s to find someone that “knew the car”. The seller said he had it for “over 10 years”…bullshit … it was stolen 6 weeks before my friend bought it! From the adds I had run we were able to find a 80 year old gentleman that had owned it since he was 17. It had been stolen from his business in a trailer parked there…the rest of the car was inside the building. Walt was most happy to get his car back! He wrote my friend a check for what he had paid for it & even threw $500 my way for getting it back to him , so happy ending but the BMV could have made it a lot easier if they used some common sense. I kept telling them I thought it was stolen … all they had to do was forward my info to the owner but they refused.

    For all of you bashing the ‘government’ for this situation, please take a moment to think about how this all came to be. “We, the people” elected the legislators who enacted this and similar laws. These clowns did not just walk into power by themselves, WE elected them. We need to get our collective heads out of our butts and vote for candidates with the integrity to truly represent the voter in lieu of corporate interests or some party line. Until we learn to separate politics from the quality of the candidate, we will continue to have laws enacted which are contrary to the wants and needs of the public. It makes no difference if the candidate has the backing of a red, blue, green or rainbow party; “we the people” must learn to separate the wheat from the chaff – to use a Kansas term.

    I have heard stories of one or more Sunbeam Tigers being crushed in California because the original VIN rivets had been replaced with conventional pop rivets. The VIN is often removed when the car is repainted. Discussions about original rivets are common in the Tiger community.

    Come on, come on. It’s called GoFundMe. Somebody close to him create the fund and I suspect he will be made whole.

    name the person on kansas highway patrol that did this. such that a formal complaint can be filed against this persons employment history. FOR WASTING EVERYBODIES TIME

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